FBI agent allegedly switched allegiance to gangsters
BOSTON — John J. Connolly Jr. was once known as the FBI agent who snagged gangster James “Whitey” Bulger to help in the FBI’s war against the mafia.
Somewhere along the way, Connolly allowed himself to be corrupted by his prized informant and began protecting the thugs he was supposed to be investigating, a prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments of Connolly’s racketeering trial Thursday.
Prosecutor John Durham outlined the allegations against Connolly, which range from taking bribes to tipping Bulger’s gang about informants who were later killed. The jury was to begin deliberations in the case on Friday.
Connolly, 61, never took the stand. He pleaded innocent to racketeering and obstruction of justice charges and previously denied taking bribes. He also has said that everything he did was cleared by his superiors at the FBI, who used information provided by Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi to take down the New England mafia.
His attorney, Tracy Miner, told jurors Thursday that Connolly was being targeted because the FBI needed a scapegoat after it was revealed during 1998 hearings that it had mishandled its top criminal informants, including Bulger.
“The government ... needed a scapegoat for its problems, and who better than the informants’ handler,” Miner said.
In his closing, Durham pointed to an FBI training video featuring Connolly, shown by the defense, as proof Connolly knew the agency rules. He didn’t follow them, Durham said, because he had switched allegiances. “He was playing for another team,” Durham said.
The trial’s most distressing testimony involved leaks by Connolly to Bulger and Flemmi in which Connolly identified three men who were giving information to the FBI about Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang, Durham said.
The three men were later killed by members of the gang, members testified.
Durham went over in detail testimony from Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s right-hand man, who said that on Dec. 23, 1994, Connolly told him to warn Bulger, Flemmi and mafia boss Frank “Cadillac Frank” Salemme that indictments would be coming down against them soon. Bulger disappeared soon after and is still a fugitive.
Connolly has denied tipping the men off to the indictment.
Weeks also testified that he delivered $5,000 in cash from Bulger to Connolly. John Martorano, a confessed hitman for the Winter Hill Gang, testified that Bulger gave Connolly a two-carat diamond ring.
“Your common sense tells you when you accept a thing of value when you are an FBI agent, you know you are compromised,” Durham said.
Durham called Martorano’s testimony, in which he admitted to at least 20 murders, “clearly chilling.”
He asked jurors to carefully consider testimony from Martorano, Weeks and Salemme. He acknowledged that all three were notorious criminals, but said each knew details they could not have known without getting them from a source in the FBI: Connolly.
In addition to the criminal case against Connolly, the FBI or its agents are named in at least a half dozen civil lawsuits filed by the families of people killed or victimized by Bulger and his gang. One wrongful death lawsuit, filed by the family of Roger Wheeler, the owner of World Jai Alai who was gunned down in Tulsa, Okla., in 1981, claims the FBI allowed Bulger and Flemmi to murder with impunity.
A congressional committee also has been investigating the Boston FBI’s handling of mob informants in the 1960s.