This is one of the most fascinating criminal cases in US history.
"As he sat in a local jail yesterday on the eve of his sentencing for murder, former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. revealed that fugitive gangster James "Whitey" Bulger called him twice after fleeing Boston and discussed the possibility of surrendering.
"He was thinking of giving himself up," said Connolly, matter-of-factly disclosing that some years after he retired from the FBI in 1990 he had shared two prearranged phone calls with the fugitive who has been a fixture on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. "He seemed to be serious about it."
Connolly said he could not recall the date of the calls, but believed they were in 1995 or 1996, when Bulger and his sidekick, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, were facing racketeering, extortion, gambling and drug trafficking charges, but had yet to be publicly revealed as longtime FBI informants and charged with 19 murders between them.
During yesterday's interview with the Globe, Connolly, 68, was dressed in a red prison jumpsuit and wore leg shackles as he sat in a room at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, where he has been in solitary confinement for more three years.
Connolly said he first talked with Bulger at a pay telephone near his office at the Prudential Center after one of the mobster's close associates, Kevin J. Weeks, told him that someone wanted to talk to him.
When the telephone rang, Connolly said he picked it up expecting to hear Flemmi, who was in jail awaiting trial, and was shocked to hear an angry Bulger on the line.
During the 10-minute call, Bulger was outraged that he was indicted on gambling and loan-sharking charges because he believed the FBI had authorized him and Flemmi to commit such crimes, in exchange for the information they provided about the local Mafia, Connolly said.
"I said, 'Jimmy, you know I did not do this,' " said Connolly, adding that prosecutors had not consulted him about the indictments. "I had a wife and kids. I wanted to make sure he knew I didn't do this to him. I wouldn't do that to him."
Connolly, who recruited Bulger as an informant in 1975, said he feared that Bulger might hurt him or his family if the fugitive felt he had betrayed him.
Connolly said he assured Bulger that he had nothing to do with the indictment and agreed that he would tell the truth and testify in court if necessary that Bulger and Flemmi had approval from the FBI and the Justice Department to engage in gambling and loan-sharking.
Bulger spoke of surrendering, but said he did not want to turn himself in unless he was assured that he and Flemmi would both be released on bail, Connolly said
"He felt because they were both FBI informants and had produced for the FBI they could be given that concession and get bail while fighting the case," Connolly said.
I said I don't think that's possible," said Connolly, adding that he told Bulger it would depend on whether his lawyer could persuade prosecutors to agree to bail.
Bulger wanted Connolly to recommend a lawyer, and Connolly arranged for Bulger to call him back about a week later.
During the second call, Connolly said, he passed along the names of three lawyers, whom he declined to identify, other than to say that two of them were former federal prosecutors. He said he never told the lawyers that he had given their names to Bulger and did not know whether he had called them.
Connolly said it was the last time he spoke to the gangster. "He said, 'good luck,' and I said, 'Good luck to you,' and that was it," Connolly said.
Connolly said he did not know where Bulger was hiding when he made the call, but knew the fugitive was using a pay phone because he could hear him putting change in on the other end.
The former FBI agent said he did not urge Bulger to surrender, but told him, "I thought it would be a good idea."
FBI agent Richard Teahan, coordinator of the Bulger Task Force, declined to comment on Connolly's phone calls with Bulger, but said the task force is continuing its worldwide manhunt for the fugitive, will actively pursue anyone who assists him in his flight, and recently doubled the reward for his capture, to $2 million.
"If he wants to surrender, we would work with the US attorney's office to negotiate it," Teahan said.
Connolly, who spoke yesterday with his lawyer present, will be sentenced today for the 1982 slaying of Boston business consultant John B. Callahan. A Florida jury found Connolly guilty last month of second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi that prompted them to enlist a hitman to lure Callahan to Florida and shoot him. Callahan's bullet-riddled body was found Aug. 2, 1982, in the trunk of his Cadillac at Miami International Airport.
Connolly, who retired from the FBI in 1990, faces a sentence of 30 years to life in prison in the state case. He is already serving a 10-year prison term for his 2002 federal racketeering conviction for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and helping Bulger evade capture by warning him to flee just before the gangster's 1995 racketeering indictment.
The government's key witnesses in Connolly's Florida trial were Flemmi, who was serving a life sentence for killing 10 people; John Martorano, who is free after serving 12 years for killing 20 people; Weeks, a gangster-turned-author who served five years for assisting Bulger in five murders; and John Morris, a corrupt former FBI supervisor.
Flemmi testified that Connolly was like another member of Bulger's gang and had taken $235,000 in payoffs from him and Bulger over a decade.
Connolly contends that he has been made a scapegoat by the Justice Department, and that Flemmi and other witnesses lied to win leniency from the government.
"I did not commit these crimes I was charged with," Connolly said. "I never sold my badge. I never took anybody's money. I never caused anybody to be hurt, at least not knowingly, and I never would."
Michael Von Zamft, assistant Miami-Dade state attorney, said Connolly had the chance to testify at both his federal trial in Boston in 2002 and his recent trial in Miami, but chose not to take the stand, where he would have faced rigorous cross-examination under oath from prosecutors.
"He refuses to take responsibility for his actions," Von Zamft said. "He didn't before, and he's not doing it now."
Fred Wyshak, a federal prosecutor from Boston who assisted the Florida prosecution team, said there is no evidence that Bulger and Flemmi were authorized to commit crimes.
A decade ago, Connolly told the Globe that it was "a brilliant business decision" for the FBI to use Bulger and Flemmi to target the Mafia, but yesterday said, "As I sit here today, if I thought [Bulger and Flemmi] were going to go out and kill all those people I would have to have an agonizing reappraisal of that deal."
Though he denies responsibility for the murder of Callahan, and other victims killed by Bulger and Flemmi while they were FBI informants, Connolly said: "I feel sorry for their families. The Justice Department should say they are sorry."
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