Reputed mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger appeared in court for the first time since his arrest almost two years ago, seeking documents his lawyer said will show he had an immunity deal with the U.S. Justice Department.
The government has accused Bulger, 83, of participating in 19 murders and running an extortion ring that started in South Boston and over two decades expanded around the city. He was captured after more than a decade on the run and his prosecution was the highest-profile case before the office of Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz until the April 15 Marathon bombings.
Bulger, in an orange prison uniform, sat at the defense table today in Boston federal court while his lawyers, J.W. Carney and Henry Brennan, asked U.S. District Judge Denise Casper to make prosecutors provide internal Justice Department records and memos from the 1980s that might show their client had been granted broad immunity from prosecution.
“The records of the Justice Department and the FBI have been scoured in search of the Holy Grail,” government attorney Fred Wyshak told the judge. “It does not exist.”
Casper declined to rule on the motion today and set jury selection to begin June 4.
For two decades, local and state police in Massachusetts unsuccessfully sought to build cases against Bulger. In December 1994, shortly before he was indicted, Bulger vanished.
Years later, a federal court examination of the relationship between Bulger and law enforcement officials determined that he had served as an informant for the Boston office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, helping agents dismantle the Patriarca crime family in New England.
The records also showed that Bulger’s primary handler, FBI agent John Connolly, had protected him from prosecution at the state level, tipping him off about potential informants who might incriminate him. Connolly was convicted in federal court of racketeering and in state court of second-degree murder. He is currently in prison.
Bulger spent more than a decade on the FBI’s most wanted list, remaining in hiding until June 2011, when he was arrested in Santa Monica, California. The story of his relationship with Connolly was the subject of numerous books and partially inspired the Martin Scorsese movie “The Departed.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was arrested last week after a four- day manhunt and accused of taking part in the double bombing near the finish line of the marathon that killed three people and injured more than 200. Ortiz charged Tsarnaev, whose brother Tamerlan died after a shootout with police, with two counts that can carry the death penalty, including using a weapon of mass destruction.
Richard DesLauriers, who heads the Boston FBI office, used similar tactics to capture Bulger and Tsarnaev. In 2011, he ended the 16-year hunt for the accused mobster by organizing a television and social-media campaign targeting female viewers of daytime soap operas whose age range roughly matched the fugitive’s girlfriend.
Last week, the 25-year FBI investigator released photographs and video of the Tsarnaev brothers, while he simultaneously announced the creation of a dedicated website for tipsters. Within hours, release of the pictures set off a chain of events that led to the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a Boston suburb.
The cases are U.S. v. Bulger, 99-10371; and U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-mj-02106, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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