John Martorano, a government witness in the federal murder trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, started his testimony by identifying 10 of the people he killed over his decades in organized crime.
Bulger, who went on trial this month in federal court in Boston, was captured in Santa Monica, California, in 2011 after 16 years on the run. Before that, he worked as both the head of a criminal organization and an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prosecutors say. Martorano spent 12 years and two months in federal prison under a plea agreement for killing 20 people, some of them on Bulger’s orders, the U.S. says.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak today read the names of 10 men and asked Martorano if he killed them. Martorano, 72, replied “yes” after each name, including that of Alfred Notarangeli, whose murder is one of 19 the government says Bulger committed while running a gang for 30 years that made millions of dollars selling drugs, committing extortion and collecting rent from bookmakers.
Martorano said he and Bulger hunted down Notarangeli in 1974 for robbing bookies. Martorano shot Notarangeli from a car, while Bulger rode in a second “crash car” ready to cut off anyone who interfered, he said. Bulger was unarmed that day, and he was unhappy, according to the witness.
“He said, ‘I’m never going to be in a car without a gun again,’” Martorano testified.
Martorano shared the details of a lifetime of killing that began in 1964 when two men threatened to implicate his brother in the murder of a waitress, whose body was found at a Boston restaurant owned by the Martorano family. Martorano hunted down one of the men, Robert Palladino, at a club.
“He pulled a gun, he got a shot off, then I shot him,” Martorano testified. He said he shot the other man, John Jackson, in 1966.
Some missions went wrong, Martorano testified. He shot up a car during a snowstorm, killing nightclub manager Herbert Smith. He discovered there were two more people in the car: teenagers Elizabeth Dixon and Douglas Barrett, who both died.
“I felt terrible,” Martorano said. “I wanted to shoot myself but can’t change it.”
Martorano said he was hunting Notarangeli when he mistakenly shot and killed Michael Milano, who looked like Notarangeli and drove a similar black Mercedes.
“He was the wrong guy?” Wyshak asked.
“Wrong guy,” Martorano said.
Convicted killer Stephen Flemmi, who was an informant like Bulger, is also expected to testify in the trial.
“After I heard they were informants, it sort of broke my heart,” Martorano told the jury today, referring to Flemmi and Bulger. “They broke all trust we had, all loyalties. I was just beside myself with it.”
Martorano, who is divorced and has five children, said he named his youngest son James Stephen after the two men.
“They were my partners in crime, my best friends, my children’s godfathers,” he said.
Martorano said today that his only current source of income is Social Security. He said he received $250,000 from a film company for the rights to his life story and got an advance of more than $50,000 for a book about him called “Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano” by Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr. Martorano testified he’s not a hit man and has never been a paid assassin.
“Why did you let Mr. Carr name the book ‘Hitman,’?” Wyshak asked.
“He thought it would sell better,” Martorano said.
J.W. Carney, Bulger’s lawyer, said in opening statements on June 12 that Martorano will say whatever prosecutors want because he got “unbelievable incentives,” including avoiding death penalty prosecutions in Florida and Oklahoma. Perks also included $6,500 in his prison canteen account and $20,000 upon his release in 2007. Carney admitted in his opening statement that Bulger was a drug dealer and loan-shark. Bulger, who pleaded not guilty to murder charges, is being blamed for the crimes of others, Carney said.
Bulger may spend the rest of his life in prison if he’s found guilty following what is expected to be a three-month trial, which is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Denise Casper.
Families of victims have accused federal agents of wrongfully protecting Bulger from local and state authorities for years, letting him kill and steal in exchange for information about a bigger target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was associated with, the Patriarca Family organized crime group.
The relationship came to an end when Bulger vanished in 1994, tipped off about impending charges. The warning had come from his longtime FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly, who’s now serving a total of 50 years in prison for crimes linked to Bulger, including murder.
Martorano said Bulger told him Connolly was helping them as a favor to his brother, William Bulger, who was president of the Massachusetts state senate for 18 years.
Connolly aided James Bulger “to keep the notoriety off Billy,” Martorano said Bulger told him. Connolly soon tipped off the gang to an investigation into one of their rackets involving a vending machine company, he said.
In return, Bulger had Martorano procure a two-carat loose diamond and give it to Connolly, Martorano said.
Martorano’s testimony continues tomorrow.
The case is U.S. v. Weeks, 99-cr-10371, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
To contact the reporter on this story: Janelle Lawrence in Boston federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org.