James “Whitey” Bulger, the former fugitive who ran a criminal gang in South Boston from the 1970s to the early 1990s, received two life sentences plus five years after being convicted in a racketeering and murder conspiracy.
Bulger, 84, who wore a prison-issued orange jumpsuit, showed no expression and didn’t speak as he was sentenced today in federal court in Boston.
“The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes is almost unfathomable,” U.S. District Judge Denise Casper said to Bulger in a 20-minute speech before she sentenced him. “Your crimes in my estimation are made all the more heinous because they were all about money. It takes no business acumen to take money from people at the end of a gun.”
Casper also ordered restitution of $19.5 million to victims and their families.
Today’s sentencing may be the last public appearance for Bulger, who was captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, California, after hiding from authorities for 16 years and sharing a space on the FBI’s most-wanted list alongside Osama bin Laden.
“The myth, the legend of James Bulger is finally over,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said outside the courthouse today after the sentencing. “James Bulger deserves nothing less than to spend the rest of his life in jail for the harm, the pain, the suffering he has caused to so many.”
J.W. Carney Jr. and Hank Brennan, lawyers for Bulger, said they will the appeal because of what they said were limits placed on their defense at trial by the judge.
Bulger, who didn’t testify during his 10-week trial, declined one last chance to speak his mind yesterday during a hearing that is often used by defendants to seek forgiveness from their victims. About 15 family members of victims read statements yesterday.
“I think Jim Bulger is pleased he held to his principles and didn’t participate in the sentencing,” Carney said.
On Aug. 12, jurors found Bulger guilty on 31 counts of racketeering and involvement in 11 killings, though he was cleared in the deaths of seven other people.
At the trial, the judge had barred Bulger’s defense team from telling the jury about his claim that he struck an immunity deal with the U.S. Justice Department years ago that protected him from prosecution in exchange for protecting the life of a prosecutor.
Before the trial, the U.S. argued the deal was a fantasy, and that no government official can confer what amounts to a “license to kill.”
Bulger’s lawyers argued he was being blamed for killings carried out by the government’s star witnesses. His lawyer said the testimony of Bulger’s ex-associates can’t be trusted because they cut deals with prosecutors to avoid lengthy prison terms or death sentences.
Prosecutors said Bulger was an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation during most of the time he was leading his Irish-American organized-crime gang and that at least three agents were corrupted by his schemes.
The trial raised questions about the extent to which federal agents wrongfully protected Bulger from local and state authorities for years before he disappeared, letting him kill and steal in exchange for tips about a bigger FBI target, the Patriarca Family organized crime group.
Outside the courthouse today, Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the FBI in Boston, said the Bulger case has shaken the public’s trust in the local FBI.
“I realize the actions of a small percentage of law enforcement many years ago caused some people to lose faith and confidence,” he said. “We will continue to move forward. And our job now is to regain the faith and confidence of those people.”
Bulger was charged with 48 racketeering violations, one of which included allegations he was involved in 19 murders. The claims included extortion and possession of machine guns and other firearms used in crimes.
Bulger went into hiding in 1994, tipped off about impending charges. The warning came from his longtime FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly, who’s now serving 50 years in prison for crimes linked to Bulger, including murder.
The FBI, which offered $2 million for information leading to his arrest, described him as one of its most notorious fugitives, known for infiltrating the FBI.
The judge told Bulger today in court that “you have over time and in certain quarters become a face of the city. That is regrettable. You and others may be deluded into believing you represent this city. But you sir, you do not represent this city.”
Of the 19 murders in the case, Bulger was convicted of 11 and acquitted of seven. The jury made no finding on the murder of Debra Davis, who was the girlfriend of Stephen Flemmi, a former Bulger associate who testified Bulger strangled Davis because she learned they were informants for the FBI. Flemmi said he removed her teeth and wrapped her body in a tarp for burial in a secret grave.
The first family member to speak at yesterday’s hearing, Sean McGonagle, whose father was killed in 1974, started by addressing the court with: “Families, court, Satan.”
“You’re a domestic terrorist, fueled by greed and a sickening ego,” McGonagle said to Bulger. “You thought you could play both sides against the other” and “when you had to choose a side, you did what most cowards do, you ran.”
Tom Donahue, whose father was a bystander murdered by Bulger during a mob hit on another man in 1981, said after the sentencing that he believed Bulger should have received a death sentence. He said he opposes state cases pending against Bulger in Oklahoma and Florida that could give him the death penalty because he said doesn’t want Bulger to have the opportunity to travel.
“You just want to stick him in a cell and let him rot,” Donahue said. “Shut that damn door. The next time I want to hear anything about him, it’s he’s dead.”
Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, who had gone into hiding with him, was also arrested when Bulger was captured. In March 2012, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor a fugitive and was sentenced to eight years in a federal prison.
Attorneys for Bulger had claimed that the mob boss offered to plead guilty to all the charges and save the expense of a trial if the government offered leniency to Greig but prosecutors declined the offer. Ortiz said she couldn’t comment on the attorneys’ claims.
Bulger’s court-appointed lawyers have submitted bills totaling more than $2 million for their work leading up to the trial, according to court records.
The case is U.S. v. Weeks, 99-cr-10371, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com