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James “Whitey” Bulger Pleads Not Guilty in Boston Court

James “Whitey” Bulger, the Boston mobster arrested in California last month after 16 years on the run, pleaded not guilty to 48 charges including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, perjury and weapons violations.

Bulger appeared in federal court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler in Boston. He was represented by criminal defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr., who was appointed by Bowler last week. Bulger had asked the court to appoint a lawyer to represent him, arguing that he couldn’t afford one because the government seized more than $800,000 in cash from his apartment after his arrest.

Bulger, 81, and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 60, were arrested June 22 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working on a tip, lured the fugitive out of an apartment building in Santa Monica, California.

The trial will last about four weeks and the government will call as many as 40 witnesses, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said in court today.

Bulger was wanted in connection with at least 19 murders committed between 1973 and 1985 and a variety of crimes including extortion, loan sharking, bookmaking and narcotics trafficking. He was one of the FBI’s Top 10 most-wanted fugitives. The bureau offered a $2 million reward for information leading to his capture.

‘More Serious’ Charges

He was indicted in May 2001 on the charges that he pleaded not guilty to today. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston said on June 28 that she won’t pursue a 1994 indictment of Bulger for extortion to focus on the newer, “more serious” charges, according to a court filing.

Bulger would spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted in connection with any murders with a predicate act of racketeering, Ortiz said. The evidence in the newer case is stronger while the older one weakened during the 16 years Bulger was on the run from authorities, Ortiz said, noting that at least two key witnesses have died.

The judge said a request from Carney filed yesterday to appoint his partner Janice Bassil as co-counsel was “moot.” Bassil in May won acquittal for the brother of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, Mark, who was accused of manslaughter in connection with his 70-year-old father’s death. A jury found Mark Kerrigan guilty of the lesser charge of assault and battery.

‘Enormous Undertaking’

Bassil’s work will be covered by Carney’s pay, Bowler said. The maximum compensation the defense lawyers can bill the court is $9,700, and Carney needs the court’s permission for a higher amount, Bowler said. Bulger’s lawyers will be paid by taxpayers.

“The investigation of this case will be an enormous undertaking, particularly since the average preparation time for a single murder is usually 18 to 24 months,” Carney wrote in the motion. “In addition, the case presents a host of complex legal issues which must be researched and briefed.”

Former Massachusetts State Police Col. Thomas Foley, who led the team of investigators who helped bring the first charges against Bulger, said outside court today that “seeing him in shackles, a broken man, is some kind of satisfaction to me personally and hopefully to the families” of his alleged victims.

Request Denied

In a separate hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns denied a request by the family of one of Bulger’s alleged victims, Michael Milano, for a temporary restraining order to prevent the U.S. from “transferring, assigning, distributing or otherwise disposing of their interest” in any money or assets seized from Bulger after his arrest. Stearns said he didn’t have the authority to issue such an order.

Milano’s family obtained a $2.2 million judgment in state court in 2002 against Bulger for the wrongful death of Milano, a Boston bartender who was gunned down in a botched hit by Bulger’s gunman John Martorano. Martorano has admitted he was sent to kill Milano’s boss and mistakenly shot Milano, who was driving a similar car. None of the judgment has been paid.

The government in response asked the court to postpone the request until the conclusion of the criminal case, saying that Bulger’s assets may be used as evidence against him and that granting the order “would hamper law enforcement’s ability to reasonably investigate and prosecute this case.”

The case is U.S. v. Weeks, 99-cr-10371, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

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