John Martorano, a government witness in the murder trial of reputed crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, told a jury that he took part in 10 murders with Bulger in an altruistic bid to help friends.
“I was always taught to take care of my family and my friends -- family and friends come first, ” Martorano, 72, said yesterday in federal court in Boston during three days of testimony. “The priests and nuns I grew up with taught me that.”
Bulger, charged with 19 murders and running a racketeering scheme, 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.
Martorano, who was a fugitive living in Florida from 1978 to 1995 and was released from prison in 2007, started his testimony on June 17 by identifying 10 of the people he killed over his decades in organized crime. He appeared in court this week wearing tailored suits with a silk pocket square that matched his tie, and spoke in a deep baritone with no emotion.
Bulger shot bar owner Edward Connors in 1975 in a phone booth after Martorano helped set up the killing, Martorano told the jury yesterday. Connors was killed because the gang feared he was talking too much about its murder of another man, he said.
Martorano also said that he and Bulger killed Roger Wheeler, the former chairman of Telex Corp. who was murdered at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1982.
Martorano said he and Bulger arranged for Wheeler to be killed because he refused to sell them his World Jai Alai gambling operations in Miami, which threatened their illegal profit skimming operation worth $10,000 a week.
The Bulger gang killed John Callahan, a gang associate who was president of World Jai Alai and the instigator of the Wheeler murder, because they feared he was planning on cooperating with authorities and turning them in, Martorano testified.
He said that while he didn’t want to kill Callahan, whom he called a friend, Bulger and his associate, convicted killer Stephen Flemmi, convinced him Callahan must be silenced.
Martorano said he felt bad after luring Callahan into his van and shooting him in the back of the head.
“That was the last thing I did,” he testified. “I just stopped there.”
“Mr. Martorano, do you regret your life of crime?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak asked.
“Who wouldn’t?” Martorano replied.
Martorano, who now lives in Massachusetts, also testified GK Films has paid him $250,000 for the rights to his life story in a deal that would pay him another $250,000 if a movie hits the big screen. He also said he made about $70,000 from a deal with Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr for Carr’s book, “Hitman.”
Under cross examination, Bulger’s attorney, Hank Brennan, got Martorano to say he never spoke with Bulger directly about Wheeler’s murder, and that the instructions came from Flemmi.
“When you decided to kill Mr. Wheeler, you didn’t call and speak to Mr. Bulger, did you?” Brennan asked.
“I spoke to Mr. Flemmi,” Martorano said. Bulger didn’t conduct business over the phone and “said any time you talk to Stevie you’re talking to me,” Martorano said in his testimony.
Brennan also sparred with Martorano about how he would describe himself. Martorano denied that he has spent his life as a mass murderer. He also said he isn’t a serial killer because he wasn’t a hit-man and took no pleasure from killing.
The case is U.S. v. Weeks, 99-cr-10371, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).