Whitey Bulger Trial Witness Found Dead, Prosecutor Says
Stephen Rakes, who allegedly was a victim of extortion by James “Whitey” Bulger and said in May he looked forward to testifying against the reputed crime boss at his murder trial, was found dead, prosecutors said.
Rakes’s body was found on a path off Mill Street in Lincoln, about a 20-mile (32 kilometer) drive from Boston, yesterday afternoon, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said today in a statement.
Rakes, 59, of Quincy, had been listed as a prosecution witness in the government’s murder and racketeering case against Bulger but hadn’t been called as the government is winding down its case. Bulger’s trial in Boston started in early June.
“There were no obvious signs of trauma” to his body, Ryan said in the statement. An autopsy was performed today, her office said. The results are pending a toxicology report, which takes several weeks to complete, and an investigation by authorities is continuing, Ryan’s office said.
Rakes was ordered at gunpoint to sell his liquor store in 1984 to Bulger and his crime partner Stephen Flemmi, according to prosecutors. Bulger’s gang wanted the store as a source of legitimate income, prosecutors said.
Flemmi, 79, who is serving a life sentence after admitting to 10 murders, testified today for 10 minutes and is expected to return to the stand tomorrow. Flemmi, wearing a khaki prison uniform and green windbreaker, and Bulger muttered obscenities at each other in the courtroom.
Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael Donahue, was allegedly gunned down during the Bulger gang’s assassination of another man in 1981, listened to the exchange of profanities and described it in an interview as “two of the biggest rats squealing at each other.”
Prosecutors have said Bulger was a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant and at least three agents were corrupted by his alleged schemes.
Flemmi testified that he and Bulger were both FBI informants while they ran a criminal organization from 1974 to 1994. He said he and Bulger met “hundreds of times” with FBI agents.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak asked Flemmi to describe the nature of his relationship with Bulger.
“Strictly criminal,” Flemmi replied.
Flemmi, who was a paratrooper in Korea and served two tours, described Bulger as more “overbearing, forceful” than Flemmi was during their criminal reign.
At court on July 16, Rakes told families of Bulger victims that prosecutors had decided not to call him as a witness, said Steve Davis, whose sister, Deborah Davis, was Flemmi’s ex-girlfriend and was allegedly murdered by Bulger and Flemmi in 1981 at age 26.
“He was upset,” Davis said. “I tried calming him down. He was looking forward to testifying. He had a lot to say.”
Christina Dilorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, declined to comment on whether Rakes had been removed from the witness list.
In an interview with Bloomberg News in May, Rakes said he was looking forward to testifying.
“The best revenge is getting on the stand and looking him in the eyes,” Rakes said inside the courthouse on May 22. “It’s going to be a great day.”
Rakes’s $120 million lawsuit against the FBI, which accused the agency of ignoring the extortion and protecting Bulger, was thrown out by a judge in 2005, because it was filed too late.
Bulger, 83, is accused of 19 murders and widespread racketeering while he led an Irish-American organized crime gang in South Boston from the 1970s to the early 1990s.
Bulger’s defense is scheduled to begin next week. Prosecutors today asked U.S. District Judge Denise Casper to strike more than 20 witnesses from the defense list of 37 names.
Wyshak said in a court filing that the proposed witnesses “do not appear to have any relevant, admissible testimony to offer.”
Among those Bulger seeks to call, and who prosecutors want removed, is attorney James Lesar of Silver Springs, Maryland. Wyshak said in the filing that Lesar “fancies himself an expert on FBI corruption and who, in the past had contended that James Earl Ray, despite pleading guilty, was the victim of a government conspiracy and was not the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.”
Davis said he became good friends with Rakes during the trial and is worried foul play might have been involved.
“The whole thing, it brings you back to the ’80s when people were getting extorted and murdered every month,” Davis said. “I hope it wasn’t murder.”
He said Rakes never expressed fear for his life.
“He felt secure that Bulger was locked up,” Davis said.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.