Hollow justice

By DAVID BOERI  |  October 5, 2011

We know Connolly tipped off Bulger to flee the arrest warrant in 1995. But who warned Bulger to get out of Grand Isle, Louisiana — his first home as a fugitive — back in 1996? Who, if anyone, knew he was in Santa Monica?


The closest we've ever come to a full accounting were the hearings conducted by Judge Mark Wolf in 1997 and 1998, after Flemmi claimed he and Bulger couldn't be prosecuted because they had been acting as informants for the government. With courage and commitment, Wolf turned over rocks that revealed not just worms, but maggots. Indeed, were it not for Wolf, we might never have learned that Bulger and Flemmi had been secret, top-echelon FBI informants.

It's important to remember now just how much the FBI and the Justice Department fought against that disclosure.

In 1997, while Wolf was conducting his hearings into the FBI's use of Bulger and Flemmi as informants, the Justice Department's internal watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), announced it had found no evidence of crimes with which it could charge Connolly or his former supervisor, John Morris. Outside the Justice Department, the report met with derision. The OPR's reputation for routinely finding no wrongdoing by its own prosecutors and agents has earned the office a well-known nickname from critics, who call it "The Roach Motel": where things go in and never come out.

In contrast, Wolf issued a 661-page legal opinion in 1999, in which he described an extraordinary effort by the FBI to cover up "serious impropriety if not illegality." Far from this being a case of "a few bad apples," as the top FBI agent in Boston, Charles Prouty, called it, Wolf wrote that it was a case involving a dozen officials of the FBI in Boston and Washington "engaged in various forms of misconduct."

Though thorough and bold, Wolf's report was incomplete. He released it in September 1999, before Bulger mob members Weeks and John Martorano, as well as Mafia don Frank Salemme — and later, even Flemmi — became government witnesses.

Confronted by the sensational revelations of the Wolf hearings in 1998, the US attorney here, Donald Stern, called for and received a special outside prosecutor to pick up the trail. Despite doubts by skeptics that the Justice Department could probe its own conduct, John Durham arrived as the white knight, a career prosecutor from Connecticut with a shining reputation. Sadly, Durham would prove the skeptics right.


At a press conference on October 11, 2000, to announce a new indictment of Connolly — charging him with leaking the identities of informants who were then murdered by Bulger and Flemmi — Durham was asked bluntly: "Does the Department of Justice have the stomach to pursue this investigation to its conclusion?"

"The government absolutely has the stomach," Durham responded. I asked him if he would pursue other compromised FBI agents, including those identified and accused of wrongdoing in the Wolf hearings. Durham said he would. He cautioned that the statute of limitations for some crimes, such as obstruction of justice or taking bribes, might prevent him from bringing charges. But whatever he found, he would account for in an official report.

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Related: Whitey Bulger and the Feds: The final act, BOOK EXCERPT: Just Don't Clip Anyone: First days as an informant, Brass balls and cold steel, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Crime, Santa Monica, Whitey Bulger,  More more >
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  •   HOLLOW JUSTICE  |  October 05, 2011
    When Whitey Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, California, this summer, it may have seemed that a new day had dawned for the local FBI and for the Justice Department.
    I get a lot of calls about Bulger, but this one was different.

 See all articles by: DAVID BOERI