Upward mobility
Not that the embarrassment of failing to find its fugitive has marred the career movement of FBI supervisors. While Bulger’s been on the lam, they’ve been on the climb. Since Whitey split, three “SACS” or special agents in charge and an assistant SAC have come to town, each one vowing to catch him — “There’s a 95 percent chance we’re going to find him,” Charles Prouty assured reporters in 2002. And after not finding him, each one has left Boston with a promotion.

This year, there is something new and different about the bureau’s observation of the anniversary. Downtown at the Omni Parker House on January 5, over London broil, grilled-chicken provence, or baked Boston scrod, some 200 FBI agents from across New England, as well as the whole range of federal law-enforcement agencies and the US Attorney’s Office, will be honoring Ken Kaiser, the latest FBI special agent in charge to leave town for a promotion in Washington. Appropriately enough, Kaiser’s farewell will come within what Bulger would have considered “grease-gun” range of the old Federal Courthouse where he officially became a fugitive on an arctic January night in 1995.

Back in 2003, Kaiser fairly swaggered into Boston telling the Herald: “There is a new sheriff in town.” Calling Bulger’s capture his mandate and top priority, Kaiser told the Boston Globe, “I cannot move the Boston division forward until I get him caught.” Tougher still, this to the Herald about Bulger: “It’s gum on my shoe and I’m going to get it off. . . . We are going to catch him.”

All the tough talk set a high bar that Kaiser failed to clear, but don’t expect any of his adulatory guests to recite those words back to him over scrod. And what’s truly breathtaking is that the FBI and its federal-enforcement cohorts — even US Attorney Michael Sullivan is expected to attend — will honor Kaiser on the anniversary associated with what a congressional committee has called “one of the greatest law-enforcement failures in history.”

Absent from the guest list of backslappers this Friday will be the families of Bulger’s victims, along with the cops the bureau sandbagged when they tried to arrest Bulger during his reign of terror. For them, pairing a fond farewell to Kaiser with the fugitive’s farewell 12 years earlier epitomizes arrogance, ineptitude, indifference, or all three.

“It’s so blatant. It’s so in your face,” says David Wheeler. His father, Roger, a legitimate and wealthy businessman, was shot between the eyes on the orders of Whitey Bulger and former Boston FBI agent H. Paul Rico in the middle of the day in 1981 in far-away Tulsa, Oklahoma, according to prosecutors. Following the sensational murder of Tulsa’s largest employer, Oklahoma investigators came to Boston, but they were stonewalled by both the FBI and federal prosecutors. The Wheeler murder went unsolved for 20 years, like so many others by junior G-men Whitey and Stevie. (After being charged in Tulsa, in 2004, Rico died in jail.)

Over the phone, David Wheeler poses this question for Kaiser: “So where’s Bulger? You had a job to do. You didn’t do it. So why are you getting a promotion?”

Chris McIntyre, a surviving relative of another Bulger victim, says the January 5 luncheon is like “spitting in our face.”

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