12/06/2002

Ex-Prosecutor Tells of Ties Between F.B.I. and Mob

By Fox Butterfield, The New York Times

BOSTON - A former United States attorney in Boston told a Congressional committee today that he knew that some gangland informers were committing murders and that their F.B.I. handlers had become personally involved with them. But he said he took no action because he was intimidated by the bureau.

"It would have precipitated World War III if I had tried to do anything about F.B.I. informants," said the witness, Jeremiah T. O'Sullivan, who was in charge of the New England Organized Crime Strike Force and then United States attorney here in the 1970's and 80's

In fact, Mr. O'Sullivan said, he once tried to sidestep the Federal Bureau of Investigation by setting up an electronic bug with the help of the Massachusetts state police in the headquarters of James Bulger, known as Whitey, the leader of the powerful Winter Hill gang. But the surveillance was soon compromised, Mr. O'Sullivan said, most likely by an F.B.I. agent who tipped off Mr. Bulger. Mr. Bulger had been recruited as an F.B.I. informer.

After the bug was compromised, Mr. O'Sullivan told members of the House Committee on Government Reform, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s Boston office, Lawrence Sarhatt, called him into his office. "He yelled at me, cursed at me," Mr. O'Sullivan said of the F.B.I. official. "He told me I should never have cooperated with the state police."

"With the F.B.I, if you go against them, they will try to get you," Mr. O'Sullivan said. "They'll cause major administrative problems for me, as a prosecutor." Mr. O'Sullivan was actually superior in rank inside the Justice Department to the Boston F.B.I. agents.

The Committee on Government Reform, led by Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, has been investigating how F.B.I. agents in Boston became corrupted by recruiting underworld informers in their war on the Mafia starting in the 1960's. Some of the gangsters, notably Mr. Bulger and his deputy, Steven Flemmi, regularly entertained their F.B.I. handlers or gave them gifts, and the F.B.I. agents often provided them with confidential information about government investigations against them or names of other mobsters informing on them, according to court testimony.

One of these F.B.I. agents, John J. Connolly Jr., was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September for racketeering and obstructing of justice. Prosecutors said Mr. Connolly essentially became a member of Mr. Bulger's gang.

Mr. Bulger has been indicted in racketeering and involvement in 22 murders. But he disappeared in 1995 after Mr. Connolly tipped him off to the secret indictment, according to testimony at Mr. Connolly's trial. Mr. Bulger remains a fugitive and is on the F.B.I.'s Ten Most Wanted List.

In separate testimony today, a Tulsa homicide detective, Mike Huff, said the Tulsa County District Attorney has been investigating a former Boston F.B.I. agent and is close to indicting him for his involvement in the murder of a Tulsa multimillionaire businessman, Roger Wheeler, on orders from Mr. Bulger.

Sergeant Huff told the committee there was strong evidence that H. Paul Rico, Mr. Connolly's predecessor in recruiting members of the Winter Hill gang as F.B.I. informers, had provided critical information used in Mr. Wheeler's killing. Mr. Rico was subpoenaed by the committee last year and refused to testify, taking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Mr. Wheeler, then the chairman of the Telex Corporation, was shot once between the eyes as he got in his car after playing golf at the Southern Hills Country Club in 1981.

He was killed because he had learned that Mr. Bulger's gang was skimming money from one of his businesses, World Jai Alai, which ran gambling operations in Hartford and Miami, according to testimony by the man who shot him, John Martorano. Mr. Rico was in charge of security for World Jai Alai at the time of the killing.

Sergeant Huff, who has investigated Mr. Wheeler's murder for 21 years, said, "The F.B.I. and the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston did not help us with the investigation."

"We were lied to," Sargeant Huff said. "They had targeted the Wheeler case to not get solved."

As a result, even though the F.B.I. in Boston knew Mr. Bulger was involved in the killing, the information was not provided to the Tulsa police. "The F.B.I. didn't want the embarrassment and Connolly didn't want his house of cards to fall," Sergeant Huff said.

David Wheeler, a son of Mr. Wheeler, also testified, saying, "Forgotten in all of this are the people the agents are supposed to serve - people like my father."

A question hanging over the hearing today was whether Whitey Bulger's brother, William M. Bulger, the president of the University of Massachusetts and the former president of the State Senate, will testify on Friday. William Bulger has said very little over the years about his older brother, insisting he knows nothing about his criminal career.

But the committee has issued a subpoena for him to appear. Steven Lynch, a Democratic representative on the committee who lives in South Boston, the Bulgers' neighborhood, said it was unclear whether Mr. Bulger would appear at all, or appear and plead his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination, or try to fight testifying on some procedural grounds.

One person listening to the testimony today, in the Suffolk County Courthouse, was Joseph Salvatti. In 1967 Mr. Salvatti was sentenced to life in prison for a murder actually committed by an F.B.I. informer, and the bureau allowed Mr. Salvatti and three other men to be wrongly convicted, with the knowledge of J. Edgar Hoover.

"It's hard to sit listening, knowing the F.B.I. and the U.S. Attorney's office are lying, said Mr. Salvatti, who had his sentence commuted after serving 30 years in prison. "The bottom line is, they don't care."

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