The Martyrdom of John Connolly
This was the deal the FBI struck in 1975: To rid Boston of the Italian mob, John Connolly would act as a liaison for Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, who would in turn rat out the Mafia, for whom the pair sometimes worked. It was a great deal for Bulger and Flemmi; for their cooperation, the evidence suggests, the Justice Department looked the other way. Connolly says Bulger and his crew had authorization from the Justice Department to continue their crimes: loansharking, gambling, and extorting bookies. As long as they committed no violence, they wouldn’t be prosecuted. The deal worked for the government, too. The 1980s saw a parade of handcuffed Mafia foot soldiers, capos, and dons escorted into custody, with Connolly invariably front and center before the waiting TV cameras.
If you were around then, you probably know all this. You probably know how Connolly and his supervisor became too close to Bulger and Flemmi, were corrupted by them, that even as the FBI brought to its knees the Italian Mafia, it allowed the far more sinister force of Whitey Bulger to metastasize. You probably know from 10 years of newspaper stories, TV news spots, magazin
e pieces, and a shelf of Bulger books (not to mention The Departed, the Oscar winner loosely based on the Bulger-Connolly story) that Connolly was the law on Bulger’s side.
Few public characters have faced such an overwhelming presumption of guilt as John Connolly. But he didn’t act alone. In fact, if Connolly belongs in prison, so, too, do a number of other former FBI agents.
Start with John Morris. He was Connolly’s supervisor on the organized-crime squad. Thin, dour, formal, and cagey, Morris drank too much and talked too much over dinner with the mobsters. He admitted to taking $7,000 in bribes from Bulger and Flemmi, tipping them off to wiretaps, and warning them about an informant named Brian Halloran who detailed one of Bulger and Flemmi’s murders for the FBI. (Bulger subsequently killed Halloran.) After Bulger fled in 1995, and the investigation into FBI wrong-doing began in earnest, Morris received immunity from the Justice Department. Bob Fitzpatrick, a high-energy product of the tougher streets of New York, came to the Boston bureau as Connolly and Morris’s boss in the early ’80s. He says Morris got immunity because he had better connections than Connolly to high-ranking Justice Department and FBI officials. If need be, Morris could give up his own superiors, because they weren’t clean, either.
One of them was Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, the lead federal prosecutor for the organized-crime strike force in Boston. In 1978, Bulger and Flemmi were about to be indicted with numerous associates in a horserace-fixing case. O’Sullivan took their names out because he and headquarters wanted to keep Bulger and Flemmi working as informants. In effect, O’Sullivan gave them a pass for their crimes and more reason to believe they had immunity from future prosecution, as Connolly has insisted. "Is that obstruction of justice? You better believe it," Bob Fitzpatrick concludes.
Fitzpatrick himself has long fought to clear his name after, he says, he was forced out of the FBI for attempting to root out corruption. He opposed the use of Bulger as an informant. In court cases and depositions, he has testified that agents in the organized-crime squad stole files from another team investigating Bulger and the people who might be tipping him off. Fitzpatrick testified that the special agent in charge of the Boston office, James Greenleaf, had leaked the identities of two men who were telling the FBI about Bulger’s crimes. One of them, John McIntyre, was subsequently tied up, strangled, and shot in the back of the head by Bulger in 1984. Greenleaf would not comment for this story.
Fitzpatrick can name at least 10 agents in Boston in the ’70s and ’80s he believes were corrupt. Kevin Weeks, who’s been called Bulger’s surrogate son, recalls Bulger bragging that he could call on six FBI agents any time who "would willingly hop in the car with a machine gun." Not for nothing did Bulger wake up every morning, look out his window, and say, "‘I own this town,’" Weeks told me. The FBI and Justice Department were so entangled with Bulger and Flemmi that the two organizations fought the state police and Drug Enforcement Administration’s investigation of Bulger and Flemmi, and resisted the efforts of federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak to indict the pair. Only when the state police and DEA threatened to go public with this did the FBI and Justice Department join the case.
After Bulger and Flemmi were outed as FBI informants in 1997, Flemmi claimed he couldn’t be prosecuted: By virtue of his status as a top-echelon informant, he had immunity. Federal Judge Mark Wolf conducted months of hearings in his Boston courtroom. Wolf would later describe an extraordinary effort by the FBI to cover up "serious impropriety if not illegality": Agents received gifts and money from mobsters, and warned them about the cops who were on their trail. In response, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a special outside prosecutor, John Durham, to investigate the mess. But Durham wasn’t exactly the cavalry coming to the rescue.