Oh, Brothers

The real godfather of Boston's notorious Winter Hill mob, it turns out, isn't James “Whitey” Bulger after all. It's Billy Bulger. Yes, the same William Bulger who is president of the University of Massachusetts and whose $300,000 annual salary, along with some princely perks, is paid for by taxpayers. Brother Billy – long known as “the good Bulger” – was instrumental in getting his Southie neighborhood pal, FBI agent John “Zip” Connolly, to protect his gangster brother Whitey from the law, according to testimony given in Connolly's just-ended federal corruption trial. The predictable result of this arrangement was that the bad Bulger got away with murder and mayhem. As Peter Gelzinis, who covered the story for the Boston Herald, put it: “If indeed it was a 'black Mass,' then the bishop upon the altar was not Whitey Bulger, but rather his imperious, pinstriped kid brother William.”

I smelled this rat several years ago when the media was still insisting Billy had helped persuade Whitey to become an FBI informer. In other words, the “good” Billy deserved the credit for turning the “bad” Whitey into a government agent.

I wrote at the time (“Blood Brothers,” June 2000) that this pro-Billy formulation had it backward. Marshaling the evidence available then, I concluded “it was Connolly's friendship with William Bulger, and Connolly's hope of capitalizing on it financially, that led him to give Whitey a blank check on committing crimes, including a heads-up on wiretaps and a head start in evading arrest.” I believed Godfather Billy made his homeboy Connolly an offer he couldn't refuse: cash, career opportunities, and other considerations in exchange for protecting his bad brother Whitey from the real cops.

The evidence then available included the following: First, the deal Whitey got was unprecedented in FBI history – he provided little and got everything in return. Second, Godfather Billy – then president of the state Senate – moseyed into a secret dinner meeting between Connolly and Whitey to show the flag. Third, Billy got a free pass from prosecution for extortion after he received a quarter of a million dollars from the developer of 75 State Street, when the acting U.S. attorney on the case just happened to be the only Justice Department lawyer in on the Connolly-Whitey secret.

Now, with Connolly convicted on racketeering charges, these dots have been connected. Another member of the Winter Hill Gang, John Martorano, testified that Connolly owed Billy a favor and that Billy called in the debt by insisting that the FBI agent “keep my brother out of trouble.”

Not only did Connolly keep the mass-murdering Whitey out of prison and in business for decades, but he also tried to keep the good brother Billy out of prison. According to an assistant U.S. attorney who testified at the Connolly trial, during the 75 State Street extortion investigation, Connolly improperly lobbied him to drop the scrutiny of this “special person.” Connolly also tried – unsuccessfully – to milk the prosecutor for confidential information about the probe.

President Bulger has declined to comment on any of this, but his spokesman says the extortion charge has been “thoroughly reviewed.” Nonsense. The decision not to prosecute Billy was made by Jeremiah O'Sullivan, who apparently had a conflict of interest, since he was in on the Connolly-Whitey arrangement.

It's time for a real investigation of William Bulger's role in the 75 State Street affair and in the Connolly-Whitey conspiracy. Since Bulger holds an important state position, taxpayers have a right to know the truth about his role in two of the biggest corruption scandals that have plagued the commonwealth during his long career.

Connolly's conviction would, under normal circumstances, give the former FBI agent leverage to use any knowledge of Billy Bulger's derelictions as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. But nothing is normal when it comes to the Bulgers. Turns out Billy Bulger has been represented by the same law firm that represented Connolly. It would be a conflict of interest for that firm to make a deal for one of its clients against another. How convenient for President Bulger.