Dershowitz: With Bulger Brothers, The Cover-Up Continues

As those who follow Boston politics well know, there’s no love lost between Billy Bulger and Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Here, Dershowitz offers his characteristically pointed take on the government’s decision to drop a 1995 racketeering case against Bulger’s alleged mob boss brother, Whitey, to focus on separate murder charges.

The government’s decision to drop racketeering charges originally brought against James Whitey Bulger in 1995 may not have been motivated by a desire to continue the cover-up of William Bulger’s role in Whitey’s crimes, but the effect is likely to be just that. By throwing out these broad-based charges, the government achieves two results: it takes the case away from Chief Judge Mark Wolf, who had been assigned to handle the racketeering case; and it narrows the scope of the evidence that will be heard in court.

Judge Wolf is the courageous jurist who first exposed the massive corruption among law enforcement and political officials that enabled Whitey to continue in his murderous ways. Judge Wolf wrote a lengthy decision connecting dots that were always there for probing minds to see but had never quite been put together. He understood, as many politicians persisted in denying, that Whitey Bulger could not operate in a vacuum, and that a wide array of FBI agents, Massachusetts State Police, local policemen, prosecutors and politicians all contributed to the atmosphere in which Whitey’s power assumed legendary proportions as he persisted in his murderous ways.

Judge Wolf is known as a fair-minded judge who is equally tough on the prosecution, for which he worked for many years, and the defense. I have heard many prosecutors complain that Judge Wolf is too tough and too demanding on them. Current prosecutors apparently decided to go “judge shopping” to try to come up with a judge who would make their lives easier and serve their interests better.

What, then, are the prosecutors interests? To convict Whitey Bulger on the narrowest range of crimes — the multiple murders — without opening up a can of worms. These “worms” would almost certainly include past and present political figures and law enforcement agents.

Primary among them is Whitey’s younger brother Billy, who recently visited with him. When Billy was the most powerful political figure in Boston, corruption permeated every aspect of public life, from the FBI, to federal prosecutors, to the state judiciary, to Beacon Hill, to building inspectors, to the State Police. Everyone — from governors, to justices of the state’s highest court — kowtowed to “The President,” which in Boston meant Billy Bulger. And everyone knew that messing with Billy was messing with Whitey. Even more important, everyone knew that messing with Whitey was messing with Billy. Billy believed his job was to protect Whitey and to keep him out of prison. Without Billy there would not, in my opinion, have been a Whitey — at least a Whitey who could persist in his murderous rampage for so long.

Those who went after Whitey — like an unfortunate state trooper at Logan Airport — were punished. Those who closed their eyes to Whitey — like FBI Chief John Morris and longtime agent John Connolly — were rewarded. The fix was always in when it came to Whitey (and to Billy as well.)

More than a decade ago, I was among the very few who wrote about these connections. In June 2000, I wrote this in Boston magazine:

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, a heads-up on wiretaps and a head start in evading arrest. Informants simply don’t get that kind of deal, even if they provide invaluable information. Whitey provided little and got everything in return. But it was not only in return for the meager information Whitey provided. It was also in return for what Connolly received and expected from William Bulger.

And in May 2006, I wrote, based on the evidence at the time, that:

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.

When I started to write about Billy and Whitey, I got an anonymous late night phone call from somebody who said, “When you mess with Billy, you’re messing with Whitey. Watch your back.”

Not only did John Connolly — who’s now serving a long prison sentence — keep the mass-murdering Whitey out of prison and in business for decades, but he also tried to keep Billy out of prison. Billy was suspected of extorting a quarter-million-dollar bribe from the Boston developer who was building a skyscraper at 75 State Street. Business as usual! According to an assistant U.S. Attorney who testified at Connolly’s trial, during the 75 State Street extortion investigation, Connolly improperly lobbied him to drop the scrutiny of this “special person.” Connolly also tried to milk the prosecutor for confidential information about the probe. It turned out, moreover, that the Chief Federal Strike Force Prosecutor in charge of investigating Billy Bulger’s corruption happened to be Whitey’s handler, Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan. The entire “investigation” of William Bulger was a scandal.

None of this is likely to come out at Whitey’s newly sanitized murder trial. They might have surfaced a broad-based racketeering case, had the original charges not been dropped. Suspicion will persist as to the mixed motives behind this move.

A recent anecdote seems to suggest that at least for some state troopers the Brothers Bulger still remain heroes. After Jay Carney — who boasts that “I limit my practice to the innocent” — was appointed to represent Whitey Bulger, he told the Boston Globe that he was driving aggressively to Plymouth, switching lanes illegally, when a state trooper pulled him over and asked him why he was in such a hurry. Carney said he was going to visit his new client, Whitey Bulger, at the Plymouth House of Corrections. The trooper offered the lawyer “congratulations, good luck and Godspeed,” and sent him on his way without a ticket. Business as usual on the highways of the Brothers Bulgers’ Massachusetts. Let’s see whether this attitude also persists among some elements of law enforcement in the courts.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.