By Jim Smith
BOSTON — John Connolly, the former FBI handler of fugitive Irish-American mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, was found guilty Tuesday, May 28, in federal court of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and lying to an FBI agent. He is facing from 8 to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced Aug. 7.
The jury heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated for 12 hours over two days. It found Connolly, who’s 61, not guilty of the most serious charges that he was facing, which involved allegations that he leaked information to Bulger’s gang that eventually led to the murders of three men who were cooperating with federal authorities: Richard Castucci, Brian Halloran and John Callahan.
Connolly would have faced substantially more prison time if convicted of those charges, but jurors evidently did not give much credence to the underworld figures who made those claims, including John Martorano, who admitted to killing 20 people, and Kevin Weeks, an enforcer who participated in some of Bulger’s murders and dug graves for some of Bulger’s victims.
Among the Bulger victims whom Weeks buried was John McIntyre, a crewman aboard the fishing trawler Valhalla, which had been used in a failed attempt to ship weapons to the IRA off the coast of Ireland in September 1984. Bulger’s gang had arranged to ship to the IRA 91 rifles, eight submachine guns, 13 shotguns, 51 handguns, as well as hand grenades, bulletproof vests and 70,000 rounds of ammunition. The shipment was transferred to the Marita Ann off the coast of Ireland, where it was intercepted by the Irish authorities. Among those indicted was Martin Ferris, who won a seat in the Dail in the recent Irish elections. Six Massachusetts men were also indicted in the U.S.
Weeks said during his testimony two weeks ago that Bulger killed McIntyre after Connolly had told Bulger that someone had been talking to authorities about the unsuccessful gun-running operation. McIntyre’s murder was not part of the government’s case against Connolly. It turned out that McIntyre had been cooperating with the customs officials in relation to drugs shipments run by the Bulger gang. Years later, former IRA man Sean O’Callaghan claimed that he gave the information that led to the arms shipment’s interdiction.
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Key evidence used to convict Connolly included records of phone calls he made to the FBI headquarters in Boston in December 1994 in which he sought information about pending federal indictments against Bulger and Bulger’s sidekick, Stephen Flemmi. In finding Connolly guilty of racketeering, the jury found that he had alerted Bulger to flee just before Christmas 1994 on the eve of Bulger’s racketeering indictment. Bulger has been a fugitive since, and he remains on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.
Connolly had retired from the FBI in 1990 and was working in public affairs at the Boston Edison company when he made the phone calls on his company calling card inquiring about the indictment against Bulger.
Those phone records, and other corroborating testimony, ultimately led to Connolly’s conviction that he had tipped off Bulger about the imminent indictment.
Connolly became an FBI agent in New York in 1968. In 1973 he was transferred to the Boston office. Soon thereafter he began cultivating bulge as a top-echelon informant to help bring down the Italian Mafia in New England. For the next 15 years, dozens of Mafia gangsters were convicted, including Gennaro Angiulo, who headed the Mafia in Boston’s North End.
Connolly made no comment as he left the courthouse following the verdict. He remains free on $200,000 unsecured bond.
His lawyer, Tracy Miner, told reporters that she was pleased that her client was not convicted of some of the more serious charges involving the murder of the three men who wee cooperating with the government. “None of the acts John Connolly was found guilty of resulted in any physical harm to anyone,” she said.
But lead prosecutor John Durham, who is continuing to probe links between Boston law enforcement and organized crime, said that Connolly had allowed himself to be corrupted by the informants he was handling. “This verdict speaks loudly to the fact that nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise, and ultimately the ends do not justify the means,” he said.