- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2011

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger did almost everything right in evading capture for 16 years.

The notorious mobster’s run from the law was remarkable for its longevity, which was due mainly to the unremarkable new identity he built for himself while on the lam.

He adopted an unassuming lifestyle, paid for everything with cash, didn’t drive a car, limited his social contact to small talk and adhered to the code of silence from the mob life he left behind. When federal agents tracked him to his lair this week, it was only after targeting the one part of his past that Bulger didn’t leave behind — his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

By all accounts, the two did little to ever arouse suspicion, posing as two retirees holed up in a bland white 1970s apartment complex in Santa Monica amid other buildings of the same era.

Although Bulger — who fled Boston in 1995 after a retired FBI agent who had recruited him as an informant tipped him to a pending indictment — was believed to have millions of dollars stashed in secret accounts, and investigators found $800,000 hidden in the apartment, the couple didn’t live lavishly. They paid $1,145 cash several days in advance each month for a rent-controlled unit, while newer neighbors paid more than twice as much. Greig shopped at a 99-cent store.

Occasionally, they splurged, even while remaining discreet.

Andrew Turner, the general manager of Michael’s, recognized pictures of the fugitives this week as the couple who dined occasionally at table No. 23 at the upscale institution. He had a record of them paying their $190 tab in cash for a meal that included Grey Goose vodka cocktails, foie gras, steak and lobster, topped off by wine, in September 2009 — the month Bulger turned 80. The couple kept to themselves and were unassuming, Turner recalled.

“This guy was just nice, mild and meek, milquetoast in a little apartment in Santa Monica,” said Bill Keefer, a retired U.S. marshal who supervised the witness protection program in Los Angeles, Hawaii and Long Island, N.Y. “This guy should have been a supervisor with the marshal’s witness protection program. He did an outstanding job, the louse.”

Bulger, now 81, has been linked to 19 murders, including the strangling of an associate’s girlfriend who knew he was a snitch and the murder of a man shot so many times his leg was almost severed from his body.

His flight in 1995 was big news at the time. In addition to Bulger’s indictment for racketeering along with other major mob figures, questions were raised about his ability to always be one step ahead of the law and because his brother, state Senate president William Bulger, was one of Massachusetts’ most powerful politicians.

His fugitive status only grew when the FBI was forced to acknowledge in court two years later what had been long-whispered in law enforcement: the Boston FBI bureau had a corrupt relationship with its informants and looked the other way as they knocked off associates. A Bulger lieutenant testified in 2002 that Bulger boasted that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 Boston cops, keeping them loyal with Christmas envelopes stuffed with cash.

Between the time of his flight and settling on the West Coast, Bulger had about two years to reinvent himself.

In the fall of 1995, the couple checked into a hotel as “Mr. and Mrs. Tom Baxter,” according to an FBI affidavit unsealed this week. They spent time on New York’s Long Island and lived six weeks in a two-bedroom apartment in the fishing village of Grand Isle, La., in 1996.

It’s not clear how far they roamed, but their travels ended in this sun-splashed beach city about 15 years ago when they moved into unit 303 of the Princess Eugenia apartments as Charles and Carol Gasko.

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