BOSTON — Federal prosecutors Tuesday dismissed a 1994 racketeering indictment against mob suspect James "Whitey" Bulger in order to focus on a later indictment that charged the newly captured fugitive with being involved in 19 murders.
Prosecutors in Boston filed an electronic notice notifying U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf that they are dismissing the earlier indictment, which charged Mr. Bulger with multiple counts of extortion, loan sharking, witness tampering and conspiracy.
In the filing, U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said prosecutors consider a 1999 indictment charging Mr. Bulger with 19 murders the stronger case. He faces life in prison on those counts.
Mr. Bulger, the former leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang, fled Boston just before the 1994 indictment was handed up in early 1995. He was captured last week in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run.
Ms. Ortiz said another reason for dropping the 1994 case is that it could be subject to a legal challenge, namely that because Mr. Bulger and pal Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi were FBI informants, they were essentially acting on behalf of the FBI when they committed the crimes in that indictment.
The 1999 indictment would not be subject to that legal challenge, Ms. Ortiz said in the court filing.
During hearings before Judge Wolf in the 1990s, Flemmi testified that he and Mr. Bulger believed they were authorized by the FBI to commit crimes as long as they provided the agency with information on the Patriarca Mafia crime family. But he said they were never authorized to commit murders, which is the focus of the 1999 indictment with which prosecutors are moving forward.
Prosecutors also decided to drop the first indictment to end the long wait the families of the murder victims have had to endure to see Mr. Bulger, now 81, held accountable, Ms. Ortiz said.
"Given the age of the defendant, there is also a substantial public interest in ensuring that the defendant faces the most serious charges before the end of his natural life," Ms. Ortiz said in the court filing.
Later Tuesday, Judge Wolf postponed a decision on whether Mr. Bulger is entitled to a taxpayer-funded attorney.
Judge Wolf said he wanted to give Mr. Bulger's provisional attorney 24 hours to determine whether he objects to dismissal.
The provisional attorney, Peter Krupp, accused prosecutors of "forum shopping."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly last week cited more than $800,000 in cash that agents found in Mr. Bulger's Santa Monica apartment.
Mr. Kelly also said Mr. Bulger may have access to "family resources," including from his brother, former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger.
Mr. Krupp, however, said in court documents that no one in Mr. Bulger's family has offered to help him pay for his defense.