BOOK REVIEW: ‘Most Wanted’

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MOST WANTED: PURSUING WHITEY BULGER, THE MURDEROUS MOB CHIEF THE FBI SECRETLY PROTECTED
By Thomas J. Foley and John Sedgwick
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $25, 352 pages

James “Whitey” Bulger led a charmed life until he was finally arrested in California on June 23, 2011.

Mr. Bulger, the alleged former crime boss of an Irish-American crime family based in South Boston, was about to be arrested in 1995 but was tipped off and he disappeared. He was a fugitive from justice for 16 years, ranking on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives second only to Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Bulger, 82, in November is set to stand trial in Boston on 19 murder charges and accusations of other serious crimes.

After Mr. Bulger went on the run, it came out that he had a “special relationship” with the FBI and for many years, it shielded him from local law enforcement and other federal agencies. Mr. Bulger was an FBI “top-echelon informant,” providing information that helped the feds lock up his Italian-American Cosa Nostra rivals and other competitors in the Boston area. Once his rivals were in prison, Mr. Bulger purportedly took over their criminal enterprises.

Before Mr. Bulger’s arrest, there were several good books written about him, such as “Black Mass: The True Story of An Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and “The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century,” by Howie Carr. George V. Higgins, author of the classic crime novel, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” also wrote a crime novel based on the Whitey Bulger story called “At End of Day.”

Now comes another good book about Whitey Bulger, and this one offers a unique vantage point — that of the local police whose investigation of Mr. Bulger was hampered by the FBI.

Thomas J. Foley, former head of the Massachusetts State Police, and co-author John Sedgwick tell the story of how the state police spent 20 years investigating Mr. Bulger while battling resistance from his FBI protectors.

Mr. Foley describes Mr. Bulger: “Whitey was almost the unofficial mayor, as plenty of people there thought of him as Robin Hood who always had a few bucks for some turkeys to give to the poor at Thanksgiving. That drove me nuts. He was a murderer, a drug dealer, an extortionist, a thug. He was like the Boston Strangler or Joe “The Animal” Barboza or Johnny Martorano, only worse because he did more damage over a much longer time.”

Mr. Foley also writes that, in addition to his FBI protectors, Mr. Bulger had political connections, as his brother Billy Bulger was for many years the president of the Massachusetts State Senate. According to Mr. Foley, Billy Bulger was in a good position to protect his brother as he had a good deal of influence over district attorneys while he controlled their budgets from the state capital. Mr. Foley also notes that Billy Bulger filed a state bill that forced the retirement of investigators who were close on his brother’s trail.

Mr. Bulger’s principal FBI handler and protector was a South Boston native named John Connolly. The dapper FBI special agent convinced his bosses that Mr. Bulger and his partner-in-crime and fellow informant, Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi, were providing the FBI with top-notch information that aided in the arrests of the Cosa Nostra leaders.

Mr. Foley would be instrumental in having Connolly convicted and sent to federal prison for alerting Mr. Bulger to investigations, falsifying FBI records and accepting bribes. Connolly was also convicted of second-degree murder for his involvement with two of Mr. Bulger’s many alleged murders.

“Still, it was astounding to think of Bulger as a snitch,” Mr. Foley writes in “Most Wanted.” “That was yet another consequence of his reputation as a vicious, bloodthirsty killer: Everyone agreed with whatever he said. Who’d ever argue? Loyalty may not be pervasive in the mob, but everyone hates rats, and no one more than Bulger. He feasted on them. Whether this was because Bulger didn’t really think of himself as one, or because he wanted to show he couldn’t be one, he was infuriated by anyone who ratted on him. And he wanted to get that word out.”

According to Mr. Foley, Whitey Bulger was a sadistic killer who enjoyed doing so with his bare hands. He is alleged to have strangled two women he believed were a threat to him. The authors portray Mr. Bulger killing up-close and personal and often brutally torturing his victims. Then he would, they write, lie down and relax as if he had taken Valium. Mr. Foley also writes about how he led the state investigations that resulted in the imprisonment of several of Mr. Bulger’s criminal gang.

“Most Wanted” is an interesting and dark tale of deceit, greed, corruption and violence.

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