FLEMMI pleads innocent to murder, racketeering charges

Tuesday, July 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Accused gangster Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges he participated in 10 killings as part of a 25-year reign of terror by James ``Whitey'' Bulger's notorious Winter Hill gang.

Flemmi, an alleged leader in the gang, is charged in the slayings of two of his former girlfriends, an Oklahoma businessman, and several fellow gangsters.

At his arraignment Tuesday, Flemmi pleaded innocent to a total of 17 charges, including the 10 murders, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, perjury, evidence tampering and numerous firearms charges.

He faces the possibility of life in prison.

Assistant U.S. attorney Brian Kelly said he expects to call 50 witnesses during a trial that will begin sometime next year and last six months. No trial date has been set.

Flemmi's new attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Charles P. McGinty, assigned to the case late last month, had no immediate comment.

The original indictment was handed up in September 2000, but Flemmi's arraignment was delayed nearly 10 months because he couldn't find a lawyer willing to represent him at low-paying government rates. Flemmi claims to be indigent.

More than 40 Boston-area lawyers turned down Flemmi's case, which includes complicated racketeering and extortion charges.

Flemmi is accused of helping Bulger run the Winter Hill gang, which controlled drug-dealing, loan-sharking and other rackets in Boston from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s.

Among his alleged victims was Debra Davis, his 26-year-old girlfriend. Davis disappeared in 1981. Investigators believe Flemmi and Bulger killed Davis after she decided to leave him for another man. Her body was recovered last year in a shallow grave in Quincy.

Bulger has been a fugitive since 1995 and is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list with a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Flemmi has been in jail since he was first indicted in 1995. In May, he struck a deal with federal prosecutors in which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on multiple extortion, money-laundering and obstruction of justice charges.

Flemmi is due back in court for a status conference on Sept. 17.

In addition to the federal indictment in Boston, Flemmi also faces state murder charges in the 1981 slaying of millionaire and World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler in Tulsa, Okla., and the 1982 killing of financier John ``Jack'' Callahan in Miami, Fla. Both states have the death penalty.