FLEMMI finally gets lawyer in case charging 10 murders

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

BOSTON (AP) _ What's an accused gangster to do?

With 10 murder charges hanging over his head, no money, and no lawyer willing to represent him, Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi was in a tough spot. But finally, nine months after being charged in a major federal racketeering indictment, Flemmi has an attorney appointed by the Federal Defender Office after more than 40 others turned down the job.

Charles McGinty will represent Flemmi in an indictment that charges him with participating in 10 murders _ including one in Oklahoma _ as a leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an organized crime group that controlled drug-dealing, loan-sharking and other rackets in Boston from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s.

James ``Whitey'' Bulger, the alleged head of the gang, 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 settling three charges against him, but he is still awaiting trial for his alleged role in the 10 murders.

Flemmi's difficulty finding a lawyer did not surprise veteran criminal defense attorneys. The government pays $55 to $75 per hour, while most Boston defense lawyers earn $200 to $400 an hour.

``In any case that's going to take as long as this case is going to take, it's hard to find a lawyer in town who can afford to accept that kind of rate,'' Boston attorney Jeffrey Denner said.

The reduced pay, coupled with the complexity of the case, scared off more than 40 lawyers.

``These are a lot of competent attorneys that didn't want your case,'' Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler told Flemmi during a hearing last month in U.S. District Court.

Bowler gave the Federal Defender Office, which represents indigent defendants, until June 29 to choose a lawyer for Flemmi. The office named McGinty, 49, a public defender with 22 years of experience.

McGinty will make his first court appearance on Flemmi's behalf next Tuesday, when Flemmi is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges. No trial date has been set.

Attorney Kenneth Fishman, who represented Flemmi from 1995 until his plea in May, declined to take Flemmi's remaining case.

Fishman did not return a telephone call seeking comment. But in an earlier interview he said he spent roughly 2,500 hours just trying to get the case dismissed, arguing that Flemmi and Bulger were promised immunity as FBI informants. The plea bargain struck in May took more than six years of work, he said.

Michael Natola, who represented Flemmi on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges, said the case requires a team of lawyers. He said McGinty will have some resources at his disposal through the Federal Defender Office, but will face formidable legal power from federal prosecutors.

``All you have to do is look at the other side of the government and the lineup they have ... against Flemmi in this case. There are at least three or four trial lawyers responsible for this case, then people on the research end, the FBI, the DEA _ they're all at their disposal,'' Natola said.

In addition to the federal indictment, 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.