Former Boston FBI agent convicted in racketeering trial

Tuesday, May 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ A former FBI agent who spent years cultivating mob informants was convicted Tuesday of protecting gangsters, bribery and warning three New England mobsters they were about to be indicted.

John J. Connolly Jr., 61, showed no emotion as he was found guilty on four of the five counts he faced, including racketeering, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. He was also acquitted on a charge of obstruction of justice.

He faces up to 45 years in prison at sentencing Aug. 7, but sentencing guidelines call for much less time. He was released on $200,000 bail.

Connolly was once considered a star in the FBI's successful efforts to dismantle the New England Mafia. But prosecutors said he got too close to his informants, including gangsters James ``Whitey'' Bulger and Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi.

Bulger and Flemmi were leaders of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish crime syndicate that ran loansharking, gambling and drug operations in the Boston area. They were also top-echelon informants who ratted out the Mafia _ their criminal rivals _ to the FBI.

Connolly was accused of tipping off Bulger, Flemmi and former New England mob boss Francis ``Cadillac Frank'' Salemme in late 1994 that they were about to be indicted.

Bulger fled and remains a fugitive on the FBI's ``Most Wanted'' list.

Salemme also fled, but was arrested seven months later in Florida. Flemmi is serving a 10-year prison term and still awaiting trial in 10 murders.

Connolly was found innocent of a claim that he leaked confidential information to Bulger and Flemmi about three men who were talking to authorities about the gang's crimes. The men were later killed by members of Bulger's gang in retaliation, prosecutors said.

Connolly, who retired in 1990, denied any wrongdoing and claimed all of his dealings with Bulger and Flemmi were sanctioned by his supervisors at the FBI in their zeal to bring down the Mafia. He also claimed he was unaware of the extent of his informants' crimes, including at least 20 slayings.

``He was at the bottom,'' defense attorney Tracy Miner told the jury. ``He took orders. He didn't give them.''

Connolly did not take the stand in his own defense, and his attorneys wrapped up their case in a day. They used an FBI training video featuring Connolly to try to convince jurors that the mobsters who testified against him were lying.

In the 1983 video, Connolly gives FBI rookies advice on how to handle criminal informants, warning them against trying to ``out-gangster a gangster'' by getting too close.

``You can get friendly with them and you can like them, but you can never forget who you work for and that you're an FBI agent,'' he says.

Prosecutors said Connolly did exactly that, ignoring crimes committed by Bulger and Flemmi and protecting the two gangsters.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors called a hitman, a gang enforcer and a former Mafia boss to testify against Connolly. All three men cut deals with prosecutors for lighter sentences in exchange for their testimony.

Kevin Weeks, Bulger's right-hand man, testified that Connolly came to the gang's headquarters in a Boston liquor store on Dec. 23, 1994, and told him to warn Bulger, Flemmi and Salemme that indictments would be coming soon.

Weeks also said he once delivered a $5,000 bribe to Connolly from Bulger. He said Bulger boasted that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 Boston police officers. At holiday time, Bulger stuffed envelopes with cash, Weeks said.

``He used to say that Christmas was for cops and kids,'' Weeks said.

John Martorano, a hitman who has confessed to at least 20 murders as a member of the Winter Hill Gang, also testified that Bulger gave Connolly a two-carat diamond ring that the agent then gave to his wife.