Mob hitman testifies that ex-FBI agent protected mob leader

Tuesday, May 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ A mafia hitman testified Monday that a former FBI agent protected mob informant James ``Whitey'' Bulger at the request of the gangster's brother, then a state Senator.

John Martorano, who has confessed to at least 20 murders, including that of Tulsa, Okla., millionaire Roger Wheeler, took the stand in John Connolly's federal racketeering trial. The ex-agent faces charges that he tipped mobsters about pending indictments and about informants who were later murdered.

Martorano, appearing as a witness for the government as part of a plea agreement, said that James Bulger told him that Connolly owed his brother, then-state Sen. William Bulger, a favor for helping him avoid a life of crime.

When Connolly asked William Bulger what he could do for him, Martorano testified, the future state Senate president asked him to keep his brother out of trouble.

Calls made Monday evening to the office of John Hoey, a spokesman for William Bulger, now president of the University of Massachusetts, were not immediately returned.

Connolly's attorney Tracy Miner attacked the hitman's credibility, arguing that Martorano is a serial killer who cut a deal for a lighter sentence.

Following Martorano's first day on the stand, Connolly said that the testimony illustrates what he had to deal with as the agent assigned to handle mob informants in the agency's effort to dismantle the New England mob.

``These people are pure evil,'' Connolly said as he exited the federal courthouse. ``But unfortunately these are the kinds of people I had to deal with to get information.''

Connolly, 61, of Lynnfield, was the handler of James Bulger and Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi for two decades. The two gangsters and FBI informants were leaders of the Winter Hill gang, an Irish crime syndicate that ran gambling, loan-sharking and other rackets in the Boston area.

Connolly's relationship with James Bulger and Flemmi was seen as an important part of FBI efforts to bring down organized crime in Boston. But along the way, prosecutors argue, Connolly gave the two mobsters sanction to do nearly whatever they wanted.

Wheeler was shot to death in May 1981 outside a Tulsa country club. Martorano has said he committed the crime on orders from Bulger and Flemmi, who thought Wheeler was going to uncover one of their money-making schemes.

Prosecutors claim that thousands of dollars in bribes were funneled to Connolly in return for his protection and information.

Martorano testified Monday that James Bulger gave Connolly a two-carat diamond ring that the agent then gave to his wife.

The hitman also said that Connolly told James Bulger when two of the gangster's associates were providing information to the FBI. Those two men, Richard Castucci and Brian Halloran, were later killed.

Connolly is charged with racketeering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Connolly's lawyers have said that it was Connolly's job to deal with criminals, but that he didn't take bribes and had no idea of the extent of their crimes.

James Bulger disappeared early in 1995, just as he was about to be indicted, and remains on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Flemmi is in prison after a plea deal and awaits trial for his alleged role in 10 murders.

Cross-examination of Martorano, which began Monday afternoon, will continue Tuesday. As part of the plea agreement, he faces 12 1/2 years to 15 years in prison for the 20 murders and other crimes. He has already been in jail for seven years.