New claims against FBI in mob crimes

Monday, May 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Two families who say their lives were destroyed by the FBI and its mobster informants have filed legal claims against the agency seeking as much in $600 million in damages, The Boston Globe reported Monday.

Two former federal prosecutors who once worked alongside FBI agents while prosecuting Irish gangsters are alleging that FBI agents who protected James ``Whitey'' Bulger and Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi during their rise as regional crime bosses are responsible for the murder of millionaire Roger Wheeler in Tulsa, Okla., and the extortion of a South Boston family.

``Both of these families, from different walks of life, have had their lives destroyed by the negligent and irresponsible conduct of (FBI) agents,'' one of the former prosecutors, Paul Kelly, told the Globe. ``They would have all lived very different lives ... if the FBI had done its job as most citizens expect it should.''

The claim letters, which the Globe said were delivered to the Boston FBI office Friday, are a prelude to civil lawsuits.

Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston, declined comment Monday.

The claims from the Wheeler and Rakes families dwarf lawsuits filed by other alleged victims of Bulger and Flemmi, who have sued the two gangsters, the FBI or both.

Kelly and lawyer Frank Libby say the claims - as much as $500 million in the Wheeler case and $100 million for the Rakes family - are reasonable and based on intensive research.

The 54-year-old Wheeler, chairman of the Telex Corp., was worth $50 million when he was slain after a round of golf in 1981.

Stephen and Julie Rakes were a working-class couple in South Boston when they were approached in 1984 by Bulger and Flemmi and forced to sell their small liquor store to them for $65,000 in cash. The store would have pulled in million of dollars in business over the last 17 years, lawyers for the Rakes family say.

FBI agent John J. Connolly, the informants' handler, has been charged in federal court with covering up the Rakes extortion to protect Bulger and Flemmi.

Witnesses have testified that the Rakeses went to a Boston police officer, Joseph Lundbohm, who reported Bulger's and Flemmi's conduct to Connolly. Shortly afterward, Bulger allegedly threatened the Rakeses again, saying he knew they had reported the extortion to police.

Earlier this month, confessed Winter Hill Gang hitman John Martorano pleaded guilty to killing Wheeler on orders from Bulger and Flemmi, who had infiltrated one of Wheeler's companies, World Jai Alai in Miami.

To press their claim, the Wheeler family will have to show that the FBI could have foreseen the risk that informants posed to Roger Wheeler, who was targeted because he had begun investigating whether there was an organized cash-skimming operation inside World Jai Alai.