Prosecutors file murder charges against three

Wednesday, March 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Prosecutors charged two Boston mobsters and an alleged triggerman with murder Wednesday in the 20-year-old slaying of Tulsa executive Roger Wheeler and pledged to seek the death penalty.

James ``Whitey'' Bulger, Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi and John Martorano face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Martorano, who admitted pulling the trigger, agreed to testify against his former mob bosses and will have his charge reduced to second-degree murder if he cooperates.

District Attorney Tim Harris said he will seek the death penalty against the other two.

``The Wheeler family has suffered greatly for almost 20 years,'' Harris said. ``I am encouraged that Tulsa County will be able to bring these alleged murderers to justice.''

Wheeler, the 55-year-old chairman of Tulsa-based Telex Corp., was sitting in his Cadillac after a round of golf at Southern Hills Country Club when he was shot in the head on May 27, 1981.

Investigators have suspected that the killing was tied to Wheeler's ownership of World Jai Alai and his suspicion that organized crime was skimming money from it for the Boston-based Winter Hill gang.

Martorano has accused retired FBI agent H. Paul Rico of helping him murder Wheeler. Rico and John Connolly, another former FBI agent, served as handlers for Bulger and Flemmi.

Harris said the investigation is continuing into the possible involvement of others in the Wheeler case, including the allegations against the FBI.

Connolly already has been indicted in Boston on racketeering and obstruction of justice charges accusing him of protecting Bulger and Flemmi and leaking them information about three people who were later murdered.

Martorano has claimed that Rico, who was head of security for World Jai Alai, provided the daily schedule of Wheeler so Martorano could kill him.

In January, Tulsa police gave Harris an affidavit naming Bulger, Flemmi and Rico in a murder conspiracy to kill Wheeler.

Rico, 73, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He was not charged in the Wheeler case.

``Rico has never been to Oklahoma,'' his lawyer, William Cagney III, said Wednesday. ``I'm not too sure I understand what Rico's role could be because he's never been out there.''

Wheeler's son, David, said that in a meeting he attended last week in Tulsa, a representative from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston recommended charges not be filed against Rico.

``They decided they didn't want to use what the police wrote,'' David Wheeler said. ``We're not quite sure what to make of it all.''

He called the charges against Bulger and Flemmi ``great progress,'' but said the family was disappointed that Rico had not been charged. The family expects any Tulsa trial to be delayed by a pending federal case.

``The family is hopeful that things will work out, but we are not optimistic,'' David Wheeler said. ``Right now, as it stands, we don't see any trials coming out of this.''

Flemmi's lawyers, Ken Fishman and John Amabile, could not immediately be reached for comment. Messages were left at their offices.

Martorano's attorney, Francis DiMento, declined to comment.

A federal racketeering indictment that includes allegations that Bulger and Flemmi's Winter Hill Gang was involved in the murder of Wheeler and 20 other people, with Bulger personally participating in 18 and Flemmi in 10, was unveiled last year in Boston.

U.S. Attorney Donald Stern has said he is hoping for multiple life sentences against Flemmi. The Oklahoma case, with the threat of the death penalty, now raises the stakes for the mobster, who has an unflappable demeanor in court appearances.

Bulger, whose brother, William Bulger, was president of the state Senate and now heads the University of Massachusetts, has been a fugitive since 1995 and is on the FBI's ``Ten Most Wanted'' list. Martorano is in custody.

A special Justice Department task force also is investigating allegations of corruption within the FBI's Boston office involving the Winter Hill Gang.

Harris said the case likely won't come to trial in Oklahoma until pending federal charges in Boston are resolved.

Under the plea agreement, Martorano would receive a 15-year prison term. Martorano's alleged confession was ``the first break'' in the languishing case, Harris said. The plea was reached with prosecutors in three states after Martorano admitted to 20 murders.

While noting that the charges are only allegations, Harris said that aggravating circumstances in the case warrant the death penalty.

``We believe there is sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to present that to a jury,'' he said.

Martorano also has admitted to the slaying of John B. Callahan, a one-time president of World Jai Alai, who allegedly was killed Aug. 1, 1982, to keep him from telling authorities about links between World Jai Alai and Bulger's gang. Callahan's body was found stuffed in a Cadillac trunk at Miami International Airport.

The Tulsa charges issued Wednesday said Callahan gave Martorano and his driver, Joseph Maurice McDonald, also now dead, information on where to find Wheeler. The charges also said that Bulger and Flemmi had weapons sent to Tulsa in May 1981 for use by the alleged hitmen.