Sons await charges in 20-year-old slaying of Tulsa millionaire Roger Wheeler

Monday, January 22nd 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- David Wheeler started looking for justice in the murder of his father long before he stopped looking over his shoulder in fear.

But despite a nearly 20-year investigation, a triggerman's confession and a new police affidavit implicating two mob bosses and a former FBI agent, charges have yet to be filed in the state where Roger Wheeler was slain.

David Wheeler fears that unless the Tulsa County district attorney acts soon, the aging suspects might never come to trial here.

"I am desperate," said the 48-year-old from Austin, Texas. "I don't know where to turn. How am I going to get justice for my father?"

Wheeler's 1981 murder is entangled in a complex case that spans three states, involves 20 other killings and sensational allegations tying a corrupt FBI agent with the bloody Boston underworld.

Wheeler's family and Tulsa police worry that without quick action, a string of prosecutions in other states and federal jurisdictions could postpone a Tulsa trial for years.

"We'll be waiting a decade before the people that have been implicated ever come to trial," said another son, Larry Wheeler, who lives in Tulsa.

Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris agreed to a plea deal with admitted triggerman, John V. Martorano, in 1999. Three weeks ago, Tulsa police gave Harris an affidavit naming South Boston-based Winter Hill Gang leaders James "Whitey" Bulger, 71, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, 66, and former Special Agent H.

Paul Rico, 73, in a murder conspiracy.

But Harris is not talking about if or when he will file charges.

"We believe this should be moved to the top of the pile,"

Police Chief Ron Palmer said Monday. "There's a lot of things going on in other states that tie into this. We have what we believe is a good strong affidavit and we would like to see it move forward."

Wheeler, the chairman of Telex Corp. and owner of Miami, Fla.-based World Jai Alai, had just finished a round of golf on the gracefully wooded course at Tulsa's Southern Hills Country Club when he was shot point-blank in the face.

Children in the country club's swimming pool heard the pop that May 27, 1981.

Investigators suspected the murder stemmed from the 55-year-old millionaire's suspicions that organized crime was skimming from World Jai Alai for the Winter Hill Gang. But the case simmered until the 1990s.

That's when Martorano admitted to being the hitman in 20 killings, including Wheeler's, and cooperated with federal prosecutors against Bulger and Flemmi.

A federal racketeering case that includes allegations that Bulger and Flemmi were involved in Wheeler's murder has yet to go to trial in Boston. A special Justice Department task force also is investigating allegations of corruption within the FBI's Boston office involving the Winter Hill Gang.

Retired FBI Special Agent John Connolly Jr. already faces charges that he was in league with the pair, tipping them off to informants and witnesses, who were later killed.

Rico, who worked as chief of security at World Jai Alai and is now retired, has denied the allegations by Tulsa police of helping set up Wheeler's ambush.

The case before Harris is enormous, totalling more than 6,000 pages, said former Tulsa County prosecutor Jerry Truster.

"The complexities and the time frame that it took to get all of those things sorted out is largely the reason for the delay now,"

said Truster, who handled the case before leaving Harris' office in 1999.

Serious consequences could await anyone charged in the crime.

First-degree murder in Oklahoma can carry a death sentence, unlike in Massachusetts.

"The filing in this case sends a message to organized crime to stay out of Tulsa," he said.

Members of the Wheeler family describe their wait as a battle: first against organized crime and then against government corruption and coverup.

Wheeler's widow, Patricia Wheeler Langholz, said she has moved on with her life but worries for her sons, who have spent 20 years seeking justice.

"We really believe it is solved," she said.

For years, David Wheeler lived in fear that he would be next.

When those fears subsided, his frustrations took him to private detectives, television shows and to his own invention, a software program designed to search through data and link seemingly unrelated crimes. His Austin, Texas firm, InfoGlide, now applies its technology to e-business.

"It is ironic to find ourselves stopped cold by our own district attorney," he said.

Unlike the complex federal charges that involved everything from extortion of money laundering, state charges are the only way the suspects will be tried solely in the death of his father, David Wheeler said.

"We're getting really fearful we will never see justice. We know there is a clock," he said. "And it's running out."


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