BOSTON (AP) -- Fugitive mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger and his alleged associates are accused of involvement in 21 murders, including one in Oklahoma, in a sweeping new indictment unsealed Thursday in federal court.
The 32-count indictment charges Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi -- who according to court records were protected from prosecution for years because they worked as FBI informants -- with racketeering, extortion, money laundering and a variety of other crimes.
The allegations of murder by gang members were included as part of the federal racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges.
The indictment includes allegations that the gang participated in 21 murders. Bulger and Flemmi, who were considered the leaders of the gang, participated in 18 and 10 murders, respectively, the U.S. attorney's office said. Also charged in the indictment is alleged Bulger associate Kevin P. O'Neil.
U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern said in a statement that the charges were "the latest and perhaps most important step in what has been a relentless pursuit of justice."
Kenneth Fishman and Michael Natola, who represent Flemmi in two other cases, didn't have a comment.
"All I can say is I'm not at all surprised by it. It's something that has certainly been anticipated," Natola said.
The indictment represented a dramatic escalation in federal prosecutors' battle against Bulger's organization. And the charges against Bulger marked the first time that specific murder allegations have been brought against Bulger, who has been on the run since 1995, said U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Samantha Martin.
The murder charges included allegations that the Bulger group, also known as the "Winter Hill Gang," killed members of a rival criminal group in the early 1970s, killed actual and potential witnesses, and killed two women with whom Flemmi had relationships.
The indictment also alleges that Bulger, Flemmi and others conspired to murder Roger Wheeler, a prominent business leader who was killed in May 1981 in the parking lot of a Tulsa, Okla., country club. Prosecutors say Bulger's gang was trying to gain control of World Jai Alai, one of Wheeler's companies.
Bulger, whose brother, William, was the president of the state Senate for years and is now president of the state university, had operated for decades without being touched by law enforcement. He eluded law enforcement in 1995 and has been on the run since as the case against him and his associates has grown broader and broader.
In recent years, it has been revealed that both Bulger and Flemmi were prized informants for an FBI that was more interested in attacking the Mafia than Bulger and Flemmi's Winter Hill Gang, which prosecutors now have dubbed The Bulger Group. One of Bulger and Flemmi's FBI handlers is facing racketeering charges.
The allegations come as investigators continue to dig in the Boston area for suspected victims of Bulger and his associates.
The superseding indictment adds new charges and defendants to a case previously brought against O'Neil and Kevin Weeks, a top Bulger lieutenant, who has already pleaded guilty.
Since the beginning of the year, authorities have dug up five bodies of people believed to be victims of Bulger's gang from as far back as the 1970s. Charges connected to all five murders were included in the indictment.
Last week, authorities unearthed a body in Quincy, several hundred yards from where Bulger once lived. The victim is believed to be Tommy King, who disappeared in 1975 after a bar fight with Bulger. And digging continued at the same site this week for another victim, reportedly Debbie Davis, a former girlfriend of Flemmi's who disappeared in 1981.
On the Net: FBI Most Wanted list: http://www.fbi.gov/mostwant/topten/tenlist.htm