Thursday, June 23, 2011
James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston mobster accused of murdering 19 people, is in custody in California after an epic 16-year manhunt that turned him into a global sensation.
The FBI finally caught up with the 81-year-old Bulger on Wednesday at a residence in Santa Monica, Calif. He was apprehended along with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, just days after the government launched a new publicity campaign to locate the fugitives, said Steven Martinez, FBI's assistant director in charge in Los Angeles.
A tip generated by the campaign led to the arrest, Martinez said.
Known as "The Irish Godfather" of Boston, Bulger has been on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted posters for years and was an inspiration for the 2006 movie The Departed.
Along with Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, he led the violent Winter Hill Gang, a largely Irish mob that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets in the Boston area. U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern said in 2000 that the two were "responsible for a reign of intimidation and murder that spanned 25 years."
In the 1970s, Bulger became a top-secret FBI informant in Boston but later corrupted his handlers.
The agents "tipped him off to investigations by other police agencies and they also tipped him off to other people who were informing against him so that he could and did murder them," said David Boeri, a reporter from member station WBUR in Boston who has followed the Bulger case for more than two decades.
When state and federal investigators finally closed in on Bulger in January 1995, he fled Boston with his girlfriend after being tipped by his FBI handler. Two former FBI agents were later charged with plotting murders with Bulger, and one is now serving a life sentence in prison.
"This is what makes this such a treacherous story," Boeri said. "It is corruption within the FBI."
But on Wednesday, it was the FBI who took Bulger down. Agents swarmed around the Santa Monica apartment building where he and Grieg, 60, were staying.
Bulger lived on the third floor of The Princess Eugenia, a three-story, 28-unit building of one and two-bedroom apartments three blocks from a bluff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
The FBI had been conducting surveillance in the area where the arrest was made, said police Sgt. Rudy Flores, who gave no details of the arrest.
Barbara Gluck, who lives on the same floor as Bulger and Greig, told The Associated Press that she didn't know their names but recognized them from photos on the Internet after she heard about their arrest.
Gluck described Greig, a dental hygienist, as "sweet and lovely" and said they would have "girl talk" when they ran into each other in the building. But she added that Bulger became angry whenever he saw the two of them talking.
He was nasty," Gluck said. "At one point, [Greig] said [Bulger] has a rage issue."
The former fugitives were scheduled to make an appearance in Los Angeles federal court Thursday. He faces a series of federal charges including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics distribution, extortion and money laundering. Greig is charged with harboring a fugitive.
The arrest brings an end to a manhunt that received worldwide attention as the FBI received reported sightings of Bulger and Greig from all over the U.S. and parts of Europe. In many of those sightings, investigators could not confirm whether it was Bulger who was spotted or a lookalike.
The investigation also touched the highest level of Massachusetts politics. Bulger's younger brother, William, was one of the state's most powerful politicians, leading the Massachusetts Senate for 17 years and later serving as president of the University of Massachusetts for seven years. William Bulger told a congressional committee that he had spoken to his brother shortly after he went on the run in 1995 but had no idea about his whereabouts.
He declined to comment to the Boston Globe about his brother's arrest.
Federal officials said they have linked James Bulger to a series of ruthless killings. One victim was shot between the eyes in a parking lot at his country club in Oklahoma. Another was gunned down in broad daylight on a South Boston street reportedly to prevent him from talking about the killing in Oklahoma. Others allegedly were taken out for running afoul of Bulger's gambling enterprises.
After 16 years on the lam, Wednesday's arrest was a stunning reversal for Bulger.
"This guy, used to look out at Boston from Southie — the old town — and say, 'I own this town,' " WBUR's Boeri said.