Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal by Lehr, Dick, O'Neill, Gerard (2012)
I do my best to protect you and I may break a
few rules, but I break them in your favor.
THE BIG SLEEP
Julie Miskel Rakes and her husband Stephen were like a lot of other couples from the old neighborhood—family oriented, hardworking, and determined to make their own modest way in life. They’d grown up in Southie. Julie was from the projects, just like the Bulgers and John Connolly, and her family belonged to the same parish as the Bulgers, St. Monica’s, situated at the outer boundary of the Old Harbor housing project and across a rotary from another, the Old Colony housing project.
Though only two years apart, Julie and Stephen did not really know each other while at South Boston High School. They met later when Julie was twenty years old and Stephen was twenty-two and operating the first of his many business ventures—Stippo’s Sub and Deli. Stippo was Stephen’s nickname, and the popular corner store sold coffee, donuts, and groceries. It was open from dawn to midnight, with Stephen’s brother, sister, mother, and father all working shifts. Stephen’s father was a particularly loyal employee. Unable to sleep, he’d go over and turn on the lights at 3:00 a.m. “We used to make jokes because he opened up at three o’clock in the morning, but he didn’t have to be open until six o’clock,” Julie recalled. “But he wanted to be ready.”
Julie began working at the store in 1977. Stephen was the owner and manager; he was in charge of ordering the stock, handling the banking, and pricing and shelving the inventory. Soon enough the couple began dating, and then, in 1978, the Rakeses and the Miskels gathered with their friends to celebrate the marriage of Julie and Stephen Rakes. It was a South Boston family affair.
Stephen was no stranger to trouble; in the past he and his brothers had tangled with police. But with Julie, he was going to make a go of it. Two years after marrying, their first daughter, Nicole, was born, and a second daughter, Meredith, was born in November 1982. During this time Stephen sold the deli and became a partner in a liquor store, but by 1983 he and Julie had decided they were ready to go it alone again. Stephen preferred owning his own business. The work pace might be punishing, but the rewards would be theirs alone. Julie suggested a video rental store, but Stephen persuaded her that a liquor store was more profitable.
Hunting around, Stephen spotted an abandoned gas station right at the rotary near St. Monica’s Church. It was a prime site on a main street, Old Colony Avenue. Traffic was always flowing down Old Colony and around the rotary out front, and the property had a rare commodity in the compact business districts of South Boston—a parking lot. Together they researched Boston property records to identify the owner. The deed belonged to a woman, Abigail A. Burns. Julie Rakes had trouble keeping the woman’s name straight. “I used to call her Abigail Adams.” She was confusing the owner with one of the nation’s first families: the wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States. It was an amusing mix-up that became one of the couple’s inside jokes.
“We were going to make it big,” Julie recalled. “This was going to be our source of income that was going to give us the lifestyle that we wanted—for the rest of our lives.”
But in spite of all of Julie’s hopes, there was a problem. Her husband, Stephen, eventually frustrated by the demands of opening a store and worried he’d gotten in over his head, began thinking that running the business perhaps wasn’t such a great idea. Without telling his wife, he’d even talked about the store to—of all people—Whitey Bulger. For Bulger, the timing could not have been better. He had been chased out of the Lancaster Street garage, harassed by state troopers in his black Chevy, and, most recently, hounded as a murder suspect. The time had come for him and Flemmi to quit their running around and find a new base of operations. The way Bulger saw it, why not the cozy confines of the old neighborhood? There was no substitute for the familiar and insulated feel of South Boston. And once Stephen put the idea about the liquor store in play, the Rakeses’ modest ambition was about to collide with Whitey Bulger’s desires in a town where whatever Whitey wanted, Whitey got.
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The fall of 1983 was a mad scramble for the couple, who were trying to accomplish all that was necessary to open in time for the holiday season. In a relatively short period of time things had actually gone pretty smoothly, beginning with their successful bid for a liquor license at an auction during the summer. Watching for legal notices appearing in the newspaper, Stephen had spotted the auction of a license from a liquor store that was closing, displaced by construction. The eager couple dressed up one Saturday and went downtown to the law firm overseeing the sale.
“I was nervous,” said Julie Rakes. “It was my first auction.” Stephen was more used to the particulars of operating a liquor store, having been a partner in another one, but the couple decided Julie should do the actual bidding. “He was saying, ‘Go ahead. You can do it,’” said Julie, “and I was saying, ‘What do you do? What do you do?’ It was fun. Exciting. He said, ‘Go ahead. Raise your hand. Raise your hand!’” Julie did. The bidding opened at $1,000. There was other interest, but Julie kept going. Suddenly the bidding ended, and the Rakeses walked away with a liquor license for the relatively cheap price of $3,000.
It was a great start, possibly a good omen. They created a business corporation, Stippo’s Inc., that consisted of an all-family lineup of corporate officers. “I was president,” said Julie, “and we made jokes about it.” Stephen took the title of treasurer, clerk, and also director. Then came some other good news: Julie was pregnant with their third child. At the end of September the couple got in touch with a contractor, a friend from the neighborhood, Brian Burke. Burke started on the toughest part of the project—converting a gas station into a liquor store. The ground had to be dug up and the huge gas tanks removed, all in accordance with state environmental codes. Burke cleaned up the lot, replaced the roof, and applied a new look to the building’s exterior. “Lots of cement,” said Julie. The Rakeses were not out to break new ground in design or aesthetics. Their pockets were not deep, and the bills were piling up. The goal was a basic renovation that achieved functionalism: a clean, well-lighted, cement-block building with glass windows. The couple felt a rush of excitement after the sign was hoisted into place on the front—Stippo’s Liquor Mart.
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But family and friends were not the only visitors to the construction site during the final days leading up to the opening. Also taking note of the progress were Bulger and Flemmi. Under the cover of darkness the two gangsters were coming around to inspect all the remodeling. Late at night, with no one around, they slipped into the parking lot. There was usually a third man with them, Kevin Weeks, who had replaced Nicky Femia as sidekick, driver, and sometime enforcer. Bulger had discarded the coke-crazed Femia who, freelancing and spinning out of control, tried to rob an auto body shop in early December but had his brains blown out when one of the victims shot and killed him. Half Bulger’s age, Weeks had the perfect résumé. The bushy-haired kid might stand a few inches shy of six feet, but his upper body was all muscle, and most important, he had quick hands. The son of a boxing trainer, he’d grown up in the rings around the city. And like John Connolly’s, his boyhood was spent in thrall to the Bulger mystique. He filled up on stories about Southie’s very own gangster but didn’t catch his first glimpse of the man only whispered about as a young teen until he happened to spot Whitey marching through the housing project.
After graduating in 1974 from South Boston High School, Weeks’s first job was the one he was made for—a bouncer, or “security aide,” at his alma mater, patrolling the hallways and breaking up the fights between white and black students that were a regular feature of court-ordered busing. Then the next winter, a few days before St. Patrick’s Day, the eighteen-year-old moved up to Whitey’s world when he went to work at Triple O’s. He started out behind the bar lugging ice. Then one night the bar’s big-bodied enforcers seemed unable to handle a brawl, and Kevin leaped from behind the bar and leveled the miscreants with blazing combinations. Whitey took notice. Weeks was promoted first to a Triple O’s bouncer and then to Bulger’s side. By the early 1980s Bulger was Weeks’s mentor, and Weeks was Bulger’s surrogate son. Weeks liked to show off his loyalty, telling people he’d rather serve hard time, even see harm come to his own family, before ever uttering a bad word about Whitey Bulger.
▪ ▪ ▪
Inspecting the construction site of Stippo’s Liquor Mart, the men would get out of their car and walk around. Weeks and Bulger had actually given Stephen Rakes a helping hand of sorts, and they were developing a sense of ownership. The Rakeses had received bomb threats, anonymously, during the renovation work. The couple—especially Julie—was rattled. Stephen sent his sister to see Kevin Weeks at his bar, the Courts Inn Tavern, to ask if Whitey and Stevie could put a stop to the threats. Stephen actually knew Weeks from growing up; they’d had a few run-ins and had little use for one another. But in one of those Southie coincidences, one of his brothers had married one of Weeks’s sisters. Stephen and Julie sometimes stopped by Triple O’s for a drink, and Weeks was often there—his wife was one of the bartenders. Once Stephen reached out asking for the favor, Bulger soon learned by chance that another liquor storeowner who did not want any new competition was behind the intimidating phone calls. Bulger ordered him to cut it out, and the bomb threats suddenly stopped. Stephen told Julie he’d taken care of it. He didn’t offer any specifics—about Whitey’s role or his increasing interest in the store.
For Bulger, it was a good time to be considering a new office. He and Flemmi were doing well—indeed, better than ever. The local Mafia was rocked: Gennaro Angiulo was now in jail, along with a number of other key mafiosi. Bulger’s own rackets had prospered in the aftermath of the FBI’s bugging of the mob. “The more that we worked on the Mafia the less of a threat the Mafia was to them,” John Morris acknowledged. The amount of rent, or tribute, Bulger charged was increasing steadily, as was the number of bookmakers and drug dealers making such payments. More than ever, Bulger and Flemmi were willing to help the FBI clear out the clutter from the city’s underworld; it was great for business.
Looking for a new office, Bulger and Flemmi’s priority was a location that included an actual, legitimate business. Running a real business made it possible to launder profits from their illegal gambling, loan sharking, and drug dealing. Bulger had often used the rooms above Triple O’s. Bulger even had his mail delivered there. But bars were crowded, public, and often chaotic places. The fights that broke out at Triple O’s drew police scrutiny. Instead, he and Flemmi wanted a place that might fit more tidily into the palms of their hands, and this new liquor store at the rotary got Bulger to thinking.
By year’s end Julie and Stephen Rakes were in a rush. They’d missed Christmas and were not going to have time to hold a grand opening. Julie’s two sisters, her mother, and Stephen’s father and mother helped set up inside and stock the shelves. The Rakeses oversaw the installation of a bank of refrigerators—their biggest investment to date. To capture part of the holiday season, they hurriedly opened up just in time for New Year’s.
Their families sent over plants with ribbons to display on the counter to mark the occasion, but beyond that the Rakeses simply opened their doors for business. Stephen took out a newspaper advertisement in the South Boston Tribune announcing that the store, located at “The Rotary in South Boston,” was “Now Open” and had “Parking Available.” Listed were the hours: “Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.” It was pretty basic stuff. Then at the bottom of the display ad Stephen included an enticing item he hoped would catch a few South Boston readers’ eyes. “Win a trip for two to Hawaii or $1,000 in a cash drawing on Wednesday, February 8, 1984, 5 p.m., at the Mart.” The promotion was Stephen’s idea, his brainstorm to draw customers to the store. “In the area stores never offered things like trips,” said Julie Rakes, “so we thought it was kind of big. It would attract attention.”
Customers came. The husband and wife worked as a tag team, moving between store and home, handing off the business and the kids. Relatives always pitched in, but they were volunteers. There were no partners, no one to answer to. It was exhausting and all-consuming, but the business was theirs and the cash register was ringing.
Before they could complete two weeks’ worth of business, the Rakeses would be finished. They wouldn’t even be around long enough to hold the advertised raffle. Whitey and Stevie had no plans to fly anyone off to Hawaii for free.
▪ ▪ ▪
Julie threw on her coat and headed out into the January night, a night that was beginning like so many other nights: busy and hectic. One spouse coming, the other going, a pace the couple had maintained throughout the renovation of their new store and into its opening days. It was cloudy outside, and the forecasters on the radio had talked about the possibility of snow flurries. But it seemed too mild for that, with temperatures in the forties. The talk around town was mostly about the city’s new mayor, Ray Flynn, the “People’s Mayor,” an Irish son of Southie who was starting his new job during these first days of 1984.
Julie drove over to the store from their house on Fourth Street, a short drive that took her along routes she’d known her entire life, past the homes, stores, and bars along Old Colony Avenue. It was the only world she knew, and she was thinking good thoughts—about her family, about the new business, about Stephen. After she arrived she chatted with the person they’d hired to work in the stock room and make deliveries. Then the telephone rang.
It was Stephen.
“How am I supposed to know when the lamb is ready?”
Stephen. He and Julie were learning to be interchangeable parts—she in business, he at home. Julie walked him through the instructions for the roast and then got off the phone and tended to a few customers. It was midweek and actually pretty quiet. Julie was taking a moment to catch her breath and consider how far she and Stephen had come when, around nine o’clock, the phone rang again. Stephen? she wondered. What this time?
Julie did not recognize the deep and husky voice coming at her over the line.
“I know you, I like you, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Who is this?”
The voice ignored her question. “You should get out.”
“Who is this?”
“The store is going to be bombed.”
“Why are you doing this?” Julie’s voice was rising in alarm. “If you like me, why don’t you say your name?” She was shouting. “Why don’t you say your name!?” But she was yelling into an empty hum. The caller had hung up.
Julie was frightened. It had been weeks since they’d gotten a call like this. She looked around the mostly empty store, feeling like someone was watching. She was back on the telephone with her husband, upset and explaining to him about the call she had just taken, and the more she described the anonymous call the more upset she got. Stephen, for his part, tried to sound comforting. Julie could hear the television in the background, and she could hear the kids making noise. But hanging up, Julie also thought Stephen’s voice sounded awfully tense.
Stephen Rakes had a good reason for sounding that way. In his apartment at that precise moment he was entertaining visitors. He had been cleaning up after dinner, playing around with his two girls, getting them changed for bed, and letting them watch some television when he heard a knock at the door. He went to the door and pulled it open. In the dark stood two men, and Rakes recognized them—Whitey Bulger and Kevin Weeks.
The time had come to do the deal, even if Stephen was having second thoughts. Behind Julie’s back he’d gone to a meeting with Bulger and Flemmi a couple days earlier about a possible sale. Rakes said he wanted at least $150,000. The car salesman in him kicked in; he said the business was worth much more than that, and based on the opening weeks, sales were booming. Bulger listened, waited him out, and when the meeting ended, the price was set at $100,000.
Now Bulger and Weeks walked abruptly past Rakes into the apartment and into a sitting room. The two visitors sat down at a table. Bulger was in charge, and Weeks was holding a brown paper bag full of cash. Rakes’s daughters playfully ran around the room. Bulger picked up the oldest and sat her on his lap. “Beautiful little girl you have here,” he said.
Rakes fidgeted. He mentioned his wife, Julie, and how she liked the store. Things had changed, he said. They were going to make a go of it.
“It’s not for sale.”
It was the last peep of protest Stephen Rakes would make. Bulger exploded, saying they could kill him and just take the store. Weeks was just as angry. This was exactly why he hated Rakes. Weeks didn’t think for a second that Rakes had had a genuine change of heart. The hemming and hawing was about wanting more money.
True or not, there was no backing out. Weeks pulled out his gun, a two-inch, snub-nosed .38 caliber handgun with a wooden handle. He put it on the table and let the weapon speak for itself. The gun’s hard metal caught the eye of the daughter sitting on Bulger’s lap, and she reached for it.
Rakes watched in horror. Before the girl could touch it, Bulger pushed the gun back toward Weeks. Bulger put the girl down and took out a knife from his pocket, which he opened and closed, flashing the blade, as if to punctuate his words. He reminded Rakes about the help with the bomb threats, the terms of the sale, and again that they could kill him and simply take over the store. Bulger explained that inside the paper bag, packed in neatly folded bunches, was the money. No backing out. No new negotiations. Bulger had determined the deal was done, and this was Bulgertown.
Bulger and Weeks moved to leave. Rakes sat transfixed. It was now approaching eleven o’clock, and back at the liquor mart Julie Rakes, struggling to keep her wits, was anxious to close. The telephone rang. She grabbed the phone. It was Stephen, and he was beyond tense. His voice sounded strange and far away, and then Julie realized her husband was crying. Stephen explained the sudden turn of events, talking about a new deal that had fallen into their laps, an offer that he could not refuse. Julie just listened in cold silence, a numbness washing over her. This was what shock must be like—a suspended, out-of-body feeling—with Stephen, whimpering, muttering things beyond belief to her, explaining that the store was no longer theirs, talking about what would happen next, what she had to do. He left out that he was the one who’d gotten the ball rolling, but that no longer mattered; the transaction turned into extortion once Bulger made it clear to Rakes that there was no backing out, that its consummation had become an underworld matter of life or death.
Julie Rakes looked up and saw an oversized man—well over six feet and heavily built—walk into the liquor mart. It was Jamie Flannery, someone she’d known from high school. They’d been friends. Flannery was also a regular at Triple O’s. He had a drinking problem and sometimes worked as a bouncer at the bar. Julie had seen him at the bar with Whitey Bulger. Things suddenly were making terrible sense.
Julie put down the telephone. Flannery was abrupt. He told her to gather up her things, that he’d come to take her home. He told her not to ask any questions, and Julie Rakes complied. Hurriedly, she collected some money from the cash register. She picked up the plants her family had sent to mark the opening of the store. Flannery carried out some wine Julie and Stephen had stocked for a friend who’d made the wine and was looking for their help in distributing it. They put these things in the car and then Julie, fumbling, turned out the lights and locked up. They quickly drove away.
She never went back to their liquor store again. In the car Julie was shaken, but Flannery said little, just drove, and as he made his way down Fourth Street and began to slow down Julie saw that up ahead in the dark two strangers were standing outside her door. She wanted to know, who were they? Flannery identified the one at the front steps—Bulger—and the one nearing the car parked at the curb—Weeks—and as Flannery got closer Julie could recognize them for herself. Behind them Julie saw her husband frozen in the doorway.
“Keep driving, keep driving,” she shouted. Frightened, she didn’t want to meet these people, and Flannery did cruise on past the house. It was the least he could do. He circled around the block. By the time they returned, the men were gone, but now Stephen Rakes was standing at the curb, waiting for his wife to pull up. He wouldn’t even let his wife get out of the car. He handed her the paper bag and told her to go to her mother’s house. Right away, he said, and he was talking through clenched teeth.
“I am going to my mother’s house at this hour of the night?” Julie yelled, all upset. Stephen told her about the cash in the paper bag and repeated his demand. “Just get out of here and take it to your mother’s.”
“What is going on here? Why is this happening?”
Stephen could not help her with the existential.
Julie was confused, crazy. “I can’t go to my mother’s. It’s almost midnight. What are you talking about?”
Holding it together as best he could, he told Julie he’d already called her mother. She was expecting her. Get going. His voice and his body were rigid. His eyes were still wet from crying earlier. “Your mother is waiting for you.” He wore an expression that said, Do as you’re told.
The money, he said, was from Whitey Bulger. “It represents our investment,” he said. “We’re lucky to have got it,” he added, hypnotically.
Julie was off to her parents’ house on Old Colony Avenue. Her mother and father were waiting at the door, a stone-cold look in their eyes. They’d heard enough from Stephen to know that the couple were entangled in business with Bulger—new territory for Julie’s family, ground none of them wanted to occupy. Inside the bag was more cash than any of them had ever seen. Julie handed the bag to her mother. “Hide it.” Her mother took the bag and padded into her bedroom and tucked it away inside a hope chest. Hysterical and now inside her parents’ home, Julie broke down to her father.
“I don’t believe it,” she said, and she cried.
▪ ▪ ▪
It took a few days for Julie and her family to fathom what actually had happened, to grasp fully that a bomb indeed had exploded in their midst. Part of the delay was likely due to certain stories—or myths—about Bulger. It was often spread around town that Bulger was supremely loyal to the people of Southie, that he liked helping people, that assisting the locals made him feel good. It was said that Bulger didn’t like bullies and he would put them in their place. It was said that Bulger, though not actually instructing anyone not to uphold the law, would encourage them to pursue their pleasure outside the neighborhood. Supposedly, if he heard that someone had burglarized a home in South Boston, he would grab the perpetrator and take him to school in Bulger Ethics 101—the first rule being that you could burglarize homes in swanky suburbs like Brookline and Wellesley but not in your own hometown. Men like Kevin Weeks were among the many who frequently promoted the Bulger propaganda, and the Rakeses had known Weeks for many years. Julie Rakes, even if she didn’t know Bulger, knew this reputation. But now, firsthand, she knew it was not true—Bulger had ripped the liquor mart away from her and her husband.
The other reason for the delay was a kind of paralysis. First there was the shock of it all, the suddenness of Bulger’s takeover. Then came anger at the unexpected ambush. The next stage would have been acceptance—facing up to the reality that there was little they could do about their loss. But before their anger had a chance to settle into that kind of quiet despair, the Rakeses, especially Julie, decided to put up a fight. In hindsight maybe she should have known better and been more clearheaded about facing up to the facts of life in South Boston. But no one—not the Rakeses, not their family, not anyone really—understood just how thoroughly Bulger had sewn up the neighborhood . . . and beyond, for that matter.
Soon after the midnight takeover, Julie and Stephen went to see her uncle, Boston Police Detective Joseph Lundbohm. Lundbohm, a veteran cop who’d joined the force in 1958, was now working in the homicide unit. He was Julie’s mother’s brother and lived in Quincy, just south of Boston, with his family. He’d attended Julie and Stephen’s wedding and saw them occasionally at other family gatherings.
Lundbohm already knew about the new store the couple had opened; the good news had spread through the family. But he didn’t know much else. He took his niece and her husband into his kitchen, and they all sat down. Mostly Julie talked, and she poured out her heart, telling her uncle, Lundbohm said, “about the men coming to her house and stating they were going to purchase the liquor store.” The narrative included the part about Weeks and the little girl and the handgun, and Lundbohm bolted upright—the threat was unmistakable. Talking about it again upset Julie. Once she was done, Lundbohm let a few minutes pass to allow her to calm down.
Julie asked her uncle if there was anything he could do, if there was anyone they could talk to. Lundbohm replied that he knew someone whom he “trusted who was an FBI agent.” Lundbohm’s thinking was that this sort of extortion was a perfect fit for the FBI. After all, the federal agency had more resources, in terms of manpower and technical capability, such as fancy electronic surveillance equipment. Moreover, Bulger and Flemmi were organized crime bosses. The FBI, not the Boston Police, specialized in developing cases against organized crime. The FBI was the big time, and best of all, the agent Lundbohm knew was on its Organized Crime Squad.
The Rakeses gave their okay and left.
Lundbohm soon called the agent. Within a few days the two law enforcement officials were seated at breakfast in a Boston restaurant—on the one side Boston Police Detective Lundbohm, and on the other FBI agent John Connolly.
Following some small talk, the agent asked what was on Lundbohm’s mind. He told Connolly everything—about his niece and husband having just opened this new business, and then the gun, the girl, and the money. Connolly listened. This was a crime that could not be justified, as others had been, as necessary for Bulger to maintain his position in the underworld in order to provide the FBI with intelligence about the Mafia. Bulger’s move on the Rakeses had nothing to do with the Mafia.
Faced with this dilemma, Connolly opted to go with what was now reflex. The FBI agent let the police detective finish and then said, “Would Rakes be willing to wear a wire?” Of all the available options, he’d thrown out the most intimidating. Connolly said nothing about wanting to bring in the Rakeses for a debriefing with FBI agents. Nothing about how the bureau might want to proceed cautiously to investigate Bulger further. He was playing hardball, as if the only option was the most dangerous and least likely to be enthusiastically received.
“They’d be afraid to,” Lundbohm replied instantly. Lundbohm knew—indeed every cop knew—that wiring up someone to see Whitey Bulger was high risk and extremely dangerous. Police agencies couldn’t even convince wiseguys who had been turned into informants to wade into Bulger waters with their bodies wired up for sound. The idea of putting civilians at risk like that was reckless. The Rakeses were amateurs. Besides, still fresh in the minds of cops like Lundbohm was the murder of Brian Halloran two years earlier. The story was all around that he was shot down right after going to the FBI. Lundbohm waved off Connolly’s talk about body wires. It was like asking someone to jump off the Tobin Bridge.
“I don’t think so. I would advise against it.”
“Then I’m not sure if much can be done, Joe.” The meeting was over. “But I will look into it.”
Connolly never did. Connolly did not write up Lundbohm’s information in a FBI report. He did not share the information with his new squad supervisor, Jim Ring, even if only to discuss how to handle the accusation against two of their secret informants. Instead, on his own, Connolly decided that extortion by Bulger and Flemmi was not going to be any of the bureau’s business, a decision that was certainly not his alone to make. “I would definitely have expected him to come to me,” Jim Ring said later. “That’s his entire job. There was an allegation that there was an ongoing extortion. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to come and talk to me. He doesn’t have the authority to go out and handle that on his own.”
Connolly did share what he knew with one person, though. He told Whitey.
Following his breakfast with Connolly, Lundbohm called Julie Rakes and told her that, even though he’d rejected Connolly’s idea to have Stephen wear a body wire, the matter was now in the FBI’s hands, and the FBI would be in touch.
But just days after Lundbohm’s meeting with Connolly, during a visit to the Lundbohm home, Stephen Rakes pulled Lundbohm aside, out of earshot of Julie Rakes and Lundbohm’s wife. Rakes was nervous as he huddled with his wife’s uncle.
“Whitey said to back off,” Rakes told Lundbohm. Whitey, a shaken Rakes continued, had stopped him in the street in South Boston and said, “Tell Lundbohm to back off.”
In an instant Lundbohm had a single thought: Bulger knew about his talk with Connolly. And more than ever Julie and Stephen were in jeopardy. The truth smacked them in the face: all roads led to Bulger.
Bulger summoned Stephen Rakes to the liquor mart several times during the weeks that followed, and Rakes signed the documents so that the takeover of their liquor mart appeared on the up and up. The conveyance was made out to Kevin Weeks alone, although Weeks filed documents later listing an equal ownership to Bulger and to Flemmi’s mother, Mary. Stevie Flemmi later said that the liquor mart was proof he and Bulger were in a legitimate business—an absurd claim that was almost humorous if not for the dark extortion behind the takeover.
Even before the actual passing of the papers, Weeks showed up in the store and took over behind the counter, Bulger hovering nearby. The sign out front was soon changed from Stippo’s to the South Boston Liquor Mart. Then a large, green shamrock was painted on the cement exterior. Eventually, on a referral from John Connolly, the FBI in Boston began buying liquor for its Christmas party from Bulger’s liquor mart.
Rumors spread quietly through South Boston. There was hushed talk that Stephen Rakes had been held from his ankles over the Broadway Bridge. There was a rumor about a gun being put to Stephen’s head, a rumor that he’d lost the store in a card game. But Rakes now mostly brushed off all the gossip and just kept his head down.
To support themselves, Stephen and Julie dipped into the paper bag full of cash hidden in the hope chest at Julie’s mother’s house. They treated their wounds with a few splurges—a new Dodge Caravan, a road trip to Disneyworld, and the next year they used some of the cash as part of a down payment to get out of South Boston and purchase a home in suburban Milton. Their son Colby was born on June 5, 1984. Stephen Rakes had taken heed; he’d backed off.
While the Rakeses were in Florida, a rumor started that Bulger had killed Rakes. Weeks tracked Rakes down at Disneyworld and ordered him back. Rakes left his family, flew home, and, to quiet the talk, stood next to Bulger, Flemmi, and Weeks at a busy intersection so that passersby could see he was alive.
Rakes fell into line, behind so many others in Southie. He was eventually summoned before a federal grand jury investigating extortion and money laundering at Bulger’s liquor store. He was called twice, in 1991 and 1995. Within days of the latter Bulger pulled up next to him as he was walking in South Boston and called out of the passenger’s window: “Hey, I’m watching you.” But Whitey actually had little to worry about from Stephen Rakes. In both appearances before the grand jury he described how he’d happily and voluntarily sold his store to Kevin Weeks just a few days after opening it up. The reason? Rakes, under oath, said he was in over his head, had fallen too far in debt, and didn’t like the many hours he had to log in order to run the business. He testified that Weeks paid him $5,000 and that he took out another $20,000 he’d put into the store, for a total of $25,000. They were silly lies that no one believed, despite Rakes’s best effort to sound relaxed and convincing. And the lies came with a price.
Rakes was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, and in 1998 he was convicted of both in US federal district court. For Rakes it was the ultimate double jeopardy—the government that did not protect him went after him, while Whitey walked away. But it was a fate Stephen Rakes had come to prefer to facing Bulger.