Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal by Lehr, Dick, O'Neill, Gerard (2012)

PART TWO

I do my best to protect you and I may break a
few rules, but I break them in your favor
.

RAYMOND CHANDLER,
THE BIG SLEEP

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Secrets Exposed

If Connolly was the Elmer Gantry of the Boston FBI office, an agent who used the power of his word to win converts, John Morris was another story. Unable to resist temptation but tortured by all the wrongdoing, Morris was like a kid at the wheel of a raceway video game who bumps his car against one wall and then overcompensates and veers at high speed back across the track, crashing into the opposite wall. Careening back and forth, unable to hold his place inbounds, he was approaching Game Over. By 1988 Morris’s marriage was ruined. He’d risked his FBI career. Even his friendship with the proselytizing Connolly was taking a turn for the worse. Morris, after saying he would support it, had opposed Connolly’s bid for promotion to supervisor. Connolly felt betrayed, with good reason. Morris, however, had legitimate concerns about an agent who liked to come and go, could rarely sit still behind a desk, and handed in lackluster paperwork while serving as a manager for other agents.

More to the point, Morris’s opposition stemmed from matters he would not dare mention. In his letter to the FBI’s career board Morris was not about to go into the corruption or explain that promoting Connolly would enhance the protection an increasingly dangerous Bulger enjoyed. “I didn’t think he should be a supervisor, period,” was how Morris said he put it. “I didn’t think he was fit.”

Naturally, the career board’s decision against a promotion upset Connolly. But then Connolly went into action. He went to Jim Ahearn, who’d been in Boston as the office’s special agent in charge only a little over a year, since late 1986. Connolly and Ahearn had become fast friends. More than any supervisory agent who ran the Boston office, Ahearn was a boss Connolly could count on.

“They were,” observed Morris, “very, very close.” There were more than two hundred FBI agents assigned to the Boston office, and Morris watched the new manager do “things for Connolly that I have never seen done for an agent in my career.” One of those things was making sure Connolly got what Connolly wanted. “I have never seen a SAC go to FBI headquarters and recommend somebody be made a supervisor when the career board recommended against it. Never.” But Connolly got his wish, and during 1988 he was working as a drug task force supervisor. Jim Ahearn had come to the rescue.

Now, having crossed Connolly, Morris was more worried than ever about the agent’s influence, which was cresting at an all-time high. “I was concerned it would absolutely destroy me.” Morris felt he was falling out of the loop, becoming isolated. And fresh from leaking the Baharoian wiretap, he was also suffering a whiplash of guilt, careening back across the raceway.

Morris decided he would make a pledge to himself: “I wasn’t going to do anything more, you know, in terms of protecting them to protect myself.” Morris was going to put an end to it.

It was the late spring of 1988, and the timing of all the troubles haunting Morris coincided with the work by a team of Globe reporters about Bulger and the FBI. Lehr, Gerard O’Neill (the authors of this book), Christine Chinlund, and Kevin Cullen were all working on their series about the brothers Bulger. Cullen had put into play the notion that Whitey was an FBI informant as the only explanation for his charmed life.

The reporters kept asking around. Police veterans like Dennis Condon, the high-ranking state police official and former FBI agent, shrugged off the inquiry during an interview that summer. Having provided a lot of material about the history of the Boston Mafia and the Winter Hill gang, Condon sat back and sighed. “Well, I left the FBI in 1977, and I never expected any help from Whitey Bulger or Stevie Flemmi,” he said unblinkingly.

Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, still the chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force, proved impatient and combative. “I don’t buy it,” he shot back when asked about the theory that Bulger served as an FBI informant. He then went on the offensive against the troopers and cops who had been talking to reporters. “There are a lot of people wandering around with blue lights and guns, making a nice salary. Many of those people aren’t making cases, and they cause feuds, bitching and moaning.”

Lehr may have bumped into Connolly on the street early in the year, and Cullen was talking to Connolly about other matters, but the team of reporters knew they could not expect help from him on this line of inquiry. Connolly was the FBI agent other cops were complaining about.

Instead, in May 1988 O’Neill called FBI supervisor John Morris. The two had gotten to know one another during the Globe’s series about the bugging of 98 Prince Street.

Morris took O’Neill’s call, but he rebuffed the gingerly advanced notion that Bulger was an FBI informant. Morris did agree to meet for lunch. O’Neill had described the project about the Bulger brothers and said he wanted to get from Morris some background, what reporters like to call “color,” about Whitey’s life in Boston’s underworld.

O’Neill and Morris met in June at Venezia’s, a restaurant overlooking Dorchester Bay. Morris arrived, dressed nattily in a suit, and he seemed excited to see O’Neill. There was some small talk, and then O’Neill raised the need to ask again about Bulger and the bureau. “You have no idea how dangerous he can be,” Morris said. It was as if Morris had come to the lunch ready for this moment. Bulger was an informant, Morris suddenly declared, and it was a deal that had become a terrible burden, one that he feared had corrupted the bureau and was going to end badly. The words poured off his lips, gathering momentum. Connolly and Bulger were close, perhaps too close. There were these dinners, Morris explained, he and Connolly had enjoyed at the home of the mother of Bulger’s partner. At one Billy Bulger had even walked in on the feast Mrs. Flemmi had prepared. (This was a separate dinner from the later one Jim Ring attended.) “There we were, the two brothers on one side of the table and the two FBI agents on the other.”

O’Neill sat there stunned. If there were any other sounds inside the restaurant—the noise of other diners and the waiters—neither man heard them. O’Neill had hoped for confirmation and got a confession. The FBI supervisor looked weary, ashen, and deflated; something inside him had given way. They wrapped up lunch, mixing chitchat and non sequiturs with references back to Bulger. Morris worried openly about what the Globe would do with the information and cautioned about the consequences of revealing an informant’s identity—the danger that such a disclosure could pose to Bulger, to himself, to Globe reporters.

O’Neill said he wasn’t sure yet what would come of it. But they both knew something had happened, something pivotal. This was the rare kind of information that precipitates movement in the way things are, information that causes a correction in the history of a city as its citizens understand it, so that ultimately one version of history is replaced by a more complete and truer one.

▪   ▪   ▪

Unknown to the reporters, Morris was already well informed about the Globe’s project even before O’Neill telephoned. Connolly had told Morris that Billy Bulger, the Senate president, was cooperating and doing interviews focused on growing up in Southie. But Connolly had fresh concerns about an apparent turn in the journalists’ reporting: word had gotten back that the Globe was asking around about Whitey and the FBI. Connolly suggested that because Morris knew O’Neill better than any of the other FBI agents, he should put in a call and spin O’Neill off of any trouble spots. Connolly, recalled Morris, “requested that I contact him to attempt to learn about the true direction of the articles and to set him straight.”

The supervisor’s decision to verify the Globe’s reporting was hardly high-minded. “My principal concern was my own skin,” he conceded. “I was trying to minimize damage in my career.” By his calculation, “outing” Bulger seemed to offer a new solution. Publicity might force the FBI’s hand and lead finally to closing down shop with the two informants. If that happened, his own wrongdoing—“that I had accepted money, gifts, and in turn had compromised an investigation”—might be buried forever. There was also a darker possibility—that the Mafia or someone else would assassinate an “outed” Bulger. This would truly end any risk to Morris that Bulger would ever disclose his own wrongdoing. But Morris insisted that bringing about this “potential harm” was not his intent. “I wanted them closed,” he said.

He also sensed, however, that he was just fooling himself to think that if only the FBI would close down Bulger, then he would be safe. “My thinking there really wasn’t very clear,” he said. “I think that part of it, if Connolly were surfaced, that would mean that I would be surfaced; and I think at that point in time I in fact wanted my own involvement surfaced.” Full of fear and self-loathing, Morris lacked the courage to confess to the authorities.

Back at the Globe, O’Neill shared his findings with the other reporters. Everyone was dumbstruck, and there was discussion about whether the information could run in the newspaper, whether it might spur underworld bloodshed. But before any decision about publication could be made, the reporters knew more work was required. They had only a single source. There are times when an unnamed but well-placed source is enough to go with a story, but a single source for this kind of explosive disclosure did not cut it. Morris’s information needed to be tested.

In July O’Neill and Cullen flew to Washington, DC, to see William F. Weld. Weld had just resigned from his post as head of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department in a much-publicized policy dispute with Ed Meese, the attorney general. Over lunch, and on background, Weld was careful and cautious. He said he’d heard the rumors from agencies like the state police. He even said he’d thought the rumors were true. But he had no proof, and he did not give the two reporters anything they could use in their story.

Then, during the last week of July Lehr called Bob Fitzpatrick, a name he’d been given along the way. The New York native had joined the FBI in 1965. He’d worked in New Orleans, Memphis, Jackson, Mississippi, and Miami. He’d worked the Martin Luther King assassination. He’d worked several bombing cases involving the Ku Klux Klan. He’d taught at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The now-former agent had served as the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge of the Boston office from 1980 to 1987. During that time he’d been Morris’s boss and overseen the Organized Crime Squad. In 1988 he was working in Boston as a private investigator.

Lehr drove to Fitzpatrick’s home in Rhode Island, and Fitzpatrick took him for a walk to a nearby beach. The day was muggy and overcast. The beach was empty. Far away in Atlanta, Democrats were nominating Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis at their convention.

“What do you know?” Fitzpatrick asked abrasively.

“We know.”

Pacing in the sand, Fitzpatrick seemed edgy. Then he started, and for the next few hours he talked about Whitey Bulger and the FBI, about Connolly and Morris.

“He became a fuckin’ liability,” Fitzpatrick said about Bulger. He said that during his tenure at the Boston office he’d had increasing concerns about the quality of Bulger’s information and about Bulger’s rise to the top as the biggest wiseguy in the city. “You can never have the top guy as an informant,” he said at one point, his voice rising in anger. “You have the top guy, he’s making policy, and then he owns you. He owns you!”

It began to rain, and the interview moved into Lehr’s car and then back to Fitzpatrick’s house. The wide-ranging discourse became a primer of sorts about informant handling, the dangers and benefits of the bureau’s reliance on informants, a beachside course on informant dos and don’ts. He repeatedly voiced regret that what he saw as a major internal scandal had gone untreated. The few times Bulger was reviewed internally, the pro-Bulger forces prevailed.

“The FBI is being compromised. That’s what pisses the shit out of me. I mean the FBI is being used.” The root of the problem, he said, came down to the most basic seduction facing any FBI handler of a longtime informant. Connolly, he said, had long before “overidentified with the guy he was supposed to be running, and the guy took him.” The agent, said Fitzpatrick, had “gone native.”

▪   ▪   ▪

Two months later a four-part series about the Bulger brothers published in the Boston Globe included an installment devoted to what was described as the “special relationship” between Whitey Bulger and the FBI.

In the hectic weeks prior to publication Cullen and Globe photographer John Tlumacki, acting on a tip from a local cop, succeeded in taking fresh photographs of Whitey Bulger late one sunny afternoon in a city park near Neponset Circle in Dorchester. Bulger was walking Catherine Greig’s poodle, wearing his trademark sunglasses and baseball cap.

By this time too the FBI was well aware of the Globe’s storyline and took a shot across the newspaper’s bow. Tom Daly, a veteran agent, called up Cullen one afternoon at the office. Daly acted miffed, wanting to know why Lehr had been trying to contact “Fat Tony” Ciulla, the former government witness he’d handled in the 1979 race-fixing case against Howie Winter. Then the conversation turned to Bulger. First off, Daly said that if he was ever asked, “this conversation never took place.” (True to form, a decade later Daly denied calling Cullen.) Daly also said he was calling as a “friend,” although Cullen barely knew him.

Daly wanted to know where the Globe was headed with the Bulger story. First he denied that Bulger was an FBI informant. Then he said that he wanted to make sure Cullen understood what he and his colleagues were up against. He said Ciulla, who was now in the federal witness protection program, had a warning for the Globe: “Whitey is a dangerous guy. You don’t want to piss him off.”

Daly said Ciulla had cautioned that Bulger would not tolerate anything written about him that either was untrue or caused his family any embarrassment. “The guy would never live with that,” said Daly about Bulger. “He wouldn’t think nothing of clipping you.”

The intimidation tactic left Cullen briefly rattled. But by the next day the reporters and their editors had all agreed that Whitey Bulger did not get where he was by killing reporters. The story was seen as something that simply had to be published.

The series ran in late September 1988, a few weeks after Bulger turned fifty-nine, and included unequivocal denials from FBI officials. In public remarks Jim Ahearn, the top agent in Boston, exuded certitude. “That is absolutely untrue,” he declared. “We specifically deny that there has been special treatment of this individual.”

Backstage, however, a scramble was under way to assess the fallout. “I read the article,” said Flemmi, and “I discussed it with Jim Bulger.” In early October they met at Morris’s condo. “I went there with John Connolly and Jim Bulger,” Flemmi said. It was too soon to wonder how the Globe got the story; their first worry was damage control. “He was upset about it,” said Flemmi of Bulger. “But I don’t believe he at that point in time said anything about who leaked the information. I don’t think he knew.

“It was brief,” continued Flemmi, the meeting marking the last time Bulger and Flemmi ever met with Morris face to face. The agents, recalled Flemmi, were “talking about distancing themselves from us.” But Flemmi also detected that Connolly wasn’t happy about this kind of talk and was under pressure. He was against a breakup. “John Connolly, he wanted us to hang in there, and we did,” said Flemmi.

In fact, Morris and Connolly had already gone over the story and figured maybe they would all be okay. Even though the in-depth stories “left little imagination” regarding Bulger’s status, the Globe, noted Morris, had never used the I-word—informant. The article called the deal a “special relationship.” Working in their favor, the story was followed by the FBI’s public denials. Maybe, they thought, they could ride it out. Maybe their best asset was Bulger himself and the myth that he was the ultimate stand-up guy. “Connolly and I both thought the informant would be okay because no one in the underworld would believe it,” said Morris, playing along once again to cover his tracks.

In the weeks after the story their hunch proved correct. Flemmi and Bulger went to work calling the story a hoax. The FBI agents, meanwhile, took the underworld’s pulse. In late September Sonny Mercurio passed along to Connolly that his associates were thinking the story was “bullshit.” Mercurio said Ferrara and J. R. Russo were talking about hidden agendas, deciding the newspaper story was actually a bid to embarrass Billy Bulger. The agents wondered if the Mafia’s quick dismissal was actually a reflection of the Mafia’s fear of Whitey. If the mafiosi believed Bulger was an FBI informant, then they would have to take action; they would probably have to get rid of Bulger. Maybe the Mafia didn’t want to believe.

In October yet another government source indicated that the disclosure was not provoking undue concern. The source, who was actually passing along word of Bulger’s continued drug profiteering, mentioned that Bulger and Flemmi, although still “very concerned about the newspaper article,” now believed they were “weathering the storm of present.” The two crime bosses, said the tipster, had taken to calling the story a lie planted by their enemies and other informants who were out to get them.

It was the talk of the town for a while. By the end of October, however, the storm had passed. In short order Connolly turned his attention to another important matter. He’d met her at the office nearly a decade before, and on November 5, 1988, Connolly walked down the aisle to marry Elizabeth L. Moore. The crowd watching the happy couple included many of Connolly’s pals from the office, especially from the old Organized Crime Squad, among them Nick Gianturco, Jack Cloherty, and Ed Quinn. The affair was joyous, and John Connolly had begun to entertain thoughts of retiring. But even if he stuck around, despite the troubling publicity about the FBI’s Bulger deal, the coast now seemed awfully clear.

▪   ▪   ▪

By this time Connolly and the others—including an unraveling John Morris—had honed their skills at deflecting trouble. They’d been doing it for thirteen years, getting better all the time. Now, to his enemies list of state troopers, drug agents, and cops whom he claimed hated him, Connolly added reporters. He couldn’t understand any of it. What could there be not to like about an agent armed with colorful FBI stories about bringing the Mafia to its knees? To rebut the Bulger talk he sought out a private meeting at one point with the top editor at the Globe. Connolly made his pitch. How could any of these stories be true, he explained to the editor, Jack Driscoll, when he’d never even talked to Whitey Bulger?

Connolly and the others had a strategy to weather the scrutiny of this new press coverage: just keep zealously working the street. They were confident that they could extinguish any brushfire that came their way, including another that was smoldering from within.

This one originated from Bill Weld. Before he left the Justice Department, he’d started getting telephone calls from a woman from Boston with intriguing insights about Bulger and the FBI. The first call came January 6, 1988, and the woman talked to one of Weld’s assistants. She was “obviously scared and calling from a pay phone,” and she promised to call again to give “information on who Stevie Flemmi and Whitey Bulger have on their payroll, i.e., Boston police and federal agents.” Weld distributed a memo to a few high-ranking officials at Justice, and he scribbled in the margin next to the reference to Bulger, “OK, this checks out—maybe not a nut.” Weld’s office not infrequently got calls from people complaining about the CIA monitoring the fillings in their teeth, but Weld felt this wasn’t one of those. The next call came on January 20, and the caller named “Agent John Connolly—FBI” and a Boston Police official as the two who “sell wiretap information” to Bulger and Flemmi. Weld again scribbled in the margins: “I know all this! So this is on the up and up.” The calls kept coming, on January 27, February 3, February 10, and they included mouthwatering lines like, “I have information on the Brian Halloran killing. It was done by Whitey Bulger and Pat Nee.”

Despite his exclamatory jottings, Weld didn’t know for certain if the tips were true, but he did think they should be taken seriously and pursued. “I had a sense that there might be a weak link there between Mr. Bulger and Mr. Connolly.”

Weld resigned his post on March 29, but his former assistants continued to take the calls, on August 15 and October 27, during which the caller said that a second FBI agent, John Newton, also disclosed government secrets to Bulger. The tipster turned out to be a woman named Sue Murray, fronting for her husband, Joe Murray, the gangster who trafficked in drugs and stolen guns for the IRA and sometimes did business with Bulger. Murray, imprisoned since his arrest in 1983, was looking to trade information for leniency.

Prior to resigning, Weld shipped “all the stuff up to Boston for further investigation.” But the referral landed right in the laps of Connolly’s friends and the longtime gatekeepers of the Bulger deal, people like Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan and Connolly’s new best friend, Jim Ahearn. The Boston SAC oversaw an internal inquiry of Connolly that proceeded slowly throughout 1988 and into 1989. It was not to be handled by outsiders or impartial agents from another office but instead by Connolly’s associates. It was as if Connolly had been asked to look into the allegations himself.

Ahearn made it clear that he thought the information was baseless. In a letter to FBI director William Sessions, he complained that this latest questioning about Connolly’s conduct was “but one of a lengthy series of allegations over the years.” Ahearn assured his boss he would not jump to any conclusions, but in the next breath he did just that. He wrote Sessions: “While I am not prejudging the current investigation, all others have proven groundless and [agent] Connolly is held in extremely high esteem by both the Criminal Investigation Division and myself for his accomplishments.” The writing was on the wall.

Joe Murray was brought to Boston in June from a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, for an interview with two agents from the Boston office. Ed Clark and Ed Quinn sat across from Murray that day. Both agents were friendly with Connolly, especially Quinn, who for years worked closely with Connolly and just a few months earlier was raising a glass in a toast to John at his wedding.

Murray told the agents he’d heard Bulger and Connolly traveled to the Cape together and shared an apartment in the Brighton section of Boston. He said a number of Bulger’s associates, like Pat Nee, knew Bulger and Connolly were close and that Bulger had Connolly on a string. “Connolly was no problem,” Nee indicated. He said “Bulger and Flemmi are responsible for the death of Bucky Barrett in 1983” and summarized what he knew about the twenty-four hours leading up to Barrett’s disappearance.

The Boston FBI agents nodded and took notes, but never asked any follow-up questions—about Connolly, about Bulger’s role in the Halloran and Barrett murders, or about anything Murray had to offer about the crime boss.

Clark later described his assignment that day as if he were a mere stenographer, not a seasoned FBI interviewer. In his view he was there to just listen to what Murray had to say and pass it on to somebody else who would evaluate it and decide whether any further action was warranted. Clark said he even thought to himself that Murray would “make a terrific informant.” But instead of being cultivated, Murray was returned to his cell in Danbury. Clark said he was not asked to follow up on anything Murray said.

Meanwhile, Jim Ahearn and his deputies took Clark’s typewritten report and forwarded it to headquarters, urging the top brass to slam the door shut on any further challenge to Connolly. The cover letter dismissed Murray’s comments as “rumor and conjecture” and concluded: “Boston recommends that this inquiry be closed, and no administration taken.”

It was done. The paperwork was buried—like Halloran’s and Barrett’s corpses—and the negative Connolly talk was rerouted into FBI oblivion. Yet another mere inconvenience.

▪   ▪   ▪

Connolly, Bulger, and Flemmi seemed to have a growing sense of entitlement: the city was theirs. Thus, Bulger was absolutely put out one day at Logan Airport when he and his girlfriend, Teresa Stanley, were detained as they were boarding a Delta Airlines flight to Montreal.

It was around 7:10 p.m. Using cash, Teresa had paid for two first-class tickets. Bulger, dressed in a black jogging suit, was carrying a black leather garment bag. Inside the bag was at least $50,000 in cash he was attempting to smuggle out of the country. But as the bag passed through the X-ray machine a security guard noticed several unidentified lumps. Zipping open the bag, the guard spotted bricks of cash—all $100 bills. Believing the amount was well over $10,000—federal law required the reporting of cash amounting to more than $10,000—the guard told Bulger and Stanley to step to the side; she would have to advise the state police.

“Fuck you,” Bulger told the female security guard.

Bulger picked up the bag of cash and began walking quickly away. He handed the parcel to another man, saying, “Here, Kevin, take this.” Kevin Weeks hurried out the door, climbed into a black Chevy Blazer, and raced off. Bulger stuck his foot in a revolving airport door to slow a second guard who had taken up the chase after the bag of money.

Bulger was arguing with guards when plainclothes trooper Billy Johnson of the Massachusetts State Police’s airport barracks arrived. No one recognized Bulger, who was sneering at the guards, Teresa at his side.

“Hey, you, get over here,” Johnson shouted.

Johnson identified himself, and one of the guards began to explain the situation, but Bulger interrupted and pointed at the guard. “Shut the fuck up,” he said. “You’re a liar.” Johnson demanded identification, and Bulger produced a license: “James J. Bulger, 17 Twomey Court, South Boston.”

The guard tried a second time to talk to Johnson, but Bulger again interrupted. “Shut the fuck up.”

Johnson turned to Bulger. “You shut up.” He pinned Bulger back against the wall, one of the few men who probably ever put his hands on the gangster. “One more word out of you, and I’m going to lock you up.”

Bulger didn’t back down. “That how you treat citizens?” he snapped. “That how you treat citizens?” Bulger shouted. Johnson ignored him. The trooper seized $9,923 in cash that Teresa Stanley was carrying. Customs officials were notified, but the amount was just below the reporting requirement. Eventually, after conferring with other agents, Johnson realized that he had no reason to detain Bulger. Maybe he could have tied him up on a disorderly conduct charge, but he decided that would be a “cheap pinch.” He let Bulger and Stanley go. Bulger stormed off, hailed a cab, and was gone.

Life uninterrupted. Flemmi was now often taking a break from the crime beat—indulging in a passion for parachuting by attending army reunions and joining the International Association of Airborne Veterans. He began traveling worldwide to jump from planes—to South Africa, East Germany, Thailand, Israel. He renewed friendships with other Korean War vets. Meanwhile, John Connolly’s world was also humming along—a new marriage, a promotion to supervisor of a drug task force, and the prospect of retirement. Following the celebrated Mafia induction ceremony taping in late 1989, FBI director William Sessions traveled to Boston to congratulate the Boston agents personally, singling out Connolly for his handling of informants. Connolly was moving up and out—literally. In 1990 he sold his Thomas Park home and moved briefly into a South Boston townhouse, a six-unit complex where Bulger and Weeks also owned units. But Connolly now had his eye on the North Shore suburbs, and he soon purchased land in Lynnfield and built a large, two-story, red-brick home.

Even though Jim Ring had instructed Connolly to quit meeting his informants inside his home, the get-togethers continued, if simply relocated to agent John Newton’s house, or Nick Gianturco’s. Gianturco once invited two star FBI agents from the New York office in town for a few days. Joseph D. Pistone, retired from the bureau, had written a book, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. The book, published in 1987, became a best-seller and eventually was made into a movie starring Al Pacino. Joining Pistone was Jules Bonavolonta, a veteran Mafia fighter who eventually would write his own book too. Gianturco cooked up the meal, and Connolly proudly introduced Bulger and Flemmi to the out-of-town guests. “It was obvious,” Bonavolonta recalled, that “Bulger and Steve were friends of Connolly’s.” Connolly began talking about how someday he’d like to write a book about his FBI triumphs.

Morris was now persona non grata. He was busy defending himself in 1989 against an internal inquiry into leaks to the Globe regarding the 75 State Street investigation. He refused to take a polygraph and was scrambling to lie his way out of trouble, writing up false reports and denying to the FBI brass that he was a leak, and all the while Connolly was leading the charge for his former friend’s scalp. “He was suspicious of me,” Morris said about Connolly. But Morris would survive the internal scrutiny with a censure and fourteen days of unpaid leave.

In back rooms at their liquor mart and the variety store next door, Bulger and Flemmi conducted the dirty work of their underworld empire, hauling in recalcitrant debtors for meetings, perhaps pulling out a weapon to illustrate a point they were trying to make about the price of tardiness. Out front, at holiday times, FBI agents showed up to pick up their Christmas cheer. “Dick Baker, Friend of John Connolly,” was the note scribbled onto a receipt for the $205 in booze that Agent Baker bought in 1989.

It seemed to Connolly and the others that everything was going their way. Deriding any criticism was Jim Ahearn. Indeed, soon after he came to Boston he ordered a deputy to review Bulger’s status to quell the nagging backbiting at the office. But the outcome—a hearty recommendation to keep Bulger—was hardly a surprise. The review consisted largely of a review of Connolly’s files and talking to Connolly himself. Ahearn wrote to the FBI director on February 10, 1989, boasting that Whitey Bulger was “regarded as the most important Organized Crime informant for many years.” (The memo did not even mention Flemmi by name, even though Stevie was the one with the best Mafia access.) Connolly, wrote Ahearn, has an “outstanding reputation as an informant developer and his accomplishments are well-known throughout Massachusetts law enforcement.”

The SAC’s memo to Sessions had a specific purpose: to protest the fact that the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Boston Police Department were conducting yet another drug probe of Bulger. Ahearn had only the day before learned of the joint investigation; worse still, the probe had been under way since 1987. Ahearn was beside himself—angry about being left out of the loop and incensed that the second-class DEA would dare treat the Federal Bureau of Investigation that way.

But the decision to leave out the FBI had been carefully considered. “I was quite happy to have the FBI out of that investigation,” said Bill Weld, the chief of the Criminal Division in the Justice Department at the time. “I thought there might very well be a problem somewhere in the FBI. I thought it was at a low level, the John Connolly level. I thought it was historical, but that’s still a problem.”

But Jim Ahearn didn’t care. He told the FBI director that the DEA’s conduct was “reprehensible.” He was “deeply disappointed.” His words were “in your face”: the Boston office and John Connolly were above reproach, and Whitey Bulger was the best thing ever to happen to the FBI.

It was a high-water mark in Bulger hype and FBI bravado. And once again Whitey weathered the squall in his backyard. The DEA investigation lopped off top enforcers such as John “Red” Shea and Paul “Polecat” Moore and snared scores of dealers. But no Whitey. Now it was time to coast home. Nearing retirement, Connolly wrote a report saying that Bulger and Flemmi were also thinking of calling it a day, “packing it in and going into various legitimate businesses that they own.” Flemmi, for one, was spending more than $1 million—in cash—to buy up a slew of real estate in the affluent Back Bay neighborhood.

But what Connolly considered “legitimate business” a new team of federal prosecutors would soon regard as money laundering. Despite how it seemed at decade’s end, Connolly and the gang would never have it so good again.