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
Fine Food, Fine Wine, Dirty Money
John Connolly and John Morris were now the keepers of the Bulger flame inside the FBI. And for Boston’s increasingly fearsome foursome—Connolly, Morris, Bulger, and Flemmi—an era of good feeling had begun all around as the boundary lines between the good guys and bad guys blurred.
Perhaps they had always been blurred. Certainly Flemmi saw that there was something special between Connolly and Whitey Bulger. It was South Boston, for sure, and maybe part of it was a father-son thing. But Flemmi didn’t mind; he’d come to like Connolly in his own way. The brash agent, Flemmi said, “had a personality.” Bulger and Flemmi had grown fond of Morris as well, and Connolly made a point of telling his boss the good news. “These guys like you and will do anything for you,” said Connolly, according to Morris. “If there’s anything you ever need, just ask, and they will do it.”
Theirs was a mutual admiration society.
Morris, in turn, continued to envy the swagger, the confident style, the influence that Connolly had around town. The local agent seemed to have friends everywhere. Inside the office he may not have been particularly close to Sarhatt or even Sarhatt’s successor, James Greenleaf, who took over in late 1982, but Connolly had strong friendships with many agents on the Organized Crime Squad as well as with other FBI managers. Nick Gianturco, for one, was enamored of Connolly. “He was by far the best informant developer I’ve ever seen in the bureau,” Gianturco said. More important, Connolly maintained ties with key agents he’d worked with earlier in New York City who by now had been promoted to headquarters and held high-ranking positions, particularly in the criminal division. John Morris was fully aware that Connolly’s FBI friends in Washington “had influence on me personally and my career.”
Then there was Billy Bulger, who had emerged as the state’s most powerful—and feared—politician since being elected president of the Massachusetts State Senate in 1978. Connolly had made sure to take Morris over to meet Bill Bulger, and Connolly’s easy access impressed the supervisor. “He just seemed to know a lot of politicians.”
Connolly, recalled Morris, liked to talk up his influence. The two agents might be chatting, looking ahead to life after the FBI, and Connolly, noting his cache of contacts, would say that “there would be a lot of good opportunities for jobs and so forth once we left the bureau.” The friendships that Connolly had inside the FBI and in Boston were like money in the bank.
Morris carefully tracked these matters. He was ambitious too and wanted to make a name for himself. Connolly seemed to be everything, however, that Morris was not. The intense Morris envied Connolly’s easy style, his ability to turn any problem that arose into someone else’s concern. In Connolly, Morris saw a fixer, and therefore, thought Morris, “it was important to me that he liked me.”
It was also a time for Connolly and Morris to count their professional blessings. Connolly had spun, Morris had covered, and together they rebuffed the suitability review of Bulger and Flemmi that began in late 1980 and lasted into 1981. They’d kept Sarhatt at bay, displaying a genius for exploiting loopholes in the FBI’s oversight of informants.
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For his part, Connolly was soaking up the good vibes.
Ordinarily an informant handler worked mostly alone, in a kind of isolation—all part of protecting the informant’s confidentiality. And Connolly was mostly by himself when he met Bulger and Flemmi, either at one of their apartments or, in good weather, in the middle of the Old Harbor housing project where he and Bulger had both grown up, at Castle Island, a Revolutionary War fort overlooking the water at the easternmost point of South Boston, or along Savin Hill Beach.
But everyone on the Organized Crime Squad seemed to know he was handling the legendary Bulger, and Connolly seemed to like it that way. Besides Morris and Gianturco, agents Ed Quinn, Mike Buckley, and Jack Cloherty all knew. The word even spread beyond the squad. It was as if Connolly wanted others in the FBI to know about his prize. He was showing off.
“I have two guys you may want to meet,” Connolly told rookie agent John Newton one day at work. Newton had been transferred to the Boston office in 1980. He’d been assigned to an entry-level squad running background checks on new government hires—a far cry from a coveted assignment like Connolly’s on the Organized Crime Squad. Looking for a place to live, Newton was steered to John Connolly, and Connolly helped Newton find an apartment, right in South Boston. They’d become friendly. Connolly learned that before Newton had become an FBI agent he’d served in the Army’s Special Forces Unit. “John seemed interested in that,” Newton later said about his new pal.
“He said he had, you know, two informants, Jimmy Bulger and Stevie Flemmi,” continued Newton, “and that they were interesting guys.” Given Flemmi’s Army background, Connolly suggested that Newton might “have something in common with them.”
You want me to hook you up with them? Connolly asked.
Newton figured, why not?
The meeting was scheduled for around midnight at Whitey’s. Newton rode with Connolly, who knew his way around Southie blindfolded. Connolly might have chatted on about what a good thing the FBI had in Bulger, maybe even replayed for the new listener the excitement of the Wollaston Beach rendezvous. Enlisting Bulger had been the stuff that FBI legends were made of, and Connolly liked to make it clear that he had the starring role.
Connolly pulled over a few blocks from the apartment Bulger had begun using after closing down his mother’s place in Old Harbor following her death. Once inside, Newton just sat and kept his mouth shut for the first hour or so, as the other three talked business, mostly about the Mafia’s Angiulo. Then, said Newton, “we just had a general conversation.” They talked about “military topics and things.” They opened a bottle of wine. They all drank, including Whitey, a sign that he was completely at ease.
This was the first of a number of times Newton tagged along for a session with the two informants. Just like that, Connolly had enlarged his circle.
By now Connolly was right back into the old neighborhood. He had bought a house at 48 Thomas Park in 1980, on a street atop one of Southie’s rolling hills; more than a few notches above the Old Harbor project in status, these hills, two centuries earlier, had been a windswept pasture of rich grass with a commanding view. Like all the surrounding streets, the natural topography had long since been covered by rows and rows of double- and triple-deckers and shingled houses built right up against one another. They formed the wall of residences in the tightly woven Irish-American community. The FBI agent’s new home was also situated across from South Boston High School, the battleground over forced busing just a few years earlier.
In Connolly’s work, day was night; Bulger usually came around for a secret meeting after hours while most of Boston slept. Sometimes even Connolly was asleep, dozing off on the couch with the TV on. He’d leave his door unlocked for Bulger and Flemmi, and the two mobsters would walk right in and make themselves at home.
Connolly appreciated the company. Now in his early forties, he was also officially single again. Citing an “irretrievable breakdown” after a four-year separation, his wife had filed for divorce in January 1982. Marianne, a registered nurse, was making do on her own. They’d split up their things long before, and with no children, the divorce was a routine, uncontested matter that became official a few months later. Now Connolly was out and around town, the ladies’ man others in the office knew him to be. Like Bulger and Flemmi, he showed a preference for younger women. The twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth L. Moore, a stenographer at the office, had caught the flashy agent’s eye, and the two were an item. They were soon off together to a getaway on Cape Cod, where Connolly, fulfilling the dream of so many who grow up in Boston, now owned his own place, an $80,000 condo in Brewster.
Morris was jealous of the new couple. His own marriage was also irretrievably broken down, and he struggled seeing Connolly free to escort a new young girlfriend in the city while he could only sneak around with his—Debbie Noseworthy, an FBI secretary who worked directly for Morris and his Organized Crime Squad. The adulterous affair was an open secret at the office, but for Morris it was a lie that began to eat away at him. There would soon be more and far worse deceptions to come.
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Even though Morris and Connolly had dodged a bullet during the Sarhatt review, the two agents did not want to take any chances. They had to make sure no one would again second-guess their ties to Bulger and Flemmi. To carry this off they would have to play off the high-minded provisions in the agency’s guidelines for monitoring informants. There was a fundamental tension in the guidelines that could be exploited. To secure intelligence, agents like Connolly and Morris were encouraged to court gangsters like Bulger and Flemmi. And for the deal to work, gangsters were going to have to be given some breathing room.
The question was, how much? How much criminal activity could the FBI tolerate? In theory, no deal was without limits. FBI managers and handlers were always supposed to be evaluating their informants. The crux of oversight could be reduced to two issues: balancing the value of the informant’s intelligence against the severity of his crimes. The trick in the Boston office was to manipulate those two sides of the equation, and inside the FBI no two agents were better positioned to shape the hierarchy’s views than a handler and his supervisor.
Connolly and Morris were right there at ground control. To keep the flame burning bright, the two began creating the FBI paperwork that downplayed Bulger and Flemmi’s dark side while inflating the value of the intelligence they provided. Connolly was the Bulger chronicler, and Morris signed off on the narrative. They possessed enormous influence up the chain of command and, between them, seemed to have every FBI angle covered. The Irish of South Boston have long been known for being great storytellers; in the Bulger file native son John Connolly showed himself to be one of the great spinners of tall tales. John Morris would do pretty well for himself too.
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The crudest technique involved outright lying.
During the late 1970s, as the FBI’s reliance on Bulger and Flemmi hardened, Morris had shown a knack for mendacity in his internal reports about Bulger in the race-fixing case. He’d reported that contacts with Bulger had ceased when, in truth, Connolly was seeing him regularly. Morris then lied in reports he’d filed to Sarhatt during the internal inquiry about leaks in the state police’s bugging of Bulger and Flemmi at the Lancaster Street garage. For his part, Connolly sometimes filed reports to satisfy certain FBI rules that, afterward, Morris admitted were false. In one instance Connolly described a meeting he and Morris supposedly had had with Bulger and Flemmi to go over the warnings and ground rules that agents were required to discuss with their informants. The report documenting the so-called annual review included a time and date, but Morris later admitted, “I do not believe such a meeting took place.”
The more artful moves employed to downplay Bulger’s crimes not only served to make Bulger appear less bad but, more important, provided a way around the bureau’s guidelines requiring a strict evaluation of any unauthorized criminal activities. If a complaint or tip against a prized FBI informant could be rendered too vague or unreliable, then there would be nothing solid for the FBI to pursue. Morris and Connolly could then continue to pay lip service to the guidelines—offering assurances that if they ever did get a hard and fast tip against Bulger, they would certainly perform their duty and run it down.
But somehow, in their hands tips regularly turned to sand. It was a pattern Connolly established early on in the way he parried the vending machine executives who complained to the FBI that Bulger and Flemmi were shaking them down and again in the way the extortion of Francis Green fizzled once the matter landed in the FBI’s lap.
The new challenge in the early 1980s was what to make of the information other FBI agents were gathering from their own informants about Bulger and Flemmi’s widening criminal empire. The gangsters, said one informant, were taking over gambling operations in communities surrounding Boston. In early 1981 yet another informant reported that “James Bulger, aka Whitey, is a known bank robber and is trying to finance the funds from bank robberies into gambling activities.”
The juiciest intelligence broke new ground. Crossing Morris’s desk for the first time was information about Bulger grabbing a piece of the action in cocaine, the big-money narcotic that was red-hot in the early 1980s. South Boston, it turned out, was no different from any other part of the city: drugs were rolling down Broadway in a tidal wave, despite Bulger’s glamorized reputation as the neighborhood’s protector. Bulger might continue to promote himself as the antidrug crime boss, but the kids shooting up and snorting in the alleyways of the housing projects knew otherwise. They might never deal directly with him, and they rarely, if ever, actually saw him, but they all knew that without his blessing there would be no “product.” Bulger was riding the crest of the coke wave.
In February 1981 an informant told one of Morris’s agents that Brian Halloran, a local Boston hood, was “dealing in cocaine with Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi.” Halloran had been linked to Bulger and Flemmi for years, especially Flemmi. He used to ride with Flemmi and often served as an advance man who checked out a club or meeting place prior to Flemmi’s arrival, much as Nicky Femia did. The next month a different informant told one of Morris’s men that “Brian Halloran is handling cocaine distribution for Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi. Other individuals involved with Halloran are: Nick Femia, responsible for ripping off 30 drug dealers thus far. Word has been placed on the street that any drug dealer involved in cocaine has to give a ‘piece of the action to Bulger and Flemmi’ or they will be put out of business.”
In June 1982 another informant told the FBI that a South Boston gangster was overseeing loan sharking and drug dealing out of a particular neighborhood bar. “He is reportedly making $5,000 a week from drugs and is paying Whitey Bulger a large percentage for the right to operate.”
When these intelligence reports landed on Morris’s desk, he’d review them, initial them, and file them away. Ordinarily FBI reports containing charges were indexed by the target’s name so that other agents could locate the intelligence in the investigative files. But Morris often sabotaged the process by not indexing the reports properly, making the negative material hard—if not impossible—to find. There was virtually no follow-up. The state police may have observed Bulger’s tie-in with major drug dealers. The FBI’s own informants may have begun reporting the same development. But Morris would have none of it. Not once did he initiate a probe or refer any of the tips for action.
Out of sight, out of mind.
While Morris directed traffic at the supervisory level, Connolly took care of padding the Bulger file. Following a drug bust at a South Boston warehouse in early 1983, Connolly filed a Bulger report saying the crime boss was “upset” with the drug dealers for “storing the grass in his town.” In other FBI files Connolly always described Bulger as staunchly antidrug, abetting the mythic portrayal Whitey clung to.
Not surprisingly, Connolly had emerged as the expert about Bulger and Flemmi inside the FBI office. If an agent had a question about Whitey’s personal history, he was sent to John Connolly, and usually John Morris was the one making the referral. Whitey’s rank in the underworld scheme? See Connolly. Whitey and drugs? See Connolly.
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Many of the FBI documents about Bulger were simply invention—and at this Connolly became the master. He repeatedly took a dull nugget of Bulger information and tumbled it into glittering gold.
There was the mention, for example, that Connolly made in a report to Sarhatt about the help Bulger gave the FBI in connection with a bank robbery over the Memorial Day weekend in 1980 at the Depositors Trust in Medford, Massachusetts. Connolly credited Bulger with being the “first source” to provide the names of the robbers. But it just wasn’t so. The morning after the robbery callers to police and other informants were naming the suspects. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t get it from Whitey Bulger,” said Medford Police Chief Jake Keating about early leads in the case. It took a few years to charge the robbers, but their identities, said Keating, were “common knowledge.”
Connolly also gave Bulger credit for breaking open a murder case. Until Bulger had offered his helping hand, went a Connolly memo, the FBI had had “no positive leads” in the slaying of Joseph Barboza Baron, an underworld hitman who had turned into a valuable government witness. Baron was gunned down in San Francisco. In his memo Connolly wrote that three months after the slaying Bulger had told him who set up Baron to be killed—a wiseguy named Jimmy Chalmas. In fact, Chalmas’s role in the murder was old news by the time Bulger mentioned it to Connolly. Chalmas was a prime suspect from the start. Baron had been shot outside Chalmas’s apartment. City homicide detectives had interrogated Chalmas that night. Following Bulger’s chat with Connolly, the FBI may have finally gone out and confronted Chalmas, but from the moment Baron died Chalmas was a hot lead. None of this was part of Connolly’s writings to Sarhatt. Nor was Sarhatt, in conducting the internal review of Bulger’s viability, supposed to dig up the rest of the story. He was, in theory, supposed to be able to rely on the completeness and veracity of his own field agent in Boston. Instead, he got Connolly’s angle, skewed in Bulger’s favor.
Connolly knew how to hit the hot buttons as well. He told Sarhatt that Bulger had saved the lives of two FBI agents who’d worked undercover in two separate cases in the late 1970s. These may have been the most intriguing of all of Connolly’s claims, in part because he had no records to back him up. Throughout his years as a handler Connolly filed hundreds of the reports, known as “209 inserts,” documenting fresh Bulger intelligence. They ranged from the sublime, such as information about important Mafia policymaking meetings, to the ridiculous, such as the scoop on Larry Zannino’s latest temper tantrum. But with agents’ lives supposedly hanging in the balance, oddly—perhaps even unbelievably—Connolly had not written up contemporaneous reports about Bulger’s aid. To explain the omission, Connolly insisted later that he’d had no reason to file reports, although Morris conceded that documenting help of this sort was standard FBI procedure.
One of the two supposed life-saving instances was the old truck-hijacking case, Operation Lobster. In a memo to Sarhatt, Connolly revived the exaggerated claim that back in 1978 a Bulger tip enabled the FBI to “take steps to insure the safety of Special Agent Nicholas D. Gianturco.” In a follow-up report Connolly reminded Sarhatt about the tip and added that Bulger had provided the information to protect FBI lives “at great personal risk” to his own life.
Over time, too, Connolly’s retelling of this Bulger moment grew more rarefied. “They saved one of my friends’ life,” he liked to say. Connolly could also count on Gianturco—to a point. Gianturco said Connolly had called and persuaded him not to meet with the hijackers. “He said they were going to kill me.” But pushed to say whether he indeed thought Bulger and Flemmi had saved his life, Gianturco was evasive. “I was glad that Mr. Bulger and Mr. Flemmi were kind of watching out for me.” He wouldn’t flat-out credit Bulger with saving his life. And Flemmi himself undercut Connolly’s take, later calling the information Bulger passed along an “accidental tip” about a possible shakedown, not a planned murder.
Just as important, police supervisors of Operation Lobster said they did not recall any specific death threat to Gianturco. A plot to kill an FBI agent was not something any police official would ever forget, they said. And word of a planned hit would have set off internal alarms and been documented at the time, not just in a Connolly memo two years later. If anything like what Connolly claimed had actually happened, said trooper Bob Long, who had also supervised Operation Lobster, “it’s incredible that he would not have advised Gianturco’s immediate supervisors, who were responsible for his safety and security.
“If you had information that someone was planning to kill an FBI agent, wouldn’t you want to monitor the suspect’s movements? Because if he didn’t succeed that day, there would be another day, and he’d keep trying.” Investigators never tracked any of the truck hijackers as potential assassins.
The bundle of Connolly hype rescued Bulger from internal scrutiny, and the memos were part of a blizzard of paperwork Connolly and Morris assembled that, like a high-gloss finish, sealed the FBI’s rosy view of Bulger and Flemmi. Lying and deceit were clearly on Morris’s mind. In his office he kept a copy of Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. He’d come across the book by Sissela Bok while taking a graduate course in ethics at Northeastern University. The book was heady and philosophical, not a how-to guide to lying, but it had captured his interest. He kept it near him and had marked up certain passages and underlined others. As he supervised Connolly and together they distorted the truth about Bulger and Flemmi to FBI superiors, Morris was flipping through a book with such chapters as “Lies in a Crisis,” “Lies Protecting Peers and Clients,” and “Justification.”
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But the early 1980s was not just a period of pushing paper. Besides customizing the FBI’s books, the agents were putting out some home cooking. The group’s social life took off. The inaugural dinner held at Morris’s home in Lexington in 1979, in part to celebrate the close call in the race-fixing indictment, had only broken the ice. Since then Morris had hosted more dinners. Gianturco did too, at his suburban home in Peabody, north of Boston. Flemmi did his share, leaning on his mother to prepare an Italian spread for Bulger, Morris, Connolly, Gianturco, and other agents. The first of the Flemmi affairs was held at his parents’ home in the Mattapan section of Boston, but by the early 1980s his parents had moved into South Boston right next door to none other than Billy Bulger. (The houses faced one another.) Flemmi began hosting gatherings within arm’s reach of the most powerful politician in Massachusetts. Flemmi and Bulger even turned Flemmi’s mother’s property into a weapons depot. In an outdoor shed where most homeowners would keep a lawnmower, the gangsters amassed what amounted to a small military arsenal. They stockpiled handguns, rifles, automatic weapons, shotguns, ammunition of all kinds and calibers, and even explosive devices, all of which were in a hidden compartment behind an interior wall in the shed.
Over drinks and dinner distinguishing between business and pleasure became increasingly difficult. John Connolly took care to act as a master of ceremonies, arranging the times, places, and guest lists. (“I never arranged for any of the meetings,” said Morris, even though he often hosted. “I never knew how to get in contact with them.”) Connolly seemed to fuss as well. Having persuaded Morris and Gianturco to open up their homes to the gangsters, he then wanted to make sure they behaved. Connolly, recalled Morris, did not want FBI agents treating Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi like run-of-the-mill snitches. They were to be shown the “special respect” they deserved.
Even though the FBI in no uncertain terms banned socializing with informants, Connolly had proposed—and Morris readily accepted—a rationale for why the rules did not apply to them. Bulger and Flemmi, said Morris, “were very, very, very well known in the crime community, and there were very few safe places that we could meet with them, and Connolly did not want to meet with them in the usual alternatives—hotel rooms and that sort of stuff. He wanted an atmosphere where it would be a little more relaxing, would be more sociable, more pleasurable, and that left very few alternatives, and I agreed to have them for dinner.”
There were indeed people stalking Bulger and Flemmi—like state troopers. Years later the irony was not lost on the investigators from other police agencies: the gangsters had shaken the troopers tailing them by finding a safe haven and a hot meal in the homes of FBI agents.
The FBI dinners were off the books—the agents never filed reports about them—and over fine food and fine wine the group was already waxing nostalgic about their times together. They chatted, said Flemmi, about “things that happened in the past, like the racetrack case.” The conversation was friendly and often featured, recalled Morris, “pretty strange things.” If Connolly was the emcee, Bulger was the chairman of the board, “talking about life in Alcatraz, talking about life—what it’s like being a fugitive, talking about family matters, talking in generalities about people.” He entertained the others with descriptions of taking LSD while he was in prison during the 1950s. Said Flemmi: “He was in Alcatraz when they closed it down. Then he went to Leavenworth, and he participated in a CIA program. The name of the program was Ultra. He was a volunteer in that program, the LSD program, for eighteen months. He was one of the people selected, because he was—he had such a high IQ.”
Flemmi might offer some of his own stories, about living in Canada when he was a fugitive, but Bulger clearly commanded center stage. “Jim Bulger was the talker. Anyone who knows him will attest to that,” said Flemmi.
Though Connolly frequently met privately with Bulger and Flemmi—on hundreds of occasions—the FBI dinner parties unfolded as a kind of biannual banquet. The agents and the gangsters took certain precautions for their evening affairs. To meet once to chat over beers at Bulger’s apartment in South Boston, Connolly and Morris parked their car several blocks away. “Connolly was familiar with the back alleys,” said Morris. The supervisor, meanwhile, was lost in South Boston. “I had no idea in the world where I was. And we took a series of back alleys and entered his apartment in a back alley.” Morris and Connolly both wore hats, a token stab at a disguise to conceal their faces. Bulger greeted them and served up St. Pauli Girl beer while Morris casually scanned issues of Soldier of Fortune magazine that Bulger had around.
Morris was less concerned about security or startling his neighbors when hosting in suburban Lexington. “My neighbors wouldn’t have the slightest idea in the world who Bulger and Flemmi are.” Even so, some caution was always in order. “They came after hours of darkness. Sometimes they’d pull into the garage. They were always wearing hats.”
Morris did, however, startle his wife, Rebecca. She was not happy about having reputed killers as house guests. The marriage was already strained, and the couple fought. In all his FBI years Morris had never done anything like this. Maybe he’d brought work home with him, but never two actual gangsters. Bulger and Flemmi now knew where he lived, now knew his family, could wonder if Morris made a practice of hosting informants, and, to discover their identities, might consider staking out the Morris home. To Rebecca Morris, the whole setup was just plain crazy. But John Morris prevailed, arguing with his wife about the necessity of this extraordinary move, about how special Bulger and Flemmi were. He would concede to his wife they were “bad guys,” but dinner was “necessary to inspire their trust.”
It was all part of the inflation of Bulger and Flemmi. Morris was not surprised that his wife did not fully appreciate the unique deal he and Connolly had with Bulger and Flemmi. After all, she could not appreciate the continued blossoming of the intimacy the group had going, as it flowed from dinner parties to gifts. During the early 1980s the agents and informants began giving each other presents—at holidays, to mark special occasions, or simply because they were moved to give. Rebecca, John probably thought, was simply missing the obvious.
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Connolly served as gift coordinator, bearing presents to the agents from the gangsters and vice versa. Gianturco got a black leather briefcase, a glass decorative statue, and a bottle of cognac. The second time Bulger came to his house for dinner, recalled Gianturco, he “brought some wineglasses. I think the ones I had were the $1.25 Stop & Shop’s. He brought a better set of wineglasses the next time. Usually Mr. Bulger would bring a bottle of wine or a bottle of champagne when he came up for dinner.”
Gianturco happily reciprocated. While window shopping during a trip to San Francisco, he spotted a belt buckle with an engraving of Alcatraz and thought of Whitey Bulger. He bought the buckle and then gave it to Connolly to give to Bulger. Bulger liked it and began wearing it. Connolly and Bulger, meanwhile, also exchanged books and wine, and Bulger once presented his handler with an engraved hunting knife.
“I received a sweatshirt from Nick Gianturco,” Flemmi recalled. “I received a book from John Connolly.” Morris, he said, once gave him a painting of Korea by a Korean artist. “It was a nice painting.” Said Morris: “I had picked it up in the army. I had served in Korea, and he had served in Korea, and I gave him that painting.”
Bulger noticed that the dinner table at Morris’s home lacked a bucket to keep wine chilled, so he surprised Morris with a gift of a silver wine bucket. The ornate gift infuriated Morris’s wife and sparked another round of marital grief. She didn’t want Bulger’s largesse and told her husband not to accept it. But Morris did, rationalizing again the need to maintain Bulger’s trust. Rebecca Morris banned the bucket from their home, and eventually John Morris, without ever telling Bulger, quietly threw it out.
Bulger and Flemmi continued to ply Morris with fancy wine—here and there a $25 or $30 bottle of French Bordeaux. “I don’t think that I articulated a specific interest in it,” said Morris. “I think that it evolved, and I believe it evolved from the standpoint where they first brought wine. I believe conversation flowed from that as to my interest in wine.”
The two crime bosses even arranged once for a special delivery to Morris at the FBI office in Government Center in Boston. “Connolly gave it to me,” recalled Morris. “He said that he had something for me from these guys.” Morris was instructed to go to Connolly’s car in the parking garage. “I went down to the basement of the federal building, opened his trunk, and there was a case of wine.”
It was as if the gangsters were probing Morris’s weak spot. He’d showed himself capable of losing it at the Colonnade Hotel. Indeed, Flemmi had kept the audiotape that Morris left behind that night as a souvenir. And even though Morris knew full well that the growing intimacy and gift giving were clearly wrong, he couldn’t stop himself. It was as if he got a charge out of the bizarre alliance with Bulger and Flemmi. With a little alcohol, it all went down even more smoothly. Morris liked the two gangsters. He liked Connolly. They all seemed part of an important secret.
In early June 1982 Morris left Boston to attend a two-week training session in Glynco, Georgia, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Sarhatt had approved the trip, as did the Boston office’s assistant special agent in charge, Bob Fitzpatrick. Morris was enrolled in a program entitled, “Narcotics Specialization Training.” Even though another federal agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), already specialized in targeting drug traffickers, the FBI during the early 1980s was looking to enhance its own drug enforcement capabilities. Immediately Morris missed his girlfriend, Debbie Noseworthy, and once in Georgia he got an idea.
“I called Connolly,” said Morris, and he reminded Connolly of the offer Bulger and Flemmi had made: if he ever needed anything, just let them know. “So I asked Connolly: ‘Do you think they could arrange for an airline ticket?’
“He said, ‘Yeah.’”
John Connolly had taken Morris’s call at the Organized Crime Squad. Debbie was seated nearby at her desk right outside Morris’s office. She could only wonder what Connolly and her boyfriend were discussing. Then Connolly hung up and left. He returned later and walked up to Debbie holding an envelope that he then gave to the FBI secretary.
“He said that John wanted me to have this,” she recalled. “I asked what it was, and he said, ‘Well, look at it.’” Debbie opened the plain white envelope and counted $1,000 in cash. She was startled and asked where the money had come from. Using a cover story that he and Morris had concocted, Connolly explained that her boyfriend had been saving up money and hiding it in his desk for an occasion just like this one. Morris, said Connolly, wanted her to take the money and fly down to see him in Georgia.
Debbie had not seen Connolly enter Morris’s office and go through the squad supervisor’s desk. She had been in her boss’s desk many times before and had never seen the money. But she wasn’t about to second-guess her good fortune. She was thrilled. Connolly, Debbie recalled, then said to her, “Isn’t that nice that you’re going to get to go?” Debbie arranged hastily to take a few vacation days. She rushed out and bought a ticket and then caught a departing flight from Logan Airport. Thanks to Connolly and Bulger, the couple were soon romancing in Georgia.
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Six months after Morris sought his first payoff, he turned over supervision of the Organized Crime Squad to Jim Ring. Morris was named coordinator of a new FBI drug task force. It was early in 1983, and Morris was feeling a little burned out. The public reason for the burnout was legitimate and understandable. Morris had overseen a squad of agents through the spectacular but exhausting bugging of the Mafia’s Boston headquarters. The investigation was now in the hands of Ed Quinn, who was overseeing a group of agents carefully listening to and transcribing the FBI tapes. The evidence against Gennaro Angiulo and his associates was stunning, and all of it was in the Mafia’s own words. But Morris’s burnout had a private side to it too—he was now thoroughly compromised.
No question, he’d taken a gift too far.
Between himself and Connolly, Bulger and Flemmi now had two agents cold. Morris tried to warn his successor, Jim Ring, about Bulger. Morris, of course, did not mention the money. He talked to Ring in FBI-speak, suggesting to the new supervisor that perhaps Bulger and Flemmi had “outlived their usefulness” and should be closed down as FBI informants. It was Morris’s lame wish that Ring would somehow clean up his mess. Ring later said he had no memory of Morris ever advising him to close Bulger. In the office the two agents were regarded more as rivals than as friends. Ring was eager to make his own mark, not just serve as custodian to the picked-over remains of the Angiulo case.
Connolly immediately brought Ring around to meet Bulger and Flemmi—the start of a new chapter in glad-handing. Connolly made the initial introductions at his own apartment, and the two gangsters found that Ring wasn’t warm and soft like Morris. “I felt comfortable with John Morris, but Jim Ring was a different type of a person,” Flemmi said. “He seemed to be more focused in on details and didn’t seem to be the type of guy that wanted to maybe socialize.”
Soon enough, though, Ring joined the others at the dinner table, including a memorable night spent at the house of Flemmi’s mother. Billy Bulger, the Senate president, walked into the Flemmi kitchen from his own home across the way. The startled FBI supervisor did a double take as Billy walked right in and gave Whitey some family photographs to look at. (Billy later denied this ever happened, but Ring testified about the cameo appearance under oath.)
But no other supervisor or fellow agent could ever replace what the group had had in John Morris. Maybe he wasn’t Connolly’s boss anymore or in charge of the Organized Crime Squad, but Connolly and Bulger and Flemmi were going to stick close by. They had Morris in their grip, and he’d come cheap—a plane ticket for an illicit tryst. Morris soon sensed as much. He knew the moment Debbie Noseworthy buckled herself in for the flight out of Logan that it was over. He was finished, and it would only get worse as the 1980s continued. He’d try to rationalize as best he could, try to imitate Connolly—fluff everything up in earnest talk about the special deal and the special task they’d all undertaken to defeat the Mafia. But the protection they were providing Bulger and Flemmi was no longer just about gathering underworld intelligence, which was always good to get but never as vital and indispensable as the agents had portrayed it. The protection was now about FBI corruption.
Morris had been unable to hold his own, through the Colonnade and the dinners and the gifts, through the leaks about the state police’s attempted bugging and now the cold cash. He knew full well they’d all moved far beyond crafting distortions and lies for the FBI’s files, beyond the padding of the Bulger files so that their bosses thought only good thoughts about Bulger, beyond the stretching of the rules to their outermost limits.
They’d fallen completely off the game board during the eighteen months from late 1980 to mid-1982—now criminals all, FBI agents and two gangsters looking to deflect trouble of any kind, including charges of murder.