T.J. English writes what my librarian calls, “guy books.” – books about the mob, organized crime and criminal justice: gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen, Vietnamese gangs in China Town, the History of the Irish mob and this one, about the infamous Boston gangster Whitey Bulgar. His murderous escapades were sanctioned, even abetted, over a twenty year period, by segments of law enforcement and the FBI. This book covers the trial that convicted Bulgar, sentencing him to life x 2 plus 75 years, and the suppression of the story of government malfeasance.
Anyone who has worked in an organization, particularly a large one, knows that certain ambitious and unscrupulous parties maneuver always to advance their status. If they finally get to the top, then the way to promotion in that organization becomes aiding and abetting the unscrupulous. Conversely the way to ruin is honesty or whistle-blowing. Thus was the organizational status of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, manifested to the Nth degree in Boston, in this case from the 70s to 1995.
The few who questioned the policies that used Whitey Bulgar as an informant to decimate the Italian Mafia in Boston and Providence, Road Island, protecting his criminality to the extent of murder, were rebuffed. One idealist was drummed out of the FBI very close to retirement, thus losing that hard won benefit. The arrest and conviction of the regional Mafia leader, the Patriarca crime family as represented by Raymond Patriarca Senior was the goal of this unsavory alliance. It had been determined on high (Hoover), after years of denial that the mob even existed, that the way to promotion and bonuses now lay in busting the mafia. So allowing non-mafia criminals to thrive in order to take down Mafia figures was a no-brainer under those guidelines. Not perhaps to the honest agent but that wasn’t who counted.
As a consequence, Bulgar’s inner circle known as the “Winter Hill Gang” felt immune and proceeded to conduct their illegal activities unhindered, committing gruesome murders along with their other loathsome racketeering. In several instances, as part of the FBI’s determination to maintain and protect their source, Bulgar was tipped off as to “snitches” in his own or allied gang’s ranks, resulting in predictable and swift death to said snitch. In at least one instance, Bulgar felt so confident of his immunity he invited a fellow gangster to his home, beat and tortured him to obtain as much of his ready cash as he could, $50,000 in this case, then killed him, burying the body in his rented basement. Joining this basement of bodies, that gave English his book title, were two women who Bulgar and his team concluded had to go, knew too much, were loose cannons, women who actually had nothing to do with the organization but may have picked up information incidentally hanging out with these killers. One was Bulgar’s mistress, the other his closest associate’s step-daughter, who was abusing her and decided to shut her up.
Again and again during the trial, Bulgar’s lawyers attempted to bring in what they argued was the “context” of their client’s situation – government enabling. This the prosecutor fought quite successfully to disallow, obviously not because it was irrelevant as claimed but to protect law enforcement from the stain that public knowledge of their little project would bring. They already had statuette of limitation immunity but, like the police wall of blue, these prosecutors protected their own. Part of that protection came out of the fact that Bulgar had been on the lam for sixteen years, tipped off to imminent arrest by his FBI handler, John Connolly. That agent was the only one on that side of the equation to be prosecuted for his involvement, which included taking money, trips, gifts and socializing with the Winter Hill gang. In Connolly’s case he came perilously close to being a member of the gang. The FBI prides itself on its legendary (if mythical) reputation of incorruptibility and was anxious to limit its exposure on this count. The Justice Department, not for the first time, made a joke of its own name and shared the FBI’s concern to limit the damage. Another discouraging item is the fact that so many of the government’s witnesses had participated in murder yet were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. One even went on to star in a TV Reality show. A parallel situation, I’d say, is the DOJ and Obama Administration allowing his predecessor, the organized gang in the White House under George W, to skate on their war crimes (illegal invasions, torture etc;).
If you’re a “guy” in my librarian’s sense, you’ll appreciate T.J. English’s diligently researched take on criminality. It is incredibly frustrating to have this scourge preying on our society and infuriating to learn of blatant corruption among those who take oaths to oppose it. As Dylan said in his song Hurricane,
“couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed
to live in a land where justice is a game.“