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High life brought low: Jury finds 'Whitey' Bulger guilty in killings, racketeering

CNN
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 8:50am

BOSTON (CNN) -- Two years ago, James "Whitey" Bulger -- the famed and much-feared head of the Boston mob -- was sitting pretty in Santa Monica, California.

Today, he's sitting in prison, where he could potentially spend the rest of the life.

The turn of events was capped Monday when a federal jury found the former mob boss guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including extortion, money laundering, drug dealing and weapons possession. The jury held Bulger responsible for the murder of 11 people.

The 83-year-old Bulger faces a maximum sentence of up to life, plus 30 years in prison.

"So many peoples' lives were so terribly harmed by the criminal actions of Bulger and his crew. And today's conviction does not alter that harm, and it doesn't lessen it," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, speaking about the victims and their families.

"However, we hope that they find some degree of comfort in the fact that today has come, and Bulger is being held accountable for his horrific crimes," she said.

Bulger was accused of involvement in killing 19 people, including two women.

The jury found Bulger played a role in 11 of those murders, and that the evidence did not prove he was involved in seven, stretching back to 1973. The jury made no finding in one murder.

Pat Donahue, widow of victim Michael Donahue, cried openly when the verdict was announced. Victim Eddie Connors' daughter, Karen, clenched her fists and said, "Yes" when her father's death by Bulger was proved.

But the daughter of victim Francis "Buddy" Leonard left court after the jury did not find enough evidence to link Bulger to his death.

"Thirty-eight years ago when my father died, we always knew who killed him. We still know who killed him, and we still cant get any justice," said Connie Leonard, now grown.

And victim Debra Davis' brother, Steven Davis, left in disbelief after the jury had "no finding" in her death.

Debra Davis was dating Bulger partner Steve Flemmi, and one day in 1981 just didn't come home.

"It's hard to digest. With all the years since '81, I've been looking for answers, searching for answers, and I come out with an NF. It's not good enough," Steven Davis told CNN.

"I put up a big fight for justice, for answers. Some people say closure. I don't believe in closure, but I believe that I deserve more than an NF. I'm disappointed," he said.

16 years on the lam

The eight men and four women of the jury deliberated for five days, over more than 32 hours, before reaching their verdict.

The only count Bulger was not found guilty of was on the alleged extortion of Kevin Hayes, a ticket broker, who had said he was warned in 1994 that he had to give "payoffs" to Bulger in order to operate.

Bulger showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.

They came after seven weeks of testimony about murder, extortion, drug trafficking, loansharking, bookmaking and other gangster crimes covering the time Bulger ran Boston's Irish mob from the early '70s through late 1994, when he fled the city.

The case closes an epic criminal tale that included a life on the lam for 16 years that began when a crooked FBI agent told Bulger that he was about to be indicted on federal racketeering charges.

The gangster who ruled south Boston soon became one of the most wanted men in America. Bulger the FBI informant became Bulger the FBI fugitive.

It was the stuff of Hollywood moviemaking, and in fact, Bulger's mob-boss brutality inspired Jack Nicholson's character in the film "The Departed," which was directed by Martin Scorsese and won four Oscars in 2006, including best picture.

Then, in 2011, the FBI finally tracked him down: Bulger was living on the other side of the country in an apartment just blocks from the beaches of Santa Monica.

He had about $822,000 in cash -- largely $100 bills -- hidden inside a wall in his apartment, located in a tourist haven right beside Los Angeles. Bulger also kept 30 guns in his residence.

Daring to the end, Bulger was hiding in plain sight, living under an alias with his girlfriend. They called themselves Charlie and Carol Gasko.

Bulger 'pleased' by the verdict

It was a long fall for Bulger: One of America's notorious mob bosses was called "a rat bastard" and "a coward" by victims' relatives and former associates who attended or watched the trial.

Bulger declined to take the stand to testify in his defense, telling the judge, outside the jury's presence, that his trial was "a sham" because he had an immunity deal with federal authorities in exchange for being an informant.

The judge had ruled he couldn't make that claim during his trial.

However, after the verdict, Bulger's lawyer said that his client was "very pleased" by both the trial and its outcome.

"It was important to him that the government corruption be exposed, and important to him that people see first hand the deals that the government was able to make with certain people," attorney Jay Carney told reporters.

Bulger's sentencing is scheduled for November 13.

His girlfriend, Catherine Greig, pleaded guilty in March to charges of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, identity fraud and conspiracy to commit identity fraud.

Her crime was "the most extreme case" of harboring a fugitive, prosecutors said.

Greig, 61, was sentenced in June to eight years in federal prison.

-- CNN's Dana Ford, Josh Levs and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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