Disgraced FBI Agent Could Testify in Whitey Bulger Case
Boston — A former FBI supervisor who admits taking money from James “Whitey” Bulger and letting slip information that resulted in the murder of a key government witness could testify Thursday at the mob boss’ racketeering trial.
Former supervisory agent John Morris has been reduced to sobs when called as a witness in related cases. He ran the bureau’s organized crime squad in Boston in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, a position that gave him a firsthand look at what prosecutors now say was the corrosive effect Bulger and his partner Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi had on law enforcement.
Morris, granted immunity, has admitted taking thousands of dollars in cash from the two gangsters, in addition to what is referred to in prosecution documents as cases of “fine wine.”
His top investigator at the bureau was former agent John Connolly, who claimed to be operating Bulger and Flemmi as informants. Connolly, accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bulger and Flemmi, is serving a 40-year prison sentence for leaking them secret bureau information that they used to kill three potential witnesses against them.
Federal prosecutors have said that Morris inadvertently contributed to one of those deaths by sharing confidential information with Connolly.
Bulger and Flemmi referred to Morris as “vino” because of the wine they gave him. He also is accused of taking money from the two gangsters to buy his girlfriend, a bureau secretary, an airline ticket when he couldn’t afford to have her join him at a training conference in Georgia.
He has acknowledged that he and other agents socialized with Bulger and Flemmi at private dinner parties, including one at Morris’ suburban Lexington home. Morris served pasta after sending his wife and children to another part of the house.
Bulger reciprocated at his apartment in South Boston and his condominium in nearby Quincy. Flemmi hosted at the house he bought his mother in South Boston. She cooked and one of her neighbors — Bulger’s brother William, the former Massachusetts Senate president — unexpectedly stopped for a visit.
Authorities later learned that Bulger’s gang had hidden its machine guns and dozens of other weapons in a secret space hidden in a screened cabana behind Mrs. Flemmi’s house.
The Morris disclosure to Connolly concerned Edward Brian Halloran, a disaffected member of the Winter Hill Gang who, in late 1981 and early ‘82, was trying to work out a cooperation deal with the FBI. Halloran wanted immunity from a murder charge and enrollment in the witness protection program.
Halloran had approached FBI agents assigned to a squad separate from Morris’ organized-crime squad. He said he could implicate Bulger, Flemmi and other gang members in the murder of Tulsa, Okla., businessman Roger Wheeler, owner of the pari-mutual company World Jai Alai. World operated frontons in Connecticut and Florida at which patrons could bet on the Basque game jai alai.
Halloran told the FBI that former World president John B. Callahan wanted Wheeler dead because Wheeler wouldn’t sell him the business. In a series of secret debriefings known only to a select group of FBI employees, Halloran said Callahan promised the gang a $10,000 a week skim from World Jai Alai if Wheeler was killed and his widow agreed to sell.
Halloran said he knew of the plan because his close friend Callahan, a Winter Hill associate, had asked him to take part. Halloran said he declined, but walked away with details of the conspiracy that later were confirmed by witnesses who, more than a decade later, agreed to cooperate with authorities. The cooperators include Flemmi and John Martorano, the confessed 20-time killer who shot Wheeler between the eyes outside his Tulsa country club.
Connolly has been convicted of leaking to Bulger the information he got from Morris. The indictment Bulger is being tried on accuses him, among a variety of other crimes, of involvement in the murders of Wheeler and Halloran.
Morris is scheduled to testify after Bulger’s lawyers finish their attack, probably today, on the veracity of hundreds of decades-old FBI reports in an effort to rebut the government’s contention that he was a top FBI informant.
Many of the reports were prepared by Connolly. Connolly claims to have recruited and developed Bulger into what the bureau calls a Top Echelon informant, someone capable of delivering information about organized crime at a policymaking level in the early 1970s.
Bulger, an accused 19-time killer, is clearly angry over the informant label and is fighting it vigorously. One of his lawyers, Hank Brennan, continued the attack during a laborious cross-examination of a government document expert Wednesday, suggesting among things, that corrupt FBI agents falsely listed Bulger, now 83, as an informant to collect the pay raises and promotions the bureau gave agents for informant development.
In his questioning Wednesday, Brennan suggested that Connolly was collecting information available through other sources, such as FBI wiretaps or other informants, and inserting it an informant file opened under Bulger’s name.
James Marra, the government document expert, said he testified in another case about five years ago that “certain” of the informant reports in Bulger’s FBI informant file were “false or misleading,” created by Connolly and Bulger in an effort to turn the attention of law enforcement agencies investigating the jai alai murders away from Bulger and his gang.
But Marra said he believes the majority of reports in Bulger’s FBI informant file are legitimate.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak has been dismissive of Bulger’s denial that he was an informant, calling it an ego-driven attempt by the gangster to salvage what remains of his reputation.