Ex-Partner, ‘The Rifleman’ Faces Off With Bulger in Court
This pair of file booking photos shows Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, left, in 1974 from the Boston Police Department, and James "Whitey" Bulger, right, in 1984 from the FBI. Flemmi, Bulger's alleged former partner serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to 10 killings, is expected to testify in Bulger's trial Thursday, July 18, 2013 in federal court in Boston. Bulger, now 83, is accused in a 32-count racketeering indictment and in playing a role in 19 killings in the 1970s and 80s while he allegedly led the Winter Hill Gang in Boston. (AP Photos/File)
File -- In this Thursday, June 6, 2013, file photo Stephen Rakes smiles after greeting an acquaintance outside the liquor store he once owned in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston. Authorities say Rakes, who was on the witness list for the racketeering trial of reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, has died. The Middlesex District Attorneys Office says Stephen Rakes was found dead Wednesday, July 17, 2013 about 1:30 p.m. in Lincoln, Mass., with no obvious signs of trauma to his body. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Boston — His hands on his hips in a you-want-a-piece-of-me stance, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi glared at James “Whitey” Bulger in the courtroom, and the two men snarled what sounded like obscenities at each other.
Bulger and his once-loyal comrade came face to face Thursday for the first time in nearly two decades as Flemmi took the stand to testify against the reputed Boston crime boss at Bulger’s racketeering trial.
In his brief 15 minutes or so on the stand before court recessed for the day, Flemmi, a ruthless underworld executioner, told how he and Bulger were secret FBI informants for 15 years while they ran the Winter Hill Gang, the city’s murderous Irish mob.
Flemmi said he was with Bulger and heard him give information to FBI agent John Connolly “hundreds of times” over 15 years.
That comment seemed to rankle Bulger, who insists that he was never an informant and told people that being a “rat” was the worst thing anyone could do, according to testimony.
Flemmi is scheduled to return to the stand today for what could be a combustible session. Both men are renowned for hair-trigger tempers. And one thing that has really set Bulger off in court is being called a rat.
Before Flemmi took the stand, word spread through the courtroom that a former Boston liquor store owner who had hoped to testify against Bulger and openly despised him had been found dead. Authorities said a jogger discovered the body of Stephen “Stippo” Rakes on Wednesday in Lincoln, Mass.
Prosecutors said there were no obvious signs of foul play. An autopsy was being conducted to determine the cause of death.
In court, Bulger shot Flemmi a look just after he described the extent of Bulger’s informant activities.
Then, as testimony ended for the day and the jury was led out of the courtroom, the 79-year-old Flemmi stood up so federal marshals could take him away. As he stood there, he put his hands on his hips and glowered at the 83-year-old Bulger, who was about 10 feet away at the defense table.
The two men exchanged obscenities, but people in the courtroom who heard the words differed on exactly what was said. No transcript was made available.
Flemmi testified that he and Bulger provided information mostly on the rival Italian mob, but also on “different people from South Boston.”
“Who did most of the talking at these meetings?” prosecutor Fred Wyshak asked.
“James Bulger,” Flemmi replied.
Flemmi was asked to describe his relationship with Bulger.
“Strictly criminal,” he replied.
But he also said they were close friends, socialized together and went to Europe together.
Asked to describe Bulger’s personality, Flemmi replied, “Overbearing,” then added, “Forceful.”
Prosecutors said Bulger and Flemmi ran the Winter Hill Gang for more than 20 years, making millions by extorting drug dealers, bookmakers and loan sharks.
Bulger is accused of participating in 19 killings during the 1970s and ‘80s. Flemmi pleaded guilty to 10 killings, extortion, drug distribution and other charges. He is serving a life sentence.
Flemmi said he hasn’t seen Bulger since about a week before Christmas in 1994. That was when they got tipped off by Connolly, their former FBI handler, that they were about to be indicted.
Bulger fled Boston and was one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives for more than 16 years until he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
Flemmi was arrested and has been in prison ever since.
Bulger has already had two profanity-laced outbursts during the trial, one directed at his former protege, Kevin Weeks, and the other at a former FBI agent who admitted taking payoffs from Bulger.
As for the dead witness, prosecutors said Rakes and his former wife were forced to sell Bulger their store in 1984 to use as a headquarters for his gang and as a source of legitimate income.
But Weeks, Bulger’s former right-hand man, gave a differing account when he testified last week. Weeks said Rakes wanted to sell the store, agreed to a price and then tried to increase the price.
Friends said Rakes was eager to testify against Bulger.
“The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better,” Rakes told The Associated Press in April.
Rakes was eager to get on the witness stand, according to Tommy Donahue, son of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue. But prosecutors told the judge Tuesday who their remaining witnesses would be and Rakes wasn’t among them.
“He said he wanted to get up there and tell his side of the story,” Donahue said Thursday.
But when prosecutors listed their remaining witnesses for the judge Tuesday, Rakes wasn’t among them. Rakes was upset when he left the courthouse Tuesday, said Steven Davis, the brother of one of Bulger’s alleged victims. Davis said he wasn’t sure why.
In the lead-up to Bulger’s trial, Rakes described South Boston as a different place from the days when some thought of Bulger as a benevolent tough guy who gave away Thanksgiving turkeys and helped elderly women cross the street.
He said as South Boston’s property values went up, new people moved in, and the neighborhood changed. Rakes said Bulger’s image also underwent a transformation as years passed.
“There are still people in this town who still stay he was a gentleman,” Rakes told the AP. “But there aren’t too many of them left.”
Rakes didn’t count himself among them.