Before Boston Strong, There Was Boston Wrong

Posted: Jun 23, 2013 12:01 AM
For most of the first half of my life, I lived in or near Boston. Usually, I am proud of my hometown, its history, its universities and its spirit. After the Boston Marathon bombings, Beantown united under the phrase "Boston Strong."

I left in 1985. When I go back, I see how much the city has changed.

The Boston I left had a wrong side, too -- a culture that looked away when organized crime terrorized young and old. Boston Wrong has been on parade this month during the long-awaited trial of James "Whitey" Bulger, 83, on 32 federal counts of racketeering, extorting drug dealers and stockpiling firearms and murder -- and 19 counts for murders committed in the 1970s and 1980s, including the strangling death of two 26-year-old women.

Bulger has pleaded not guilty.

Back in the day, everybody knew about Whitey, head of the Winter Hill Gang, and his brother Billy, the leprechaun-like (Democratic, of course) state Senate president whose St. Patrick's Day breakfasts were not to be missed. Billy Bulger was funny and powerful, so politicos joked about his homicidal brother as if he were some fey family eccentricity.

At the 1995 St. Paddy's fest, then-Gov. William Weld, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, sang ditties with Billy Bulger about Whitey, who then was on the lam from federal prosecutors. Borrowing from the lyrics of "M.T.A.," Weld sang, "Will he ever return? No, he'll never return." In another parody, Weld and Bulger crooned, "You're going to be a millionaire. There is no doubt, 'cause I had your brother pick these numbers out." It was a sly reference to Whitey's suspicious win in the state lottery.

Supporters claimed that Whitey kept drugs out of Southie. They hailed him as a Robin Hood-like hero.

Jokes and myths couldn't cover up the corruption and fear. For decades, federal law enforcement, local cops and the Massachusetts political structure protected Whitey. According to FBI files, he informed on his rivals, while law enforcement went easy on his Winter Hill Gang. When an informant told Boston FBI he saw Whitey kill someone, the informant turned up dead. These "tipoff murders" happened more than once.

"It is now beyond dispute that agents in the Boston office of the FBI protected organized crime, or figures who committed murders and other violent crimes, helped send innocent people to jail, warned suspected criminals of impending indictments, accepted bribes" and more, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., declared after an investigation in 2003.

When finally shamed authorities were about to arrest Whitey in 1994, FBI agent John "Zip" Connolly tipped him off. For the next 16 years, Whitey was a highly successful fugitive.

In court, the show continues. Law enforcement looks lower than a snake under a rock in this saga. Testifying for the prosecution was Johnny "The Executioner" Martorano, who served a mere 12 years for 20 admitted murders.

Defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. told jurors that his client made "millions and millions" as a crime boss but that Whitey had standards. He didn't rat on his crime brethren; he just paid off the feds. "James Bulger is of Irish descent," Carney expounded, "and the worst thing an Irish person could consider doing is becoming an informant."

The Bulgers made a career by playing on Billy's Irish charm and excusing Whitey's violence as if it's embedded in a fierce and defiant Irish code.

If the prosecution is right, James "Whitey" Bulger killed people for money. Not for Ireland. It's time for Boston to rage against the blarney defense, Don't convict me; I'm Irish.