By Lauren Keiper
BOSTON (Reuters) - Former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's provisional attorney asked the court on Wednesday to consolidate charges against his client, which include 19 murder accusations, from two indictments into one.
But the government, which wants to drop racketeering charges to focus on the murder case, said the bid lacked merit, and both sides accused each other of trying to manipulate how the charges will be tried and by whom.
"These two cases are simply not subject to consolidation," government attorneys said in a late-day filing in response to Bulger's request.
A conviction on just one count of murder in Massachusetts could send Bulger to prison for life, and authorities have said that focusing on the murder cases could bring quicker justice to the families of Bulger's alleged victims.
Bulger, who had been on the FBI's Most Wanted List, and his longtime companion Catherine Greig, 60, were arrested at their rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, California, on June 22 after being on the run together since 1995.
Bulger and Greig had some $820,000 stashed in a wall in their hideout, mostly in bundles of $100 bills.
Defense attorney Peter Krupp said allegations from the two indictments against Bulger were related, overlapping and in some cases identical. He described the move to dismiss a 1994 racketeering-focused indictment as "forum shopping" and a manipulation of the random case assignment process for judges.
The government said it planned to focus on the 19 murder charges contained in a separate indictment. The indictments were to be heard before different judges.
Prosecutors denied they were forum shopping and turned the same accusation back onto Bulger.
The "counter-intuitive strategy" of requesting that he be prosecuted for even more crimes suggests that Bulger, not the government, is forum shopping, they said.
Bulger, transported in a cordon of black SUVs, made a surprise four-hour trip to the courthouse on Wednesday from his cell at the Plymouth County jail south of Boston. The visit was reportedly for a meeting with his lawyer.
The aging gangster is expected back in court for two separate hearings on Thursday. In one, a judge could assign two prominent lawyers to take on what is expected to be a highly complex case.
Bulger, 81, requested a public defender at his initial Boston court appearance on Friday, saying he could not afford an attorney. Published reports suggest Howard Cooper and Max Stern could be named to the Bulger case if a judge allows court-appointed counsel over prosecutors' objections.
The pair were in court for another Bulger hearing on Tuesday. Neither returned calls seeking comment.
Stern was named one of Boston's best criminal defense lawyers in 2010 by "Law and Politics" magazine, while "Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly" named Cooper to its list of the state's most influential attorneys in 2009.
(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Ros Krasny, Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)