By Ross Kerber
BOSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Marshals Service on Friday defended its use of a Coast Guard helicopter to fly former Boston mob boss and accused murderer James "Whitey" Bulger to court hearings from a regional prison.
"It is not uncommon for the Marshals Service to utilize other resources to assist in their mission of providing safe and secure movement of federal detainees," the Marshals Service said in a statement sent Friday afternoon.
Thursday's round trip for Bulger, now 81 years old, cost $1,500, the Marshals Service and a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
A Coast Guard spokesman said that figure included only fuel costs, and that the total costs for the pair of 20 minute flights for Bulger worked out to $9,200.
His aerial transport to and from Boston's waterfront federal courthouse for hearings drew much criticism locally that authorities are coddling the onetime crime boss, whose role as an FBI informant became a national embarrassment for the agency.
Like the FBI, the Marshals Service is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. A Marshals Service official declined to elaborate on its statement, which also said the agency takes into account various factors such as weather, threat levels and traffic when deciding how to move prisoners.
Bulger is being held in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Southeastern Massachusetts, 41 miles from the federal courthouse, according to Mapquest.com.
Local media reported he was flown from Plymouth Municipal Airport to Boston's Logan International Airport not far from the courthouse on Thursday, and then back, after a pair of court hearings.
For previous appearances officials have moved Bulger in a motorcade. He was first captured in California after 16 years on the run, and reportedly flown to Boston aboard a government jet for his first appearance a week ago.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Luke Clayton said Bulger was flown aboard a MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter operating from the agency's main New England air station at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod.
The aircraft costs $13,800 to fly for one hour, he said, so the two 20 minute flights used to transport Bulger would work out to about $9,200.
However, Clayton said the aircraft would likely have been used on a different mission such as training or transportation were it not for the Marshals request. "It is really not costing taxpayers anything extra. We'd be doing a flight anyway," he said in an interview.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Greg McCune)