By Daniel Lovering
BOSTON (Reuters) - A retired FBI supervisor testified on Thursday that accused mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger was given special treatment that informants rarely get, including dinner at the FBI agent's home.
John Morris testified the dinner at his home was set up by another FBI agent, John Connolly, who said he was cultivating Bulger as a source. Bulger claims he was never an FBI informant but instead was buying information from Connolly that allowed him to thrive as the head of Boston's Winter Hill crime gang in the 1970s and '80s.
Bulger, 83, is on trial for 19 murders and other crimes that Connolly, who is serving a 40-year prison term for murder and racketeering, ignored in return for information used against the Italian mafia operating in New England.
Morris, who described Connolly as his best friend, told the court he invited Bulger to his home in suburban Lexington, Massachusetts, for dinner in 1978. Connolly was trying to develop Bulger as a source and wanted a "pleasant" meeting, Morris said.
"He wanted Mr. Bulger to be comfortable," Morris testified. "He wanted it handled in a manner informants typically are not handled."
Bulger, who spent 16 years on the run before being found living quietly in Santa Monica, California, in 2011, pleaded not guilty to all charges. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Morris, who now works as a part-time wine consultant, said some of his meetings with Bulger and associate Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi were more social than business in nature.
Morris said that meeting with two informants simultaneously was highly unusual, and that he had agreed to the meeting because of a request by Connolly.
Bulger's attorneys have spent much of the past two days attacking the reliability of the FBI's 700-page informant file on him, which they contend was fabricated by Connolly to provide a cover for his frequent meetings with the gang boss.
Bulger's story has fascinated Boston for decades, and inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning Martin Scorsese film "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson played a character loosely based on Bulger.
Bulger fled Boston after a 1994 tip from Connolly that authorities were preparing to arrest him. He evaded capture for 16 years, even though his name was prominent on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list of fugitives.
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott)