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June 24th, 2011 - 10:50 pm

Despite being one the world’s most wanted men, the bearded fugitive hid in plain sight for a long time in a single location. A member of a prominent political family, he was rumored to have ties with a powerful intelligence agency that protected him. When an elite raiding team finally caught up with him, he wasn’t living in a rural hideout but in an upscale residential area of a major city. No, this thread is not about the raid on Osama Bin Laden, it is about the arrest of Whitey Bulger.

On June 22, 2011, he was arrested at the apartment he had lived in for fifteen years in Santa Monica, California, along with his girlfriend Catherine Greig. He was 81 years old at the time of his arrest, and supposedly in poor health. Bulger and Greig were quickly extradited back to Massachusetts and were brought under heavy guard to the waterfront federal courthouse in Boston, necessitating the closing of part of Boston Harbor.

Howie Carr, the Boston Herald reporter who Bulger once threatened to off, wryly noted that the Pakistani Ambassador had asked “if Whitey Bulger can live undetected by American police for so long why can’t Osama bin Laden live undetected by Pakistani authorities?”

Bulger was a nearly mythical Boston mobster who operated for years as an informant for the FBI, a relationship which moderated his criminal career not a whit. He had mysterious connections to politics which have remained unexplained* to this day, not in the least via his brother, Billy, a powerful operative in the Commonwealth’s Democratic machinery.

The middle brother, William “Billy” Bulger, was formerly an influential leader of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. In a long political career, he rose to become President of the Massachusetts State Senate. After his retirement he was appointed President of the University of Massachusetts. In his 2002 testimony before the United States Congress, William Bulger was grilled by legislators from both parties. When asked what he thought his brother did for a living, Senator Bulger responded: “I had the feeling that he was in the business of gaming and … or whatever. It was vague to me, illegal but I didn’t … not all that violent … For a long while he had some regular jobs, but ultimately it was clear that he was not, he wasn’t doing what I’d like him to do. Let’s just say I was naive in retrospect.” He added that he loves his brother and hoped the most brutal rumors concerning him will be proven false. In addition, he grudgingly admitted to visiting an isolated pay phone in order to speak to his older brother, who was by then a fugitive. In 2003, as fallout from these comments, Bulger was forced out by then-Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney from the presidency of the University of Massachusetts.

Not surprisingly, Whitey Bulger’s life became the inspiration for fiction, notably the character of Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in the movie The Departed. His sensational capture after being on the run since 1994 can probably only be be exceeded by Jimmy Hoffa’s return from the dead. Paul Kix who writes a blog at Boston Magazine asks three questions that now have an outside chance of getting some answers. 1. What was Whitey’s relationship with Billy Bulger all those years? 2. Who else in the FBI office did Bulger corrupt? 3. How did Whitey support himself all these years? Kix forgot the fourth. Why has Bulger been found just now? What changed to take the magic bubble away?

The air of conspiracy which surrounds Bulger was so great that the Boston Herald reported that many of its readers did not believe that Bulger was arrested as described. “Mistrust of the feds lingers 30 years after reputed South Boston mob boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger climbed to the top of the city’s underworld on the back of a deal with the Boston FBI office, Herald readers indicated in online comments.”

“I think the whole thing was contrived, said Soshorelula during yesterday’s Friday Throwdown news chat. “The big ad campaign was a cover-up. Either to protect the person who knew where he was and gave him up or to protect the FBI from any more embarrassment.”

While some people may think Whitey Bulger has been found to finally shut him up, there was every reason for bent law enforcement officers not to find him. The Washington Post says “James “Whitey” Bulger’s capture could cause a world of trouble inside the FBI.”

The ruthless Boston crime boss who spent 16 years on the lam is said to have boasted that he corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 police officers. If he decides to talk, some of them could rue the day he was caught. “They are holding their breath, wondering what he could say,” said Robert Fitzpatrick, the former second-in-command of the Boston FBI office.

Maybe that’s excessive paranoia. After all, it’s possible that with the passage of time the goods Bulger had on people would have gone stale; that those who had protected him had lost influence.  In which case  James “Whitey” Bulger has been found just now because it was safe to find him. The other possibility is that he has been asked to come out; that we are watching Bulger run through one last script as an informant. After all, for decades he reshaped the face of Boston’s underworld at the behest of shadowy but powerful forces to accomodate their greed and ambition. He rearranged things to suit. Now at 81, Bulger is in a position to blow gaps in the ranks of law enforcement and politics one more time — gaps that will be filled by others.

“History,” Napoleon once said, “is a set of lies agreed upon.” Unfortunately testimony can sometimes be described in exactly the same way.

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*typo corrected

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