BOSTON (Reuters) - A former sidekick of mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger recounted on Friday Boston’s “out of control” gang war in the 1960s that left about 60 people dead and set the stage for Bulger’s “Winter Hill” gang to take control of the city’s crime scene.
Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi recalled shooting a man six times at a bus stop and helping to bury bodies at a gun club in a town outside Boston. He said that gangs used the war as an excuse to kill and agreed with federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak that things “got out of control.”
Flemmi fled the city in 1971, living in Montreal for three years. When he returned to his hometown in 1974, he took up with Bulger, whom he admired for having a strict health regimen that stood out among gangsters.
“He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he worked out regularly,” Flemmi said of Bulger. “We both had that in common.”
The two worked together closely for the next two decades, seeing each other almost daily until Bulger fled, knowing the FBI was closing in on him.
Flemmi stuck around and got arrested. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison after confessing to 10 murders alongside Bulger.
Bulger, 83, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted on charges including racketeering, drug dealing and 19 killings he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and 1980s.
He has pleaded not guilty on all charges, though his lawyer has admitted that Bulger was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark, in short, an “organized criminal.”
The long-awaited trial has brought back memories of a different time in Boston’s history, when thugs from the tight-knit Irish community of South Boston ran their criminal enterprise with impunity, having bought off protection from the FBI and some local police.
Some of the murders, described to the jury during the six weeks of trial, took place just blocks from the waterfront site that is now home to Boston’s federal courthouse.
During his years running the gang, prosecutors say Bulger regularly met with a corrupt FBI official who developed a 700-page informant file as he turned a blind eye to Bulger’s crimes in exchange for information on the Italian Mafia.
Bulger denies being an informant or “rat,” insisting through his attorney that he paid for information but offered none of his own.
One of Bulger’s victims, a constant presence at the trial and a possible witness, was found dead Wednesday in a suburb near Boston.
That man, Stephen Rakes, had owned a South Boston liquor store that he said Bulger’s gang forced him to sell for an unfairly low price after they threatened him with a gun during a meeting in 1984.
After accepting Bulger’s money, Rakes took his family out of town on vacation but the gangster ordered him to return to the neighborhood and stand on street corners for two days to put to rest rumors that he had been whacked.
Authorities said on Thursday they were conducting an autopsy on Rakes’ body, which showed no signs of trauma, and that it could take several weeks to complete toxicology reports and to confirm the cause of his death.
Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Bernadette Baum