BOSTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, captured near his coastal California hideout after 16 years on the run, was ordered held without bond on Thursday for transfer back to Boston to face charges of murder, extortion and conspiracy.
Bulger, one of America’s most wanted fugitives, was lured from his Santa Monica, California, apartment just blocks from the Pacific on Wednesday evening by federal agents and police acting on a tip from the public.
Bulger, 81, put up no resistance when he and his longtime companion, Catherine Greig, 60, who had been with him at large since 1995, were arrested together, federal officials said at a Boston news conference.
An employee for the company that manages the apartment building, Joshua Bond, told Reuters the couple had lived there for 15 years and went by the names Charles and Carol Gasko.
The pair appeared on Thursday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate judge in Los Angeles, who ordered both of them to remain in federal custody without bail.
Handcuffed but looking calm and fit, Bulger gave short answers to procedural questions posed by the judge. He was mostly bald and wore a neatly trimmed white beard and wire-rimmed glasses.
He smiled and chuckled to himself while staring at reporters in the courtroom before the proceedings began.
When the judge asked if he had read the indictment against him, Bulger held up a sheaf of white papers and replied, “I got ‘em all right here. It will take me quite a while to finish these.”
He said “thank you” to the judge at the end.
Greig, with close-cropped white hair, appeared frailer and older than Bulger. She scowled through much of her hearing.
Bulger and Greig waived rights to challenge their removal from California to Boston. The judge said both would be sent back to Massachusetts as soon as possible.
Bulger, a onetime underworld informant and former leader of the Irish-American criminal group the Winter Hill Gang, was wanted on 19 counts of murder committed in the 1970s and 1980s, and on charges of drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.
Greig was charged in 1997 with harboring a fugitive.
Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Bulger faced life in prison if convicted.
Bulger fled Boston in late 1994 and was joined by Greig a few months later. Before their arrest, the last credible sighting of the pair was in London in 2002. Bulger was thought to have traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, Canada and Latin America after slipping away.
A former decorated FBI agent was sentenced in 2002 to more than 10 years in prison for helping Bulger elude capture at one point just before he was about to be arrested.
The scandal embarrassed the FBI and led to congressional hearings. The Bulger story also inspired Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Oscar-winning film “The Departed,” in which Jack Nicholson portrayed a character based on the reputed mob boss.
Inside Bulger’s Santa Monica hideout, agents said they found a significant amount of money and a cache of guns and other weapons. They declined to give details of the ploy that led to Bulger leaving his apartment.
A new series of televised public service announcements aimed at female viewers who might have seen Greig was launched just Tuesday, airing in 14 cities during daytime TV programs — though not in Los Angeles. The FBI also placed billboards in New York’s Times Square and elsewhere.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers said the media campaign paid off with an anonymous tip that directly led the critical break in the case.
Agents from the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department staked out the three-story apartment building on Wednesday afternoon before making the arrests.
Bulger is the older brother of William “Billy” Bulger, a former president of the Massachusetts State Senate. William Bulger had no comment about his brother’s arrest.
He was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1999, and a $2 million reward was offered for information leading to Bulger’s arrest. The FBI doubled the reward offered for Greig’s whereabouts this week, to $100,000.
The FBI late on Wednesday slapped “Captured” tags on the photos of Bulger and Greig posted on its website.
“Although there are those who have doubted our resolve over time, it has never wavered,” DesLauriers said.
Bulger, said to be an avid reader and history buff who likes to take long walks on beaches, has been featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” more than a dozen times from 1995 to 2010.
Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and R.T. Watson in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman, Philip Barbara and Eric Walsh