BOSTON (Reuters) - Mob enforcer Brian Halloran knew he was risking his life in 1982 when he began talking to the FBI about crimes committed by mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger of the Winter Hill gang, a former FBI agent testified on Monday.
Brian Halloran, who said he had already survived two attacks before he went to the FBI, was gunned down in a brazen daytime attack in May 1982. Prosecutors charge that Bulger and two fellow gang members opened fire on his car and killed him.
Retired special agent Gerald Montanari told the jury hearing Bulger’s trial that Halloran tried to get prosecutors to drop a murder charge against him by offering the Federal Bureau of Investigation details on some of Bulger’s crimes.
Montanari said Halloran also wanted FBI protection against Bulger and his lieutenant, Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
“He said that if either Bulger or Flemmi had any indication that he was cooperating with the FBI, that they would go to any extreme, even if it meant killing innocent bystanders, including his family,” Montanari said as the sixth week of Bulger’s trial opened on Monday.
He told FBI agents that two attempts had already been made on his life, Montanari testified.
Bulger, 83, faces the possibility of life in prison if he is convicted of crimes including 19 murders, including Halloran’s, that authorities say he committed or ordered in the 1970s and 1980s.
He has pleaded not guilty on all charges, though his attorney has acknowledged that Bulger was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark, in short an “organized criminal.”
Montanari said that when the bureau began talking with Halloran, who had agreed to wear a recording device to gather information, they rented a house for him and his family in the vacation community of Cape Cod outside Boston. Authorities believed this location was far enough removed from Bulger’s South Boston stronghold that Halloran would be safe, he said.
The story of Bulger’s rise from a Boston housing project to become the city’s most feared criminal has fascinated Boston for years. He fled Boston after a 1994 tip from a corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent.
Bulger, whose story inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning film “The Departed,” evaded arrest for 16 years before the FBI caught up with him, living in a seaside Santa Monica, California, apartment in June 2011.
Montanari said Halloran knew the risk he was taking. Prosecutors charge that in late 1976 Bulger’s gang had shot dead another associate, Richard Castucci, because they believed he was talking to investigators.
Bulger had strong links to the bureau. At the time Halloran began meeting with the FBI, a former FBI agent was helping the gang organize a hit on Tulsa, Oklahoma businessman Richard Wheeler.
Halloran also knew that Bulger and Flemmi were meeting regularly with corrupt FBI agent John Connolly, on whose tip Bulger later fled town. Connolly is currently serving a 40-year sentence for murder and racketeering charges.
Bulger denies ever having served as an informant for the FBI, which developed a 700-page file on him during the more than 10 years that he regularly met with Connolly. Bulger said through attorneys that he paid the FBI agent for tips but provided none of his own.
By the time Halloran was gunned down in a daylight hit, relations between Halloran and the bureau had soured — he had declined to take a lie-detector test and told his lawyer about talking to the bureau, which Montanari feared put him at risk.
“We had, just prior to that, told Brian we were stopping our association with him,” Montanari said. “The object of this wasn’t really to sever our relationship with him ... We were hoping this would be a reality check with him, to bring him back into compliance with what we were trying to do.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and David Gregorio