Prosecution rests in ‘Whitey’ Bulger trial
(CNN) — The prosecution in the federal trial of alleged mobster James “Whitey” Bulger rested its case Friday, after calling 63 witnesses over 30 days.
Bulger is charged in the deaths of 19 people during two decades. He also faces charges of extortion, racketeering and money laundering.
Bulger rose to the top of the notorious Winter Hill gang, prosecutors say, before he went into hiding for more than 16 years after a crooked FBI agent told him in December 1994 that he was about to be indicted on federal racketeering charges.
In court on Friday, the prosecution’s last witness, an FBI agent on the Los Angeles fugitive task force, placed just under $822,000 in cash in airtight plastic casing and 30 guns on a table, and jurors gazed, flinching at the sound of the weapons being checked that they were unloaded.
The agent, Scott Garriola, testified that he pulled these items from Bulger’s Santa Monica apartment in 2011 the day he led the notorious mobster, then one of the FBI’s top 10 most wanted fugitives, out of his fortress on a ruse that his storage locker had been broken into.
“We asked him to get down on his knees on the ground, he swore at us a few times, told us he wasn’t getting on his knees and that there was grease on the floor,” Garriola told the jury Friday.
“There was harsh exchange back and forth, then he got on the floor and was cuffed.”
When Garriola asked Bulger to identify himself, Bulger told the agent his name was Charles Gasko, one of several aliases Bulger used during the 16 years he was on the lam.
Girlfriend, guns in the apartment
Garriola says he threatened to go upstairs and ask Bulger’s then-girlfriend, Catherine Grieg, under the alias of Carrol Gasko, if she could produce identification that might prove Bulger was the notorious crime boss of the South Boston underworld.
Garriola said then, Bulger’s demeanor changed.
” ‘Well, you know who I am,’ he says. ‘I am Whitey Bulger,’ ” Garriola testified.
He asked if there were weapons in the apartment.
“Yeah, there are plenty of weapons and they are all loaded,” Bulger told him, Garriola testified. Later, Garriola told the jury that Bulger advised him that only the handguns were loaded.
When Garriola asked if he was going to need a SWAT team to remove Grieg from the apartment, Bulger assured the FBI agent that “She’s never held a gun.” Garriola went upstairs with a team to get Grieg, who asked to change before heading to the garage where officers were holding Bulger.
Outside, Garriola said he asked the couple for consent to search the apartment.
“They are gonna get it I don’t want to delay this,” Bulger said to his girlfriend, Garriola testified. As he signed off the on the search warrant, Garriola said, Bulger said it was “the first time I have signed this name in a long time” as he wrote James J. Bulger.
Garriola said Bulger was extremely cooperative, even helping the agents do a sweep of his apartment, pointing out were all the guns, money and weapons were hidden. He asked for future consideration for Grieg, Garriola said.
Grieg is now serving eight years on charges that she aided a fugitive.
Garriola said he asked if Bulger had the guns to “shoot it out” with anyone that tried to capture him. He said Bulger replied, “No, because a stray bullet may hit someone.”
Keeping up with his associates
As a fugitive, Bulger kept tabs on former associates. He read a novel by his former drug pusher, John “Red” Shea, titled “Rat Bastards,” and he read “Brutal,” written by his enforcer and “surrogate son,” Kevin Weeks.
Bulger also did research on how to stay hidden, reading “How to Find Missing Persons” and “Secrets of a Back-Alley ID Man.”
Authorities found fake IDs stuffed behind mirrors and in walls, including Social Security cards, birth certificates, prescription cards, fake business cards, work permits and even casino loyalty cards.
In Nevada, Bulger was Sidney Terry. In California, he was gambler James William Lawlor. In New York, he was Donald Gene Gould and worked at a movie theater.
Garriola identified each of the 30 weapons for the jury: shotguns, revolvers, semiautomatic pistols, Magnums, specials and Berettas. He said they were all tested and determined to be operable. The weapons and fat stacks of cash were strewn across the table in front of Bulger, who probably saw them for the last time Friday.
At the apartment, the weapons were hidden under towels on windowsills, and in the walls with more cash.
The defense will begin to present its case Monday and intends to call about 16 witnesses. Defense counsel has not made it clear whether it will call the defendant.
The mobster’s money
Earlier Friday, an IRS special agent who spent 18 years in money laundering investigation into Bulger testified that she spent “thousands of hours” reviewing documents, never finding so much as one record of Bulger holding legitimate employment. What she did find was that on many occasions, Bulger, his henchman Stephen Flemmi and enforcer Weeks “made it look like they were getting wages to conceal their illegal activity.”
In the 1980s, Bulger had been charging Kevin O’Neil legitimate rent to operate a liquor store on their property, O’Neil testified Thursday. O’Neil was also involved in collecting “rent” from bookies for Bulger — essentially a tax paid to the underworld mob boss to operate criminally in South Boston.
Bulger put the heat on O’Neil and said he was going to sell the property, unless O’Neill agreed to buy it. O’Neil decided to take a loan from Bulger and agreed to pay $400,000 for the property. Documents in court show that Bulger bought out his partners Weeks and Flemmi for $40,000 that same day.
O’Neil paid off his debt by giving Bulger $4672.96 a month for seven years between 1990 and 1997. This extends past the time that Bulger went on the run, in 1995. “I thought he would come back,” O’Neil said.
Special Agent Sandra Lemanski said she found 67 monthly mortgage payment checks deposited in an account shared by Bulger and his brother John “Jackie” Bulger, who has been sitting front row virtually every day of trial.