BOSTON, May 29 (UPI) -- A former FBI special agent once highly praised for recruiting gang bosses as underworld informants now faces lengthy prison time for protecting them.
John J. Connolly Jr., 61, remained free on $200,000 bail Wednesday awaiting sentencing on Aug. 7 after being convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice. He could be sentenced to anywhere from eight to 20 years in prison.
After a federal jury in Boston returned the guilty verdict late Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan called Connolly's actions "appalling."
"It is always a sober moment when it becomes necessary to prosecute a member of law enforcement who has abused his authority and crossed the line from crime fighting to criminal," Sullivan said.
"This conduct was abhorrent to all honest FBI agents," said Charles Prouty, the special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office. He vowed to take steps to repair the damage the Connolly case did to the agency.
Connolly, who retired in 1990, was convicted of protecting informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi -- the leaders of the predominantly Irish South Boston-based Winter Hill Gang -- as well as New England Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme.
The government alleged Connolly tipped them off to their impending arrest in 1995, allowing Bulger and Salemme to flee. Flemmi and Salemme were subsequently arrested, but Bulger remains at large as one of the FBI's "Most Wanted" criminals.
The jury failed to convict Connolly on the most serious charges that information he leaked to Bulger and Flemmi in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in the gangland slayings of three men who provided information to the FBI against the gang leaders.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro said he would have revoked Connolly's bail had he been convicted of that charge.
While a stone-faced Connolly left the courthouse with a "no comment" to reporters, his attorney, Tracy Miner, later issued a statement that read in part: "We are obviously happy that the most serious charges were found to be not proven. None of the acts John Connolly was found guilty of resulted in any physical harm to anyone."
The jury found Connolly guilty of delivering a case of wine and a $1,000 bribe from Bulger and Flemmi to FBI supervisor John Morris in the early 1980s.
Connolly, who retired in 1990, cultivated Bulger and Flemmi as informants in the mid-1970s. He was charged after hearings in 1998 exposed the FBI's corrupt relationship with Bulger and Flemmi.
It was at those hearings Flemmi claimed the FBI had authorized him and Bulger to continue their criminal activities in exchange for information about rival Italian Mafia mobsters.
Connolly, who did not take the stand in his own behalf, had publicly claimed his handling of the informants had been sanctioned by his FBI supervisors in their desire for information that would help to bring down the Mafia.
The verdict "speaks loudly to the fact nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise," said prosecutor John Durham. "The ends do not justify the means."