Jury gets FBI corruption case

By DAVE HASKELL  |  May 23, 2002 at 5:48 PM
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BOSTON, May 23 (UPI) -- A federal jury in Boston is to begin deliberating Friday whether a former FBI agent was corrupted by his underworld informants or was a dedicated agent who risked his life to recruit criminal snitches for the agency's war against the Mafia.

Closing arguments were presented Thursday at the trial of retired Special Agent John J. Connolly Jr., charged with racketeering, obstruction of justice and accepting bribes from crime bosses in exchange for information about investigations.

"The defense contends he was only doing his job and had the approval of supervisors," said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham, "but the evidence shows just the opposite."

"This case is about his work to destroy the Mafia," said defense attorney Tracy Miner, who likened the Mafia -- La Cosa Nostra -- to the al Qaida terrorist network.

In order to destroy these types of criminals, "you need to make deals with these types of criminals," Miner said.

She said bringing down the Mafia was "the highest priority" for the FBI, and that Connolly was praised at the highest levels in the agency for his ability to recruit informants who helped provide information that sent many leaders of the New England Mafia to prison.

"You need FBI agents who are willing to put their lives at risk to get that information," Miner said. She added, Connolly "did the job the government asked him to do."

Federal prosecutors allege that Connolly accepted at least $15,000 in bribes and a $5,500 diamond ring from the leaders of the South Boston-based Winter Hill Gang, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, as well as bribes from New England Mafia boss Francis P. "Cadillac Frank" Salemme.

In return, according to prosecutors, Connolly tipped the gangsters off to investigations against them, provided them with information that led to the slaying of three other men cooperating with the FBI against Bulger and Flemmi, and alerted them to an impending racketeering indictment in January 1995.

The tip about that indictment allowed Bulger to flee, prosecutors said. Bulger remains at large. Flemmi was arrested in Boston five days before the indictment came out, while Salemme fled to Florida where he was subsequently arrested.

"Did Connolly have a corrupt relationship with the informants?" Durham asked. "According to the evidence in this case, the answer is a resounding yes."

Durham said the evidence "is pretty clear" that Connolly "joined up with the Winter Hill Gang."

Durham said, "Is there any question as to what team John Connolly is on?"

He reminded the jury of testimony that he said showed that in violation of FBI rules to report wrongdoings by informants, Connolly failed to report up the chain of command that the Bulger and Flemmi were continuing their criminal activities.

Miner, however, presented FBI documents that she said showed that Connolly had, indeed, reported such crimes, but that higher ups in the agency "did nothing about it because Bulger and Flemmi were supplying information about LCN."

She suggested that FBI supervisors decided to keep Bulger and Flemmi as active informants because "they were needed in the fight against the Mafia," and that Connolly "did what he was asked to do."

Connolly, 61, who retired from the FBI in 1990, is fighting allegations from three criminals that he accepted and passed on payoffs from Bulger, Flemmi and Salemme.

Those three core prosecution witnesses were John Martorano, a confessed hit man who claims to have killed 20 people; Salemme, a former Mafia boss; and Kevin Weeks, a former Bulger associate who boasted he had killed five people.

"Consider who these people are, and you judge their credibility," said Miner, who described them as "serial liars."

She said all had motives for testifying against Connolly, including prosecution promises of reduced sentences. They also wanted revenge because they found out that Bulger and Flemmi had been FBI informants for decades.

"Each of these witnesses must hate John Connolly" because he turned their friends into informants, Miner said. While they can't kill Connolly, they "can kill him just as effectively" by lying about him at the trial.

"This is payback," she said.

She also suggested that Connolly was made a "scapegoat" because the FBI was embarrassed by revelations that Bulger and Flemmi were informants and by Flemmi's claim he was told the FBI authorized him to commit crimes short of murder as long as he provided information about the Mafia.

The FBI has denied giving any such authorization.

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