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Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob

Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob

4.1 81
by Dick Lehr

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John Connoly and James "Whitey" Bulger grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the mid 1970's, they would meet again.  By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI's Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob.  What happened next — a dirty deal to bring down the Italian mob in exchange for protection


John Connoly and James "Whitey" Bulger grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the mid 1970's, they would meet again.  By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI's Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob.  What happened next — a dirty deal to bring down the Italian mob in exchange for protection for Bulger — would spiral out of control, leading to murders, drug dealing, racketeering indictments, and, ultimately, the biggest informant scandal in the history of the FBI.

Compellingly told by two Boston Globe reporters who were on the case from the beginning, Black Mass is at once a riveting crime story, a cautionary tale about the abuse of power, and a penetrating look at Boston and its Irish population.

Editorial Reviews

James Carroll
...A heartbreaking...story of corruption and crime...a work of rare lucidity, high drama, journalistic integrity, and plain courage.
Alan Dershowitz
Black Mass should prompt a re-evaluation of the uses and misuses of informers by law enforcement officials throughout the country. —The New York Times Book Review
Baltimore Sun
...[A] jaw-dropping, true-life tale of how two thugs corrupted the FBI.
Washington Post Book World
[Shows] how fragile FBI integrity can be when the good guys lose sight of truth, the rules, and the law.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A triumph of investigative reporting, this full-bodied true-crime saga by two Boston Globe reporters is a cautionary tale about FBI corruption and the abuse of power. Gangster James "Whitey" Bulger ruled Boston's Irish mob, and his wary collaboration with the Italian Mafia, which he detested, was the cornerstone of the city's balkanized criminal underworld. (His younger brother, Billy Bulger, was the iron-fisted president of the state senate and later president of the University of Massachusetts.) Few suspected that Whitey Bulger and his partner, crime boss Stevie Flemmi, were both FBI informants; their squealing helped the FBI to put a score of mobsters in jail and wipe out the Angiulo crime family. Here O'Neill and Lehr (Pulitzer winner and Pulitzer finalist, respectively, and coauthors of The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family) maintain that overzealous FBI Agent John Connolly, who was Whitey's handler, and Agent John Morris, Flemmi's handler, "coddled, conspired and protected the mobsters in a way that for all practical purposes had given them a license to kill." FBI agents looked the other way while Bulger and Flemmi went on a 1980s crime spree that, according to witnesses, included extortion, bank robberies, drug trafficking and a string of unsolved murders. This complex, dramatic tale climaxes with a 1998 federal hearing that found that Connolly and Morris had essentially fictionalized FBI internal records to downplay the stoolies' crimes while overstating their value to the Bureau. In 1999, a grand jury probe launched by Attorney General Janet Reno led to Connolly's arrest on charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice (he's now out on bail). Also named in the indictment were Flemmi, already arrested by state police in 1995, and Bulger, now a fugitive on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. This in-depth look at the FBI's war against the Mafia includes the first-ever secret recording of a Mafia induction ceremony, complete with pricking of fingers and blood oaths. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In the 1980s and beyond, corrupt agents in Boston's FBI protected Irish mob bosses, they said, in exchange for tips on the rival Italian mob. Reporters Lehr and O'Neill finally exposed the scandal in newspaper articles and in their best seller, Black Mass. The central participants stand out, but a host of vague minor characters can be confusing. A few episodes bring in trivia, e.g., at "family" dinners we learn who was in the kitchen or what tie someone wore but less of what was transacted. Hasty abridgment? Shockingly documented are the south side mob's loan sharking, gambling, "protection" graft, money laundering, and even horse race fixing. In a grim move, the Irish boss forces an honest family out of their liquor store with a tragic aftermath. At least 21 gangland murders went unsolved until, belatedly, prosecutors had to cut deals with hit men. John Rubinstein narrates adeptly, except in his unconvincing "guttural for bad-guy" quotes. Minor limitations aside, this should have appeal on popular true crime shelves. Gordon Blackwell, Eastchester, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
John Connolly and James "Whitey" Bulger grew up together on the tough streets of South Boston. Decades later, they met again when Connolly was a major figure in the FBI's Boston office and Bulger was godfather of the Irish Mob. This is the true story of what happened between them as a dark deal spiraled out of control, leading to drug dealing, racketeering, and murder. Includes b&w photos. The authors write for the . O'Neill has won the Pulitzer Prize, and both authors have won the Hancock and Loeb awards. They have covered the Bulger-Connolly story for over a decade. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Alan M. Dershowitz
[A] parable of what happens when law enforcement officers get too close to their informers . . . [It] should prompt a re-evaluation of the uses and misuses of informers by law enforcement officials throughout the country.
The New York Times Book Review
Rob Stout
When John Connelly and James "Whitey" Bulger met in the early 1970s, they had pursued very different careers since their childhood days in South Boston. Connelly, an agent for the FBI, and Bulger, godfather of the Irish mob, seemed to have very little in the way of mutual interest. However, the Balkanized crime world of Boston--made up of ethnic and racial groups usually in constantly shifting alliances with one another--provided an opportunistic young agent such as Connelly with numerous possibilities to use against the FBI's number one target, the Cosa Nostra. Connelly's ill-conceived plan was to recruit Bulger as an informant against the Italian Mafia, and in return the bureau would provide Bulger with "protection" against any type of criminal prosecution. Bulger, a sophisticated and notoriously violent crime boss, saw other opportunities. Soon Bulger was using his new status to consolidate power. Connelly and a circle of unwitting agents found themselves not only acting as paid informants for the Bulger operation but permitting a program of extortion, bank robberies and arms trafficking, and a string of gangland murders. Boston Globe reporters Lehr and O'Neill, who have covered Bulger and the FBI since 1987, have reconstructed this relationship through thousands of pages of court transcripts, wiretap logs, personal interviews and the bureau's records. More than just another tale of the good guys gone bad, this book ultimately uncovers a rogue operation sanctioned at the highest levels that would evolve into perhaps the worst scandal in FBI history.
Kirkus Reviews
An eye-opening true-crimer that recounts a cooperative arrangement in which two Boston mobsters, in exchange for acting as informants for an FBI agent and his supervisor, were permitted to take over most of Boston's organized crime. Boston Globe reporters Lehr and O'Neill can be forgiven some of their caustic bitterness in their second book about Boston's organized crime. Their first, The Underboss (1989, not reviewed), portrayed FBI Agent John J. Connolly Jr. as a sharp-dressing South Boston scrapper whose audacious bugging of a Mafia headquarters ended the Italian mob's control of Boston street crime. Unknown to the reporters, Connolly and his boss, Dick Morris, were relying on information about the Italians from James "Whitey" Bulger, an Irish "Southie" street punk with a penchant for rape and robbery who was also the older brother of rising political star William Bulger (who would go on to become president of the Massachusetts Senate, is currently president of Massachusetts State University, and has maintained that he has no involvement with his brother's criminal life). In 1975 Connolly recruited Whitey and fellow hood Steve Flammi. Connolly and Morris then shielded their informants from a federal racetrack-fixing indictment; in return, Whitey fingered competing crooks and possibly saved the life of an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated a truck-hijacking ring. For the next two decades the FBI made many publicized arrests while Whitey Bulger reigned as Boston's organized crime boss until 1995, when he escaped arrest and has been missing ever since. In a sensational 1999 corruption investigation, the disgraced Morris admitted totakingbribes from Whitey and, with Connolly's alleged assistance, aided and abetted criminal activities involving narcotics, extortion, and murder. Connolly, now a lobbyist currently awaiting trial on this matter, has maintained his innocence. With enough unanswered questions for two sequels, the authors offer a pile of evidence that (in South Boston at least) politics is all too local. (photos and illustrations, not seen)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.95(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Under a harvest moon, FBI agent John Connolly eased his beat-up Plymouth into a parking space along Wollaston Beach. Behind him the water stirred and, further off, the Boston skyline sparkled. The ship-building city of Quincy, bordering Boston to the south, was a perfect location for the kind of meeting the agent had in mind. The roadway along the beach, Quincy Shore Drive, ran right into the Southeast Expressway. Heading north, any of the expressway's next few exits led smack into South Boston, the neighborhood where Connolly and his "contact" had both grown up. Using these roads, the drive to and from Southie took just a few minutes. But convenience alone was not the main reason the location made a lot of sense. Most of all, neither Connolly nor the man he was scheduled to meet wanted to be spotted together in the old neighborhood.

    Backing the Plymouth into the space along the beach, Connolly settled in and began his wait. In the years to come Connolly and the man he was expecting would never stray too far from one another. They shared Southie, always living and working within a radius of a mile of each other in an underworld populated by investigators and gangsters.

    But that came later. For now Connolly waited eagerly along Wollaston Beach, the thrum of the engine a drag to the buzz inside the car that was like an electric charge. Having won a transfer back to his hometown a year earlier, he was poised to make his mark in the Boston office of the nation's elite law enforcement agency. He was only thirty-five years old, and thiswas going to be his chance. His big moment in the FBI had arrived.

    The nervy agent was coming of age in an FBI struggling with a rare public relations setback. In Congress inquiries into FBI abuses had confirmed that the late FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had for years been stockpiling information on the private lives of politicians and public figures in secret files. The FBI's main target, the Mafia, was also in the news. Swirling around were sensational disclosures involving a bizarre partnership between the CIA and the Mafia, also unearthed during congressional investigations. There was talk of a CIA deal with mafiosi to assassinate Cuba's Fidel Castro, and of murder plots that involved poisoned pens and poisoned cigars.

    Indeed, it suddenly seemed like the Mafia was everywhere and everyone wanted a piece of the mysterious and somehow glamorous organization, including Hollywood. Francis Ford Coppola's movie masterpiece, The Godfather, Part II, had played to huge audiences when it opened the year before. A few months earlier the picture had won a slew of Oscars. Connolly's FBI was now deeply into its own highly publicized assault on La Cosa Nostra (LCN). It was the FBI's number-one national priority, a war to counter the bad press, and Connolly had a plan, a work-in-progress to advance the cause.

    Connolly surveyed the beachfront, which at this late hour was empty. Occasionally a car drove past him along Quincy Shore Drive. The bureau wanted the Mafia, and to build cases against the Mafia, agents needed intelligence. To get intelligence, agents needed insiders. In the FBI the measure of a man was his ability to cultivate informants. Connolly, now seven years on the job, knew this much was true, and he was determined to become one of the bureau's top agents—an agent with the right touch. His plan? Cut the deal that others in the Boston office had attempted, but without success. John Connolly was going to land Whitey Bulger, the elusive, cunning, and extremely smart gangster already a legend in Southie. The stylish FBI arriviste wasn't the type to take the stairs. He was an elevator man, and Whitey Bulger was the top floor.

    The bureau had had its eye on Bulger for some time. Previously, a veteran agent named Dennis Condon had taken a run at him. The two would meet and talk, but Whitey was wary. In May 1971 Condon managed to elicit extensive inside information from Whitey on an Irish gang war that was dominating the city's underworld—who was allied with whom, who was targeting whom. It was a thorough, detailed account of the landscape with an accompanying lineup of key characters. Condon even opened an informant file for Whitey. But just as quickly, Whitey went cold. They met several times through the summer, but the talks didn't go well. In August, reported Condon, Whitey was "still reluctant to furnish info." By September Condon had thrown up his hands. "Contacts with captioned individual have been unproductive," he wrote in his FBI files on September 10, 1971. "Accordingly, this matter is being closed." Exactly why Whitey ran hot then cold was a mystery. Maybe the all-Irish nature of the intelligence he'd provided had proved discomforting. Maybe there was a question of trust: why should Whitey Bulger trust Dennis Condon of the FBI? In any event, the Whitey file was closed.

    Now, in 1975, Condon was on the way out, his eye on his upcoming retirement. But he'd brought Connolly along, and the younger agent was hungry to reopen the Whitey file. After all, Connolly brought something to the table no one else could. He knew Whitey Bulger. He'd grown up in a brick tenement near the Bulgers' in the Old Harbor housing project in South Boston. Whitey was eleven years older than Connolly, but Connolly was oozing with confidence. The old neighborhood ties gave him the juice others in the Boston office didn't have.

    Then, in an instant, the waiting was over. Without any warning, the passenger side door swung open, and into the Plymouth slipped Whitey Bulger. Connolly jumped, surprised by the suddenness of the entry, surprised he was caught unaware. He, a trained federal agent, had left his car doors unlocked.

    "What the hell did you do, parachute in?" he asked as the gangster settled into the front seat. Connolly had been expecting his visitor to pull up in a car alongside him. Bulger explained that he had parked on one of the side streets and then walked along the beach. He'd waited until he was sure no one else was around, and then he'd come up behind from the water.

    Connolly, one of the younger agents on the prestigious Organized Crime Squad, tried to calm himself. Whitey, who'd just turned forty-six on September 3, sat in the front seat, larger than life, even if he just barely hit five-feet-ten and weighed an ordinary 165 pounds. He was hard-bodied and fit, with penetrating blue eyes and that signature blond hair, swept back. Under the cover of darkness, the two men began to talk, and then Connolly, properly obsequious to a neighborhood elder who was also an icon, made his offer: "You should think about using your friends in law enforcement."

* * *

THIS was Connolly's pitch to Whitey: you need a friend. But why?

    In the fall of 1975 life in the city was tumultuous and changing unpredictably. From where they sat along the vacant beach, the two men could see the Boston skyline across the water. At the time the citizens of Boston were electrified by the unexpected good fortunes of their Red Sox. Yaz, Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, and Fred Lynn—who, after the season, would be honored as both the rookie of the year and the American League's most valuable player—were in the midst of a glorious run for the World Series title against the powerful Reds of Cincinnati.

    But closer to home the world was dark and unstable.

    The nightmare of busing had begun its second year. In 1974 a federal court order to bus black students from Roxbury to South Boston High School in order to achieve racial balance in the city's segregated public schools had turned the neighborhood into a war zone. The rest of the country tuned in, and people were getting to know Southie through televised images and front-page newspaper photographs featuring riot police, state troopers patrolling school corridors, rooftop police snipers, and legions of blacks and whites screaming racist chants at one another. The Pulitzer Prize in photography was awarded for a jaw-dropping 1976 picture of a black man being rammed with an American flag during a disturbance outside of city hall. Nationwide the neighborhood was seen through a prism of broken glass—a bloodied first impression that was searing and horrific.

    Whitey's younger brother, Billy, was in the middle of it all. Like all the neighborhood's political leaders, Billy Bulger, a state senator, was an implacable foe of the court-ordered busing. He never challenged the court's findings that the city's schools were egregiously segregated. He did, however, strongly oppose any remedy that forced students to travel out of their home school districts. He'd gone to Washington, D.C., to complain and present their case to the state's congressional delegation, and once there, he delivered a speech to a group of anti-busing parents in the pouring rain. He hated the view outsiders were getting of his neighborhood, and he denounced the "unremitting, calculated, unconscionable portrayal of each of us, in local and national press, radio and television, as unreconstructed racists." To him the issue was his neighbors' legitimate worry for the welfare and education of their children. Back home Billy Bulger spoke out regularly against the unwanted federal intervention.

    But busing would not go away, and the summer just ended had not gone well. In July six young black men had driven to Carson Beach in South Boston and ended up in a fight with a gang of white youth that left one black hospitalized. In his younger days John Connolly had been a lifeguard along the beaches of South Boston, just as Billy Bulger had been before him, and now the sandy beaches had become another battleground. On a Sunday in August police helicopters circled over Carson Beach and Coast Guard boats patroled offshore while more than one thousand black citizens drove to the beach in a motorcade of several hundred cars. They were accompanied on their "wade-in" to the beach by more than eight hundred uniformed police officers. The cameras rolled.

    By the time Connolly had arranged to meet Whitey along Wollaston Beach, the schools had reopened. Student boycotts and fights between blacks and whites were regular events. Thinking it might help ease the racial tension, officials for the first time tried to integrate the football team at South Boston High School. But the four black players who reported to the first practice had to do so under police protection.

    The neighborhood was torn apart, and Connolly knew that, could feel that pain, because it was his neighborhood as well, and he had played off this bond in lining up his meeting with Bulger. But while the bond might have gotten him an audience with Whitey, he now had to pitch a deal to his boyhood hero. Connolly most of all wanted to exploit the wider underworld troubles brewing between the Boston Mafia and a gang Bulger had signed on with in neighboring Somerville. Bulger, in charge now of the rackets in Southie, had hooked on with the Somerville crime boss Howie Winter. The gang operated out of a garage in the Winter Hill section of the small city just across the Charles River to the west. In the past year Whitey had paired off with another member of the gang, Stevie "The Rifleman" Flemmi. They got along, found they had certain things in common, and had begun to hang out.

    By the time Connolly and Bulger met, the young FBI agent had done his homework. He knew Bulger and the Winter Hill gang were facing a two-pronged threat from a local Mafia that for decades was controlled by the powerful underboss Gennaro J. Angiulo and his four brothers. Pending at that moment was a dispute between the two organizations over the placement of vending machines throughout the region. There had been wiseguy bluster about shoot-outs as a way to settle the matter. With all this instability, Connolly argued, a wiseguy could use a friend.

    Besides, Angiulo was wily and inscrutable. He had a knack for setting up for arrest those he no longer had any use for. For example, a few years earlier a mob enforcer had veered out of his control. Angiulo, the story went, had reached out to his contacts inside the Boston Police Department, and the mob renegade was soon picked up on phony gun charges after crooked cops planted weapons in his car. No one knew for certain whether Angiulo in fact had the kind of access to manipulate an arrest like that. But this was the story making the rounds, and Whitey Bulger and the rest of Howie Winter's gang believed it. As Connolly well knew, perception was all that actually mattered.

    Bulger was clearly concerned about Angiulo setting him up. "What if three cops stop me at night and say there was a machine gun in my car," Whitey had complained. "Who is the judge gonna believe? Me or the three cops?" Connolly had positioned himself to play off such crosscurrents of underworld paranoia.

    The two men sat in the Plymouth, the city lights rippling on the water. You should use your friends, Connolly stressed, a line that caused Bulger to consider the agent intently, sensing an opening for the upper hand.

    "Who?" Whitey said at last. "You?"

    "Yeah," replied Connolly to a ruthless man who used up people and threw them away. "Me."

* * *

CONNOLLY'S proposal was simple: inform on La Cosa Nostra and let the FBI do the rest. Bulger knew, Connolly recalled, "that if we were chewing on the Mafia, it was very difficult for the Mafia to be chewing on them."

    In fact, the moment Connolly had indicated he wanted a meeting Bulger knew what the FBI wanted. For weeks Bulger had already been working the proposition over in his mind, weighing the pros and cons, figuring the angles and potential benefits. He'd even gone and consulted with Stevie Flemmi. Bulger brought up the subject one day when the two of them were in Somerville at Marshall Motors, the auto repair shop owned by Howie Winter. The one-story garage was a faceless building made of cinder blocks. It resembled a concrete bunker and served as a business front for the gang's wide-ranging illegal enterprises, which since 1973 had expanded to include fixing horse races up and down the East Coast.

    Bulger told Flemmi that the FBI agent John Connolly was making a bid for his services. "What do you think?" Bulger asked Flemmi when the two were alone. "Should I meet him?"

    The question hung in the air. Flemmi later decided that, if Whitey Bulger was confiding in him about an FBI overture, he was signaling that he already knew something about Flemmi's own secret "status." Flemmi had a history with the Boston FBI, and what a history it was. He was first enlisted as an FBI informant in the mid-1960s. Flemmi adopted the code name "Jack from South Boston" for his dealings with his FBI handler, an agent named H. Paul Rico (who was Dennis Condon's partner).

    Rico, a dashing senior agent who favored a Chesterfield topcoat and French cuffs, cultivated Flemmi because of his access to the New England Mafia. Flemmi was not a made Mafia member, but he knew all the leading players and was frequently in their company. The Mafia liked Flemmi, a former army paratrooper who went from a juvenile detention center at age seventeen to serve two tours of duty in Korea with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. He had a reputation as a tough killer, even if he was only average in height, five-feet-eight, and in weight about 140 pounds. Flemmi worked on his own, out of his Marconi Club in Roxbury, a combination bookie joint, massage parlor, and brothel, where he got messages, took calls, and held meetings. A popular guy with his curly chestnut hair and brown eyes, a guy who enjoyed cars and the late-night company of young women, Flemmi got around.

    Even the New England godfather, Raymond L. S. Patriarca, revealed a fondness for him. In the winter of 1967 Flemmi was summoned to Providence. He dined with Patriarca and Patriarca's brother Joe, a lunch that lingered long into the afternoon. They talked about family Patriarca asked Flemmi where his parents were from in Italy. They talked about business. Patriarca promised to steer cars to the new auto body shop Flemmi had opened. They talked a bit about Flemmi's brother, Jimmy the Bear, who was in prison serving time on an attempted murder rap. In a gesture of goodwill, Patriarca gave Flemmi $5,000 in cash to put into the auto shop.

    Back in Boston, Flemmi mostly moved around with a boyhood pal, Frank Salemme, whose nickname was "Cadillac Frank." The two had grown up in Roxbury, where Flemmi's family lived in the Orchard Park housing project. His father, Giovanni, an immigrant from Italy, had worked as a bricklayer. Flemmi and Salemme worked the streets together as enforcers, bookmakers, and loan sharks. They frequented the North End, the tight-knit Italian neighborhood where underboss Gennaro Angiulo had his office, and they often ended up at late-night blowouts in the company of hard-drinking Larry Zannino.

    Zannino was the brutal and bloodless mafioso whom Angiulo relied on to bring muscle to the Boston LCN enterprise. In turn Zannino relied on Flemmi and Salemme to put some of his loan-sharking money out on the street. But while everyone liked Stevie, the feeling was not mutual. Flemmi didn't trust the North End, not Angiulo and especially not Zannino. When drinking with Zannino, Flemmi would pace himself, careful not to let down his guard. But Zannino and the others didn't notice, and they took Flemmi further in. There was the night, for example, in the summer of 1967 at Giro's Restaurant on Hanover Street, a night spent with a lineup of local wiseguys. Zannino, Peter Limone, Joe Lombardi. Flemmi was with Salemme. They ate, drank, and then Zannino insisted they retire to a nearby bar, the Bat Cave.

    Over more drinks a slobbering Zannino and Limone indicated that they'd all decided to sponsor Flemmi and Salemme "for membership in our organization."

    Peter Limone, swaggering, then put his arms around Flemmi and Salemme. "Ordinarily, before you're a member you'd have to make a hit," confided the senior mobster, "and I'd have to be with you as your sponsor to verify that you made a hit and report how you handled yourself. But with the reputation you two have, this may not be necessary."

    Flemmi wanted no part of joining the Mafia, however, and resisted the recruitment drive. For one thing, he didn't like the brutal Zannino, who was capable of hugging you one moment and blowing your brains out the next. The same could be said for Angiulo. Besides, Flemmi had Rico, and Rico had Flemmi.

    Given the gang war and all the shifting alliances, Flemmi's life was always up for grabs. More than once he'd told Rico he "was a prime target for an execution," and in other reports Rico noted that Flemmi had no permanent address because if "the residence becomes known, an attempt will probably be made on his life." Flemmi grew to rely on Rico to alert him to any trouble the FBI might have picked up from other informants.

    More than that, Flemmi came to expect that Rico would not push him about his own criminal activities—not his gaming or his loan-sharking, or even the killings. In the spring of 1967, following the disappearance of gangster Walter Bennett, Flemmi told Rico, "The FBI should not waste any time looking for Walter Bennett in Florida, nor anyplace else, because Bennett is not going to be found." Rico then asked what actually happened to Bennett. Flemmi shrugged off the inquiry, telling Rico there wasn't any "point in going into what happened to Walter, and that Walter's going was all for the best." Rico simply let the matter go at that. By the late 1960s Flemmi was a suspect in several gangland slayings, but the FBI never pressed him hard to talk about the murders.

    In early September 1969 Flemmi was finally indicted by secret grand juries in two counties. He was charged in Suffolk County for the murder of Walter Bennett's brother William, shot to death in late 1967 and dumped from a moving car in the Mattapan section of Boston. Then in Middlesex County, Flemmi, along with Salemme, was charged in a car bombing that had blown off a lawyer's leg.

    Just before the indictments were handed down, Flemmi received a phone call.

    It was early in the morning, and Paul Rico was on the line. "It was a very short, brief conversation," Flemmi recalled. "He told me that the indictments were coming down, and he suggested that me and my friend leave Boston—leave immediately—or words to that effect."

    Flemmi did just that. He fled Boston and spent the next four and a half years on the lam, first in New York City and then mostly in Montreal, where he worked as a printer at a newspaper. During that time Flemmi often called Rico, and Rico kept him posted about the status of the cases. Rico did not pass along any information about Flemmi's whereabouts to the Massachusetts investigators who were trying to track him down.

    Even though Rico had instructed Flemmi that he was not to consider himself an employee of the FBI and had gone over with Flemmi some of the FBI's other ground rules for informants, the agent and Flemmi regarded most of those instructions as an annoying formality. What was important was that Rico had promised Flemmi he would keep confidential the fact that Flemmi was his informant, and this was the key to their alliance. It was a pledge most agents customarily gave to their informants, a pledge viewed as "sacred." But in Rico's hands the promise was sacred above all else, even if it required that he commit the crime of aiding and abetting a fugitive. Rico promised that as long as Flemmi worked as his informant he would see to it that Flemmi wasn't prosecuted for his criminal activities.

    For obvious reasons, such a deal had proven advantageous for Flemmi. He also liked how Rico did not treat him like some kind of lowlife gangster. Rico wasn't the pompous G-man ready to spray the room with disinfectant immediately after he'd left. He was more like a friend and an equal. "It was a partnership, I believe," said Flemmi.

    Eventually the criminal charges against Flemmi were dropped, after key witnesses recanted, and in May 1974 Flemmi was able to end his fugitive life and return to Boston. With the help of the FBI, he'd survived the gang wars and outlasted the murder and car bombing charges. But Flemmi had no intention of going straight. Once back in Boston he'd hooked up with Howie Winter and gone back to what he knew best. And now he was standing alongside Whitey Bulger at Marshall Motors. "Should I meet him?" Bulger had asked. Flemmi thought for a moment. He had been back less than a year, and it was obvious to him that things were in flux. It was clear that some new arrangement was in the works. He'd even met on his own with Dennis Condon, a short meeting at a coffee shop where he was introduced to John Connolly. Flemmi regarded all the huddling as a kind of "transition," with Connolly being set up to take over now that Paul Rico was transferred to Miami and nearing retirement. Over time, of course, Flemmi had experienced a strong upside to his FBI deal. But he was just Stevie Flemmi, not the already legendary Whitey Bulger.

    Flemmi cautiously opted for a short answer. It was an answer soaking in subtext, but short nonetheless.

    "It's probably a good idea," he told Bulger. "Go and talk to him."

* * *

CONNOLLY wasn't in any rush to make his pitch. "I just want you to hear me out," he told Bulger in the car along Wollaston Beach. Connolly carefully played up the double-barreled threat that Bulger and his Winter Hill gang presently faced from Gennaro Angiulo's Mafia. "I hear Jerry is feeding information to law enforcement to get you pinched," he told Bulger. They talked about how Jerry Angiulo definitely had an advantage over the rest of the field, able to call on a crooked cop to do him a favor. "The Mafia has all the contacts," Connolly said.

    Then Connolly moved along and stoked the vending machine dispute. Word on the street, observed Connolly, was that Zannino was ready to take arms against Bulger and his friends in the Winter Hill gang. "I'm aware that you're aware that the outfit is going to make a move on you."

    This last remark especially caught Bulger's attention. In fact, the LCN and Winter Hill had always found a way to coexist. Not that there weren't disputes to work out, but the two groups were closer to being wary partners than enemies on the verge of a war. Even the vitriolic and unpredictable Zannino, the Mafia's Jekyll and Hyde, could one moment angrily denounce Winter Hill and promise to mow them down in a hail of bullets and then suddenly turn operatic and proclaim lovingly, "The Hill is us!" Truth be told, Gennaro Angiulo was at this time more concerned about threats he was receiving from a runaway Italian hothead known as "Bobby the Greaser" than he was about imminent war with Winter Hill. But for Connolly's purposes, it was better to play up the beef percolating between the LCN and Winter Hill over the vending machines, and Connolly could tell right away he'd hit a hot button with the fearless Bulger when he mentioned the potential for violence. Bulger was clearly angered.

    "You don't think we'd win?" Bulger shot back.

    Connolly actually did think Bulger could prevail. He fully believed Whitey and Flemmi were much tougher than Angiulo and his boys—"stone killers" he called Bulger and Flemmi. But that wasn't the point.

    "I have a proposal: why don't you use us to do what they're doing to you? Fight fire with fire."

    The deal was that simple: Bulger should use the FBI to eliminate his Mafia rivals. And if that alone wasn't reason enough, the FBI wouldn't be looking to take Bulger himself down if he were cooperating. In fact, at that moment other FBI agents were sniffing around and making inquiries into Bulger's loan-sharking operations. Come aboard, Connolly said. We'll protect you, he promised. Just as Rico had promised Flemmi before him.

    Bulger was clearly intrigued. "You can't survive without friends in law enforcement," he admitted at night's end. But he left without committing.

    Two weeks later Connolly and Bulger met again in Quincy, this time to cement the deal.

    "All right," he informed Connolly, "deal me in. If they want to play checkers, we'll play chess. Fuck them."

    This was music to John Connolly's ears. Incredibly, he'd just brought Whitey Bulger into the FBI. If developing informants was considered the pinnacle of investigative work, Connolly was now, he proudly concluded, in the big leagues. In a single bold stroke he'd put FBI gruntwork behind him and now belonged to an upper crust occupied by the likes of the retiring Paul Rico. If, in Connolly's mind, Rico was the agent a slew of the new young turks in the office wanted to model themselves after, Bulger was the neighborhood legend all the kids in Southie were in awe of. Connolly had to sense that the moment marked the slick merger of both worlds.

    Moreover, this particular deal had a certain élan to it. The last gangster anyone in Boston would suspect of being an FBI informant was Whitey Bulger of South Boston. Indeed, Connolly was always sensitive to this seeming incongruity. Among his FBI colleagues Connolly rarely, if ever, called Bulger an informant, a rat, a snitch, or a stoolie. He would still grate when he later heard other people use those labels. To him Bulger was always a "source." Or he used the terms that Bulger requested: "strategist" or "liaison." It was as if even the man who convinced Whitey to become an informant couldn't believe it himself. Or maybe it was just that the deal from the beginning was less a formal understanding with the FBI than a renewed friendship between Johnny and Whitey from Old Harbor. And though John Connolly was surely thinking about his career, the deal wasn't about what might come—it was about where he had come from. A circle, a loop, the shape of a noose. All roads led to Southie.

    Connolly always remained deferential to the older Bulger, calling him by the birth name he preferred, Jim, rather than the street name that the media preferred. Such things might have seemed like petty details, but they were details that made the deal palatable. Bulger, for example, insisted that he would provide information only on the Italian Mafia, not on the Irish. Moreover, he insisted that Connolly not tell his brother Billy, then a state senator, about this new "business deal."

    There was a certain charged and inescapable irony to this deal between Bulger and the FBI, coming as it did during the second year of court-ordered busing in South Boston. The tableau, in its entirety, was bizarre. The people of Southie, including leaders like Billy Bulger, had been helpless in their efforts to repel the federal government, which was plowing through the neighborhood to enforce busing. The federal authority was mighty and despised and would not go away. This was the harsh reality of the neighborhood's public life. But in a different part of Southie, Whitey Bulger had cut a deal that would freeze the feds. The FBI needed Whitey and would not be looking to do him in. The rest of the world might belong to the feds, but at least the underworld did not. Whitey had found a way to keep them out of his Southie. In an odd way he'd succeeded where his brother had not.

    Immediately the information highway was up and running. More meetings were held. Bulger blended in Flemmi, and a package deal was forged. For his part, Bulger clearly recognized the value of teaming up with Flemmi, given Flemmi's rich access to mafiosi and the kind of information Connolly so badly wanted. Flemmi, meanwhile, had to recognize the value of teaming up with Bulger, not just for his cunning mind but also for his marquee status, particularly with Connolly. He could see something special pass between them right from the beginning. "They had a relationship."

    For Connolly, Flemmi was a hand-me-down, but Bulger was his own, a coup for the FBI in Boston. It was a beast of a deal, a high-five achievement, with Connolly in charge of two midlevel gangsters positioned to assist the FBI in its stated campaign to cripple the Mafia enterprise. The Whitey Bulger informant file was opened officially on September 30, 1975. Not surprisingly, one of Bulger's first reports was that the warfare and bloodshed supposedly pending between Winter Hill and the Mafia had fizzled—much ado about nothing. The streets were calm, reported Bulger.

    So it began.

What People are Saying About This

James Carroll
James Carroll, author of An American Requiem and Boston Globe Columnist
This is a heartbreaking and enraging story of corruption and crime, but it has its heroes, especially Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill. These reporters were among the first to shine light on the shadowy collusion of heinous murderers and an FBI cut loose from its moral center. Now, with this powerful book, Lehr and O'Neill bring the whole story into the open. Black Mass is a work of rare lucidity, high drama, journalistic integrity, and plain courage.
Michael Patrick MacDonald
Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story From Southie
More than an expos� on the abuses of power, Black Mass tells of the shameful betrayal of all things decent by two of our own native sons who climbed the ranks of both the underworld and the FBI. The good qualities of loyalty and pride that were raised on in Southie, were manipulated and perverted for their own gain as they promoted a culture of drugs, denial, and death on our streets. Lehr and O'Neill give us all the details with a journalistic precision that does not sacrifice the power of the story. After reading Black Mass, you might wonder if any of us really knows who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

Meet the Author

As a reporter for nearly two decades for the Boston Globe, Dick Lehr won numerous journalism awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A professor of journalism at Boston University, he is coauthor of the Edgar Award-winning Black Mass, the Edgar Award finalist Judgment Ridge, and The Underboss. He lives near Boston with his wife and four children.

Gerard O'Neill is the editor of the Boston Globe's Spotlight Team, one of the nation's top investigative reporting units. He started at the Globe in 1966, and has won a Pulitzer Prize, the Hancock award, the Loeb award, and many others. He is the co-author of The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family and Black Mass. Black Mass won the MWA's 2000 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.

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Black Mass 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 81 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A must read!! But there is so much left out!! Take this case of a young man sucked up in this mess and see if it meshes with this book,which is a good read and very informative... The man was employed professionally and around the time Whitey split town was suddenly fired. Just before this an attractive woman had befriended him at Northeastern University, linked also to R Robert Popeo and Agent John Morris. When the man was fired the woman started suddenly taking mysterious trips and acting in a manner suggestive of infidelity while alleging marriage intentions. Before each mystery trip the man was treated with special kindness, as if to assuage guilt over the emotional betrayal soon to follow. This man had as a socil worker a woman who went by the name of a female FBI agent mentioned in Lehr's work on this topic. After Whitey fled, his prior employers blackballed him on job references and his car was tampered with a la Eddie Moiano. IRS audits and levies soon followed as well as sudden bank deposit discrepancies at Fleet Bank, which also harbored IRS accounts at the time. In addition the man's phone line indicated third party interception and screening. As part of this process, the man was called on job interviews which appeared to be nothing more than pretense interviews to gather information or desired evidence on the man. For example, the man was called to a software company offering real-time monitoring and messaging capability such as for chats.When he got there no one knew him or why he was there but a waist level camera pointed down at him seated in the reception area garnered his photo. Prior to the interview, the man had received overlaid spiteful messages during online chats visible only to him- an alleged capability of this software.At other companies videos were made of him or handwriting samples obtained. Following the alleged fiancee, several other women with similar behavior patterns emerged while new male friends appeared on the scene indicating later after a befriending period that they had kept notebooks on the man or had watched him go to the health club,do banking etc. The man had no criminal history and did not know any principles in the Bulger case but was later informed by these suspicious new friends that he was to blame for the Bulger fiasco. Dan Burton was unavilable for comment on the man during the congressional hearings.The man received threatening and harassing calls but local police were unable to help. Why all of this? Prior to all this, the man had been featured in a local newspaper story detailing his search for who his father was and all the obstacles stemming from that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
1) Has the former business partner of Rocco Solimeno and associate of Cogliano, a supporter of Cellucci waged war against a possible child of Whitey Bulger or some other principals in this case? 2) Has the government harassed a possible child of Whitey by controlling the means of income and therefore also use of credit in an effort to utterly destroy the child or have the Bulger forces done this to a child perhaps of one of their victims? 3) Is a man who has been devastated since the onset of this case a target of pro-Angiulo/Patriarca forces? 4) Could the concealment of Whitey's whereabouts be the efforts of both FBI and Justice Department forces,similar to their withholding info from the government reform committee? 5) Have the official records of a child raised in state care and possibly the key to the whole Bulger case been sanitizedby state officials and subcontractors and does the appointment of Jeff Locke to head such an agency by Cellucci have anything to do with this?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is intriguing but tries to cover too many bases. I know of someone who grew up in state child care and was bounced around often,breaking up friendships and ties along the way beyond his control. This person was assigned a social security number by an alleged government official and as he bounced around was told different stories about what happened to his friends he had to leave behind. Since 1995 there have been several individuals who have befriended this person, claimed ties to the FBI then proceeded to harm the person. In 1989 this man was hit and run only later to come across that same man using a different name and who alleged to have worked for the federal government killing people.This alleged former govt employee also asserted detailed knowledge of the witness protection program and appeared to have contacts within the justice department capable of leaking information. When this person attempted to review state records the records were refused then later sanitized or disappeared. IRS audits followed as well as unexplained bank record tampering and strong indications that his phone was being monitored and/or tampered with. This person has no criminal background. Mr. Dan Burton of the investigating Government reform committee might do well to find this man and interview him as well as Marty Meehan who has served on the National Security committee and whose office may have shunned this man's requests for help, as there appears a very strong link to the Whitey Bulger case. Perhaps this man is the child of someone deeply involved in this case but this is unknown to that man who has become a target since Bulger disappeared.If i were Burton i would demand a full accounting if the government has knowledge of such a child and has been using this child as some form of blackmail or coercion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this case we see how a covert operation can be carried out and its participants dispensed with when the job is done. The government is shredding Flemmi's family apart, turning relatives against one another. It seems plausible a number of players now prevalent in the Bulger case are in fact long term plants held in abeyance until the time is right, such as with Martorano and Weeks. An acquaintance who has been totally destroyed since Bulger fled in 1995 has been approached by individuals claiming family ties to the upper tiers of local and national FBI managementwhile having been misled by the Justice Management Division of the Department of Justice. These approaches usually involve intimidation or extortion with the deliverers claiming FBI affiliation in the Merrimack Valley region of northern Massachusetts which includes a regional FBI office outside of the Boston office. Has the Defense Investigative Service and FBI teamed up to squeeze a child of Bulger or a close friend of Bulger's to keep Bulger away? Are Whitey Bulger and Flemmi's names being smeared to bringclosure to their roles in a covert operation?
MarkAllen98 More than 1 year ago
Judge Cullen was related to a Condon family(Dennis Condon?) and also oversaw a case involving a youngster of 4-5 years old who was later shuffled around in state child care while his legal guardian maintained contact with the Woburn court throughout the child's life. The child had as a social worker "Debbie Richards" with the same Washington street address as the Debbie Richards mentioned in O'Neill & Lehr's 'Black Mass'. Was a child sick with leukemia given treatment in exchange for cooperation with the federal government or treatment given in lieu of murder or incarceration of the child's father? Was the father of a sick child with leukemia manipulated by the federal government as well as the child and the child's mother murdered just before Bulger fled and the child subject to persecution on nearly every front following Bulger taking off? Was the child manipulated while in state child care with agencies such as the New England Home for Little Wanderers by being placed into abusive families with false information as a way to manipulate cooperation of the father? The child lived in the same polluted neighborhoods as the kids in this book at the same time and was also treated at the same hospitals. These records began disappearing when this book came out as well as a massive flip-flop of individuals in the man's life.
Chester Long More than 1 year ago
Poor e-publishing. Not 1photo of main characters! Otherwise a great read
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the 1960s, a boy ('X') was shuffled around in multiple states, threatened with his possible murder by a man alleged to be the driver for one of the gangsters listed in this case.In the 1970s the boy was befriended by a caseworker attached to a subcontractor for Massachusetts who arranged a social security number for the boy while bouncing the child around foster homes who repeatedly threatened and intimidated the boy over a period of years in the late 1970s. Whitey signed up in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, 'X'now a teen, lived in Middlesex county while another person going by the same name and same town popped up and began having his mail diverted to this new man's address. Over the next 10 years, this man appeared to follow the teen as he became a man, calling his workplaces and leaving his name, moving to the same towns, and even attending the same church wherever this boy went. Once 'X' was nearly arrested for being AWOL, as this man was in the army and had used his address. In the 1990s 'X' had a local newspaper article detailing his search for his unknown father.Not long after the editors and reporting staff changed and claimed no knowledge of their predecessors. After that, the man lost his job, began getting getting threatening calls and to be followed by men in suitsas well as plainclothes. on at least one occasion one of the plainclothes men was referred to as 'Mr. Ring'. An older man moved into the apartment complex beside 'X' and across from a unit where a woman claiming to do ' acccounting for the government' lived.This man had Tennessee license plates,carried a revolver and claimed to work construction. Weeks later the man was seen driving a phone company truck and moved out immediately afterwards.But not before being seen laying cables from his apartment to the one across the hall.Barry Mawn, formerly of a Tennessee FBI office,was newly assigned Boston SAC. 'X',attending Northeastern University,suddenly began having problems with some instructors who appeared to have an unknown hostility to 'X'.Northeastern is where Agent Morris and R.Robert Popeo had affiliation. In addition to having many.many problems with his phones,'X' began courting malice from a group of 10(10 is the number of alleged secret witnesses against Whitey)who used threats and intimidation and coercion to keep the man constantly in fear and blamed him for 'what is going on..' in the Bulger case. Since all of this,the man has been destroyed completely financially and careerwise and questions have been raised if FBI personnel have been monitoring the man and interfering with employment and communications as well as assuring financial destruction(like a state trooper was by Bulger).The man went to the Justice Department to seek help and was blown off by the Justice Management division while taps and traces by local police were ineffective against the hostile calls. Additionally, the man repeatedly got daily blank phone messages from a phone linked to MBNA offices in Florida, where Paul Rico lived and which corporation Louis Freeh later became a senior Vice President of. Since ,Trooper Foley, the champion in this case, has retired, the Government Reform hearings are closed, and there seems to be no one who can hold the FBI accountable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It usually dosen't take me to long to read a book but this one is a bit boring. I think the authors crowded the main ideas and occurances with details and drag the book out. This book dosen't really go anywhere and I lost interest about half way through. I don't recommend this book if you wanted the big picture.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Black Mass is an outstanding book that I read within a week of receiving it. Although it is set in Boston, it is not a prerequisite to have lived, gone to college, or know someone who lives in the Commonwealth. The tales of FBI corruption take the reader beyond the typical Mafia story, explaining the allure that we all have with this genre. The detail and anecdotes rapidly explain FBI agent, John Connolly's fascination with his childhood hero, Whitey Bulger. Bostonians in particular are given the opportunity to see Whitey through the semi-unbiased eyes of the two authors. Most of this story could be gleaned from Boston Globe articles throughout the late 1980s and 1990s (some of which were written or researched by the authors themselves); however, this compilation provides further insite to those who hunger for the story beind the story. This is a great book for those interested in the complete story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A classic example of how ego and desire for fame could corrupt. Connally is perhaps the biggest criminal of them all for violating the oath he took to uphold the Constitution.This book shows the lengths individuals will go to self promote and not care one iota about what they are doing or the impact there acts will have on other sometimes innocent individuals. This book makes me wonder what other deep dark secrets have been hidden away for years by our federal law enforcers. This book should make every one wonder about the sincerity and honesty of law enforcement officials when we deal with them on legal matters. How many of these so called informants are roamning the streets thanks to the F.B.I. and other law enorcement agencies. The authors did an outstanding job tracking and documenting their sources and information. They are to be commended for their diligence and I appreciate their opening my eyes even wider to the unethical and sometimes illegal workings of our government.
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Scary. Fascinating. A must read!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I get that its a Whitey Bulger book, but every other page flemmi is mentioned, so why wasnt Kevin weeks? He was around Bulger more than Flemmi
JRFL More than 1 year ago
Interesting journalistic account of the Bulger Mob and its connections to the government. Good insight into how Bulger used those connections to destroy the Italian Mob in New England. A bit of a turn around for an Irish gang in the 20th Centuary. J.R. Locke Author of Possible Twenty, a Gangster Tale.
Inquisitive86 More than 1 year ago
Went to Boston, heard about this book. Good book. Glad I purchased it. Very insightful
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