JAMES ‘WHITEY’ BULGER, a notorious Irish-American mobster, has been captured in the US after 16 years on the run.
During his time on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, Bulger was thought to have visited Ireland – and agents once investigated the possibility that he might actually be living here.
He and longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig have been taken into custody after police and FBI surrounded an apartment building in Santa Monica, California yesterday evening. The two were arrested “without incident” according to the Associated Press.
The FBI finally caught the 81-year-old Bulger just days after the US government launched a new publicity campaign to locate the fugitive mobster, said Steven Martinez, FBI’s assistant director in charge in Los Angeles. The arrest was based on a tip from the campaign, he said.
The FBI had been conducting a surveillance operation in the area where the arrest was made, said police Sgt Rudy Flores, who gave no details of the arrest.
FBI agents still swarmed around Bulger’s building late Wednesday, hours after the arrests in a neighborhood of two and three-story apartment buildings.
Bulger lived on the third floor of The Princess Eugenia, a three-story, 28-unit building of one and two-bedroom apartments three blocks from a bluff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Neighbours said the couple hadn’t stood out as unusual.
The couple are scheduled to make an appearance in Los Angeles federal court Thursday. He faces a series of federal charges including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics distribution, extortion and money laundering, while the 60-year-old Greig is charged with harboring a fugitive. He was on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list for his alleged role in 19 murders.
The arrest brings an end to a manhunt that received worldwide attention as the FBI received reported sightings of Bulger and Greig from all over the United States and parts of Europe. In many of those sightings, investigators could not confirm whether it was actually Bulger who was spotted or simply a lookalike. He has been the subject of several books and was an inspiration for the 2006 Martin Scorsese film The Departed.
[caption id="attachment_161822" align="alignnone" width="511" caption="The 'wanted' poster for James 'Whitey' Bulger released online in 2002. (Patricia McDonnell/AP/Press Association Images)"][/caption]
The investigation also touched the highest level of Massachusetts politics. Bulger’s younger brother, William, was one of the most powerful politicians in the state, leading the Massachusetts Senate for 17 years and later serving as president of the University of Massachusetts for seven years. William Bulger told a congressional committee that he spoke to his brother shortly before he went on the run in 1995 but had no idea about his whereabouts.
Bulger, nicknamed “Whitey” for his shock of bright platinum hair, grew up in a gritty South Boston housing project, and went on to become Boston’s most notorious gangster. He led the violent Winter Hill Gang, a largely Irish mob that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets in the Boston area.
The government connected Bulger to a series of ruthless killings. One victim was shot between the eyes in a parking lot at his country club in Oklahoma. Another was gunned down in broad daylight on a South Boston street to prevent him from talking about the killing in Oklahoma. Others were taken out for running afoul of Bulger’s gambling enterprises.
[caption id="attachment_161823" align="alignnone" width="511" caption="Massachusetts State police investigators dig for the bodies of two alleged victims of gangsters James 'Whitey' Bulger and Stephen 'The Rifleman' Flemmi at the Hopkinton Sportmen's Association in Hopkinton, Massachusetts in 2001. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)"][/caption]
Bulger’s relationship with the FBI
He fled in January 1995 after being tipped by a former Boston FBI agent that he was about to be indicted. Bulger himself was a top-echelon FBI informant.
Prosecutors said he went on the run after being warned by John Connolly Jr, an FBI agent who had made Bulger an FBI informant 20 years earlier. Connolly was convicted of racketeering in May 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, also an FBI informant.
Bulger provided the Boston FBI with information on his gang’s main rival, the New England Mob, in an era when bringing down the Mafia was one of the FBI’s top national priorities.
But the Boston FBI office was sharply criticized when the extent of Bulger’s alleged crimes and his cosy relationship with the FBI became public in the late 1990s.
After he fled, Bulger became one of the nation’s most-hunted fugitives. With a place next to Osama bin Laden on the “Ten Most Wanted” list, he had a $2 million reward on his head.
In September 2002, the FBI received the most reliable tip in three years when a British businessman who had met Bulger eight years earlier said he spotted Bulger on a London street.
After the sighting, the FBI’s multiagency violent fugitive task force in Boston and inspectors from New Scotland Yard scoured London hotels, Internet cafes and gyms in search of Bulger. The FBI also released an updated sketch, using the businessman’s description of Bulger as tan, white-haired and sporting a gray goatee.
How he was caught
On Monday, the FBI announced a new publicity campaign and accompanying public service ad that asked people, particularly women, to be on the lookout for Greig. The 30-second ad started running Tuesday in 14 television markets to which Bulger may have ties and will air during programs popular with women roughly Greig’s age.
The new campaign pointed out that Greig had several plastic surgeries before going on the run and was known to frequent beauty salons. Watch the add from about 0:50…
- Additional reporting by AP