BOSTON — As former FBI agent John Morris described reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s role as an informant who ratted on criminals, Bulger stared intently at Morris.
Then, Bulger swore.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly told Judge Denise Casper he heard Bulger say, “You’re an effing liar” as Morris testified Thursday in Bulger’s racketeering trial.
“I know he spent his whole life trying to intimidate people … but he should not be doing that in federal court,” Kelly said, after the jury had been sent out of the room for a recess.
Casper said she did not hear the remark, but told Bulger his lawyers are to speak for him.
“Do you understand?” she asked Bulger.
“Yes,” he replied.
Morris admitted accepting two cases of wine from Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, and said he later asked the two men to pay for an airline ticket to fly his secretary to a training conference in Georgia. The ticket cost $1,000, he said. He said he also accepted $1,000 in cash that had been inserted into one of the cases of wine and another $5,000 in cash that Bulger handed him.
Morris said he later helped protect the two men from prosecution at the request of former FBI Agent John Connolly, their handler at the agency. Morris, who was Connolly’s supervisor, said he recommended excluding them from a 1978 race-fixing indictment because of their value as informants on the Italian mob. Morris said he spoke with the prosecutor on the case, and neither Bulger nor Flemmi were indicted.
Bulger, 83, denies being an informant. His lawyers contend that Connolly fabricated many of the reports in Bulger’s 700-page informant file to cover up his own wrongdoing. Connolly was later convicted of racketeering and second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger and his gang to protect them.
Morris described his initial meetings with Bulger, Flemmi and Connolly as more social than business. He recalled asking Connolly — who he described as his “best friend” —what Bulger and Flemmi wanted from the FBI.
“He said, ‘a head start,’” Morris recalled.
He said Bulger and Flemmi wanted to be tipped off if they were about to be arrested so they could flee.
Connolly was convicted of doing just that: tipping off Bulger to an indictment, prompting him to flee Boston in 1994. Bulger was one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives until he was finally captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
Morris also described telling Connolly that Edward “Brian” Halloran was cooperating with the FBI and giving the agency information on the 1981 killing of Tulsa, Okla., businessman Roger Wheeler. John Mortorano, a hit man for Bulger, testified earlier in the trial that he killed Wheeler.
Halloran, who was about to enter the witness protection program, was shot and killed. Prosecutors say Bulger and an associate opened fire on the car Halloran was in as he left a restaurant. Michael Donahue, a man who offered Halloran a ride home that night, was also killed.