BOSTON — When James “Whitey” Bulger ruled the streets of South Boston, the New England crime scene was a battleground for a bloody turf war between the Italian Mafia and Irish street crews.
But some observers say the organized crime landscape that took shape during Bulger’s 16 years on the lam — ending with his capture days ago in California — is a shell of its former self, hobbling along with “old men in diapers” at the helm.
“It’s over,” said Boston defense attorney Joseph J. Balliro Sr., who represented crime figures Vincent “Jimmy the Bear” Flemmi, an FBI informant believed to have killed at least eight people, and Henry Tameleo, the reputed consigliere of the New England Mafia.
Flemmi and Tameleo both died in prison decades ago.
A string of prosecutions, gang warfare and the march of time have sent many made men to prison or the grave. The ruthless crime syndicates powerfully depicted in movies including “The Godfather” and “The Departed” have seemingly lost much of their box office luster in real life. And even the chase of mobsters has been splintered by the terrorism focus put on law enforcement by the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They got their hands full with terrorism,” said former Bulger associate John “Red” Shea. “These mob families have been taken apart.”
Bulger, 81, was captured Wednesday in Santa Monica, where he apparently had been living for most of the time he was a fugitive. Bulger, who appeared Friday afternoon inside a heavily guarded federal courthouse in Boston to answer for his role in 19 murders, told a judge he could pay for a lawyer if prosecutors would give him back money seized from him.
Carmen “The Cheeseman” DiNunzio, the reputed former underboss of the New England mob, pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges and is serving a six-year federal prison sentence. Another former boss, 83-year-old Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio, is locked up awaiting trial on charges he extorted thousands of dollars from strip clubs in Providence, R.I. Manocchio, who has denied the charges against him, was among 120 suspected mobsters and associates arrested in January.
Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo, who ran the rackets for the Patriarca crime family in Boston from the 1960s to the early 1980s, died in 2009 at age 90. The site of Marshall Motors in Somerville, which served as the headquarters for the Winter Hill Gang once led by Bulger, is now a church.
“They keep chasing old men in diapers,” said Rhode Island defense attorney and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Raymond Mansolillo, who briefly represented Manocchio. “I think it’s a waste of taxpayer resources.”
The Italian crime operation La Cosa Nostra, however, remains the top organized crime threat in New England, said FBI supervisory senior resident agent Jeffrey S. Sallet. The Rhode Island-based Sallet heads up organized crime investigations for the FBI’s Boston division.