James “Whitey” Bulger, who had shared top billing on America’s most-wanted list with the world’s leading terrorist Osama bin Laden, is on trial in Boston for 19 murders and a slew of other federal criminal charges.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also in the dock.
During his two decades-plus as head of the Irish-American organized crime gang in South Boston known as the Winter Hill Gang, Bulger was secretly one of the biggest informants for the FBI, prosecutors say. He provided information about the Italian Mafia, which was the federal government’s main focus, and was permitted to conduct his business of murder and mayhem without fear of arrest.
Indeed, it was Bulger’s longtime FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly, who tipped off the crime boss in 1994 that federal charges of racketeering were imminent. Bulger disappeared and was on the lam until 2011 when he was captured in California.
Connolly is serving 50 years in the federal pen for crimes linked to the Irish mob, including murder.
The FBI agent’s supervisor in the Boston office, John Morris, admitted that he accepted cash from Bulger. He received immunity from prosecution after he agreed to testify against Connolly and the crime boss.
So, as the trial of one of the most colorful characters in the history of organized crime in America unfolds in Boston, the role the FBI played in aiding and abetting him will also take center stage.
The federal agency can’t relish the idea of being dragged through the mud.
How, then, does it limit the damage?
In the Mahoning Valley, where agents were once accused by the notorious crooked politician James A. Traficant Jr. of being in the pocket of the Mafia, the agency can come clean with any and all information its has on the so-called Oakhill Renaissance controversy.
The FBI office in Youngstown and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland can also put to rest all the speculation surrounding former Mahoning County Treasurer Lisa Antonini, who pleaded guilty in June 2011 to taking money from a businessman and not declaring it.
U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi, who accepted Antonini’s guilty plea, did not sentence her. However, the former chairwoman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, will receive a reduced sentence if she fully cooperates with any federal, state or local investigations or prosecutions.
Two years later, there is still no word from the feds as to how much help she has been in their crackdown on government corruption in the region.
The FBI is also being tight-lipped about the 2,000 hours of recordings from wiretaps and other surveillance that pertain to its government- corruption investigation.
Federal agents admitted to a crossover of sorts between their surveillance and the seven individuals criminally charged by the state in the Oakhill investigation.
But the charges against Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co., John A. McNally IV, a county commissioner at the time, Auditor Michael Sciortino, former Treasurer John Reardon, former Job and Family Services Director John Zachariah, the Cafaro Co. and two of its affiliates were dismissed after the FBI refused to hand over the tapes or transcripts.
The FBI’s role in bringing the state’s case to a screeching halt because of its refusal to hand over information pertaining to some of the defendants has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many area residents who are tired of prominent individuals in the community willing to peddle their influence and of public officials eager to be bribed.
The decision by the state to drop the charges against Cafaro et al. was not triggered by a lack of evidence, but by the FBI’s intransigence.
As the Boston trial of Whitey Bulger will show, the mob boss was able to infiltrate the agency and sow the seeds of public distrust in law enforcement that remain in South Boston to this day.
The people of the Mahoning Valley have thus far retained their trust in the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. But their patience is wearing thin.
Federal agents and prosecutors have won high praise from law-abiding residents for their crack down on government corruption and organized crime in this region. It’s time to tie up the loose ends in the Lisa Antonini case and the Oakhill Renaissance scandal.