Another notorious leader of Boston's Winter Hill Gang on Monday linked ex- FBI agent John Connolly to a conspiracy to kill mob witnesses and claimed that Connolly was paid so well for leaking law enforcement secrets that he once blurted out, "Hey, I'm one of the gang."
Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, a confessed, 10-time killer and the second member of the Winter Hill Gang to testify at Connolly's murder trial, said Connolly "absolutely" was a gang member. Flemmi said that, in the 1980s, Connolly was spending his cut of the gang's gambling and extortion rackets with such exuberance that the gang became worried he would be found out.
That assertion provoked an exaggerated look of disbelief on Connolly's face, a wide-eyed and arched-eyebrow expression visible to the jury.
Across the courtroom, hunched over a microphone on the witness stand, Flemmi next was asked to identify Connolly. He nodded in the direction of the defense table and described Connolly, among other things, as the guy with the "good-looking" haircut.
Connolly apparently decided he would identify himself to the jury. He sprang to his feet and scowled.
Flemmi didn't seem to notice. By then he had delivered the testimony that prosecutors wanted to tie Connolly to the murder and conspiracy charges at the heart of their case. Flemmi said the ex-agent leaked law enforcement secrets that compelled Winter Hill Gang members to kill potential witnesses against them.
Last week, gang member John Martorano, an admitted 20-time killer, said he had been told by other gang members that Connolly was the source of the leaks.
Monday, Flemmi said he was present with his gang partner James "Whitey" Bulger when Connolly delivered the FBI intelligence. He said he and Bulger met with Connolly hundreds of times between the mid-1970s and 1990, when Connolly retired from the FBI. Bulger is a fugitive.
Both Flemmi and Martorano testified that two of the potential witnesses were killed to protect a gang scheme to win a stake in World Jai Alai, a business that in the early 1980s operated parimutuel gambling venues in Hartford and South Florida. But while Martorano said the gang was protecting a $10,000-a-week skim from World Jai Alai, Flemmi testified that he not only expected the skim but hoped for a "piece" of the business as well.
Flemmi has been in prison since 1995, when, after Connolly's retirement, he was indicted on racketeering and murder charges. He is testifying under a cooperation agreement that spared him likely death sentences in Florida and Oklahoma, where two of the jai alai murders took place. Flemmi, 74, is serving a sentence of life plus 30 years.
He is a sallow little man with a sharp nose, a rasping voice and a Boston accent so thick, his answers were incomprehensible at times to Florida ears. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Stanford Blake interrupted when Flemmi was testifying about a Winter Hill bookmaker named George Kaufman.
"Mr. Flemmi, is that George, G-E-O-R-G-E," Blake asked. "Or is it Judge, J-U-D-G-E?"
It was George, Flemmi said. But by then, at mid-afternoon, his answers to questions were tailing into incomprehensibility. Blake asked if Flemmi were ill. After some discussion, it was determined he was tired, perhaps due to conditions at the local jail where he is being held.
"How has the food been at our local facility?" Blake asked.
"If I fed it to my dog, he would bite me," Flemmi said.
Blake decided to adjourn court just after 4 p.m. to give Flemmi a little extra rest.
Connolly, who is being held separately, showed no sympathy. He claims Flemmi and Bulger were "top echelon" informants whom he recruited and developed while working organized-crime cases for the FBI's Boston office. He has said that information the two provided helped decimate the Italian mafia in New England. He says the charges against him are the result of a conspiracy by convicted gangsters who are trading false testimony for leniency.
Specifically, Connolly is on trial for the murder of former World Jai Alai president John B. Callahan. Martorano testified that he shot Callahan in Miami in 1982 after learning from Connolly that Callahan might implicate gang members in two jai alai-related murders.
In his questioning of Flemmi Monday, prosecutor Fred Wyshak lingered on Connolly's alleged membership in the Winter Hill Gang and the money the gangsters allegedly paid him.
Flemmi said it was money, specifically $25,000 in cash, that caused Connolly's outburst about his gang membership in 1983, months after the last of the jai alai murders. The $25,000 was Connolly's cut of what the gang collected for providing protection to Frank LePere, then one of New England's biggest drug dealers, Flemmi said.
Not long after, Flemmi said, Connolly got another $10,000. That was his share of a $500,000 "severance" payment the gang had just extorted from another drug dealer named Joseph Murray, Flemmi said.
Murray wanted to quit the drug business because he couldn't afford the protection payments the Winter Hill Gang was demanding. Flemmi said the gang charged him half a million for the right to retire.
By the 1980s, Flemmi said, Connolly got $5,000 every time he took a vacation and $10,000 every Christmas. Two of those vacations were spent with Bulger in Acapulco, Mexico, and Provincetown, Mass., Flemmi said.
He said Connolly bought a boat, a house on Cape Cod and a condominium with a sweeping water view on Thomas Park in Boston. Flemmi said Bulger arranged the condo purchase at a deep discount because he wanted to keep Connolly close to the gang's South Boston base of operations. The seller was a bookmaker associated with Bulger, Flemmi testified.
Connolly also dabbled in real estate development. Using Winter Hill member Kevin O'Neill as a front man, he said, Connolly invested in condo conversions in South Boston.
The free spending eventually became a cause of concern to Bulger, whom Flemmi described as "low key" and not given to "ostentatious" displays. In particular, he cited a boat and the expensive suits that Connolly began wearing to what Flemmi called his low-paying job at the FBI.
Flemmi was the third witness at the trial to describe Connolly as a sharp dresser. "People would notice the suits," he said. "We told him he had to tone down his lifestyle. He could not be showing the cash."
Flemmi said Bulger reduced the amounts that the gang paid Connolly and ordered him to sell the boat.
"If he needed the money," Flemmi said, "it would always be available."
Contact Edmund H. Mahony at email@example.com.
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