November 20, 2014 -- Being a former Boston area resident, I had previously read this history about Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and the corruption in the FBI that resulted in numerous deaths, but this documentary film is a real eye-opener. It turns out that corruption in all three branches of the federal government, legislative, administrative and judicial, is far worse than I thought it was.
Whitey Bulger was convicted on a number of racketeering charges, including multiple murders, and sentenced on November 14, 2013 to two terms of life imprisonment, plus five years, but that's is just the tip of the iceberg. This film argues, very convincingly, that there are a lot of other people who had dealings with Bulger who ought to be in prison with him, but were never charged with anything. It also argues that several people guilty of multiple murders got off with sentences that were way too lenient due to some very unsavory plea bargains.
Bulger, head of the “Winter Hill Gang,” was one of the top figures in organized crime in Boston, was due to be arrested on racketeering charges in 1994, but was tipped off in advance by sources inside the FBI, and he went on the run. He was finally arrested 16 years later. The man who tipped him off, retired FBI agent John J. Connolly, Jr., was also arrested and later sentenced to prison for second degree murder, racketeering and obstruction of justice charges. The film argues that Connolly served as a scapegoat for much more widespread corruption in the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice operations in Boston.
Sources inside various state and local law enforcement agencies indicate in the movie that when they started an investigation of Bulger's activities, someone tipped him off. The movie makes the argument that Bulger had protection from prosecution at the federal level, which would explain how he was able to operate a criminal organization in the open for years in Boston without being charged with any crimes.
The most compelling stories come from family members of his victims, including Stephen Rakes, who tells a chilling story in the film of how Bulger threatened him and his family with death if he didn't give up ownership of his South Boston liquor store. Rakes said he was looking forward to testifying at Bulger's trial, but was murdered before he could testify. Family members of murder victims related to the Bulger case also appear in the film.
A large part of the film is told by Bulger's defense attorneys, who say that Bulger's defense was designed not to acquit him of the charges he faced, but rather to prove that he was not an FBI informant. Bulger seems to care more about his reputation as a gangster with principles (“not a rat”) than whether or not he is found guilty. The film offers compelling evidence that Bulger was not an FBI informant. Expert testimony is offered that his thin FBI file is inadequate to prove he was an informant, and an FBI investigator says his own investigation into Bulger convinced him Bulger was not an informant. Bulger also denies killing two women (he was accused of 19 murders) but little evidence is given in the movie to prove that claim.
Another key person in the movie is one of Bulger's top killers, Kevin Weeks. Weeks matter-of-factly gives grizzly accounts of murders in the film. After he was arrested on racketeering charges, Weeks turned informant and led authorities to places where six murder victims were buried. He testified against Connolly and others and in return got a light prison sentence of only five years. Other top killers in the Winter Hill Gang also got sweetheart deals for turning against Bulger.
When you see what the same FBI office, headed by the same people, did to hacktivist Aaron Swartz (see The Internet's Own Boy) it is pretty clear that the criminal justice system is corrupt. There are at least three former law enforcement people in the movie that defend what the government did, but in this film, the criminals seem to have a lot more credibility than they do. Bulger said he had informants in law enforcement, and that he paid them well. There is evidence to back that up. A couple of his law enforcement informants were convicted, but perhaps many more informants were not even charged with crimes.
This film made me angry, and it also made me sad. It was sad to see the way some victims were treated by the system. It angered me to see murderers treated too well, and not receive justice. It was sad to see the way some law enforcement people were treated for trying to do the right thing. It is sad to be reminded once again that America has become corrupted by money at all levels of government. This film rates an A.
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