But in his new identity he killed a man, and when local prosecutors sought to try him for the murder, the F. After prosecutors agreed to reduce the charge, Barboza served only four years. Flemmi had recently become affiliated with another up-and-coming gangster, a cunning and disciplined South Boston hood named James Bulger, who was known, owing to his platinum hair, as Whitey. A film adaptation, directed by Scott Cooper and also called “Black Mass,” has just been released; it dramatizes the story as a lethal minuet between the wily criminal Bulger (played by Johnny Depp) and the flashy, jocular F. The film conveys the degree to which the relationship between informant and handler is indeed a relationship: bureaucrats can formalize the transaction in a mountain of paperwork, but in the end it hinges on two people binding their destinies together, navigating treacherous territory hand in hand. It takes a certain personality type: the garrulous, glad-handing street guy. Paul Rico, boasted afterward about the ease with which the bureau had set up four “pigeons” for a crime they did not commit. (They were cleared of the murder in 2001, by which point two of them had died in prison.)In 1969, the government placed Barboza in witness protection, relocating him to California. concocted a second coverup, maintaining that the killing was an effort by the Mob to frame the Animal and dispatching federal agents to appear in court as witnesses for the defense. continued to enjoy a relationship with one of his associates, Stephen Flemmi, a member of the Winter Hill Gang. agent named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who handles him.Part of the answer, too, is that the culture rewarded agents who landed top informants; throughout the years that Connolly was handling Bulger, he was promoted and given performance bonuses.But relationships can become pathological, and the more intimate the relationship the more it will assume a logic of its own.But one oddity of the Bulger case is that the prosecutors who brought the thirty-two-count indictment worked in the very office that Jeremiah O’Sullivan used to occupy. represented not a gross aberration but something like business as usual is almost too bleak to contemplate. at any time, but in a 2008 budget request the bureau put the number at fifteen thousand. “I asked the questions, I got the answers,” he said. They didn’t direct me.” In Bulger’s telling, he never gave any information to the feds; he only collected information from them. Yet there is no disputing that the federal government gave Whitey a great deal more than it got in exchange. had always been why the agents were so devoted to him.Their challenge, English argues, was how to “convict Bulger without collaterally tarnishing the reputation of the system they represented.”The notion that Whitey Bulger’s pact with the F. It suggests, as English writes, that “the entire criminal justice system was a grand illusion; a shell game presided over by petty bureaucrats more concerned with promoting their careers and protecting their asses than anything else.” Nobody knows how many confidential informants are working for the F. After the degree of official complicity in Bulger’s crimes was revealed, the Department of Justice ordered the F. Connolly may have thought he was the handler, but in reality he was the informant. Indeed, one mystery of Bulger’s rapport with the F. Connolly claimed that the bureau got “forty-two stone criminals” because of Bulger, but Bulger’s actual contributions to the work of the bureau were often exaggerated.But, when he arrived there, Headley became a terrorist himself, training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and eventually helping to plan the 2008 Mumbai bombing, in which a hundred and sixty-six people were killed. “We got forty-two stone criminals by giving up two stone criminals,” he says in the biography “Whitey Bulger.” “Show me a businessman who wouldn’t do that.” But, as Connolly and his colleagues were dismantling La Cosa Nostra, Bulger and Flemmi were quietly consolidating control of Boston’s criminal landscape. As Wheeler finished a round of golf at his country club, in Tulsa, Martorano approached his car and shot him in the face. After the murder, a junior member of Bulger’s gang, Brian Halloran, approached the F. The bureau responded by questioning Halloran’s credibility.In the reassuring argot of the bureaucracy, confidential informants like Headley or Bulger are often referred to as “assets”—a term that implies not just control of the source but outright ownership. The hit was coördinated with the assistance of World Jai Alai’s head of security—H. Fearing for his life, Halloran insisted that the authorities place him in witness protection. Instead, John Connolly informed Bulger that Halloran had betrayed him, and Bulger tracked Halloran down at a waterfront bar and shot him to death in the parking lot.
What if beheading the hostage might save a hundred lives? An effective inside man in a criminal organization is also, necessarily, a criminal in good standing—and therefore a dangerous person with whom to be in business.
(the Animal) Barboza was a murderer for hire from New Bedford, Massachusetts, who came by his nickname after an altercation with a minor mafioso which he elected to settle with his teeth. Barboza was never prosecuted for this crime; instead, he took the stand as the government’s star witness and implicated four innocent men in the murder. Kevin Cullen, the co-author, with Shelley Murphy, of the excellent 2013 biography “Whitey Bulger,” once pointed out that whereas in normal life we might be impressed to learn that somebody had gone to Harvard, “if you’re a wiseguy, you say, ‘Ooh, you went to .’ ”Bulger exercised every day, lived with his elderly mother, and cultivated a mystique of righteous criminality. This defection amounted to a breach of street protocol, which was generally punishable by death. Even if the truth came out, he once explained to an F. With his mortuary pallor, ice-water eyes, and swept-back yellow-white coiffure, Depp looks as if he’d climbed into the makeup chair each morning and allowed himself to be struck by lightning. His idiom consists exclusively of backslap and bluster. The film plausibly depicts the bond that developed between Connolly and Bulger as predicated on neighborhood loyalty.
Barboza ultimately confessed to seven murders, and bragged to associates that he had committed many more, but he had the good fortune to be employed by the Mafia at a moment when authorities were trying desperately to better understand organized crime. Edgar Hoover stressed, in a memo, the imperative to develop “live sources within the upper echelon of the organized hoodlum element.”Barboza became a prized informant: he served as a government witness, helping to convict members of the Patriarca crime family. In 1975, he began coöperating with the government, joining Flemmi as what was known, in the taxonomy of the F. He performs Whitey’s lip service to gentility as the elaborate pose that it was, assisting the old ladies of Southie with their groceries, while his squinty eyes and carnivorous smile flash hints of the monster underneath. Connolly grew up in Southie and was childhood friends with Whitey’s younger brother, Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch, in the film), who by the nineteen-eighties had become the president of the Massachusetts State Senate.
“Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doing it for real on the street,” one of Whitey’s underlings says in the movie, adding, “And, just like on the playground, it wasn’t always easy to tell who was who.” Tribalism is a recurring theme in the Bulger saga, but the film suggests that the tribe allegiance of scrappy neighborhood kids transcends any subsequent pledge they might make to a criminal gang, or to the feds.
“I grew up with him in Southie,” Connolly says of Whitey.