Bringing an end to Boston's longest-running crime saga, a federal judge sentenced former mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger to spend the rest of his life in prison on Thursday, calling his crimes “almost unfathomable.”
Bulger, 84, sat stoically as U.S. District Judge Denise Casper recounted the crimes he was convicted of, including 11 murders, extortion and drug dealing while he ran Boston's brutal Winter Hill crime gang in the 1970s and '80s.
“The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes are almost unfathomable,” Casper said before imposing two consecutive life sentences, plus five years.
Bulger terrorized the city for decades before fleeing in late 1994 on a tip that his arrest was imminent. He spent 16 years on the run before he was caught. His life inspired Martin Scorsese's 2006 Academy Award-winning film “The Departed”.
“The testimony of human suffering that you and your associates inflicted on others was at times agonizing to hear and painful to watch,” Casper told Bulger in Boston's waterfront federal courthouse, located just blocks from where some of Bulger's killings took place.
“At times during the trial I wished that we were watching a movie, that what we were hearing was not real,” she said.
Bulger stood silently, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit over a long-sleeved T-shirt, as his sentence was read. He had declined to participate in the two-day sentencing hearing, saying through attorneys that he viewed the proceeding as “a sham.”
“It took a lot of discipline for him not to react emotionally to some of the things that were said, and he's proud he was able to conduct himself in that fashion,” Bulger’s attorney, J.W. Carney, told reporters after the hearing.
Bulger's two-month trial was raw, broken by outbursts in which the accused and his former gangmates turned prosecution witnesses swore at each other. In August, a jury found Bulger guilty on 31 of 32 criminal charges, including 11 of the 19 murders prosecutors had accused him of committing.
He spoke only once during Thursday's hearing, replying “yes” when Casper asked if he understood he had a right to appeal the verdict.
Defense attorney Henry Brennan said Bulger would appeal the conviction.
Casper also ordered Bulger to pay $19.5 million in restitution to his victims.
Law enforcement agents recovered $800,000 hidden in the walls of the Santa Monica, California apartment where they arrested Bulger in June 2011. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said on Thursday that authorities would continue to search for other assets Bulger criminally acquired to distribute among his victims.
‘Going to Die in Prison’
Some family members of Bulger's victims said they were satisfied with the sentence.
“That old bastard is finally going to be in prison, he's going to die in prison,” said Thomas Donahue, whose father Michael was among Bulger's victims. “Today is the first day that we can finally get on the road for closure, and it's a good feeling. It's bittersweet, but it's a good feeling,” Donahue continued.
Tom Angeli, whose father, Al Notorangeli, was among the eight people Bulger was accused of killing but whose deaths the jury did not hold him responsible for, voiced a similar sentiment.
“We knew right from the beginning, when this trial started, that this man wasn't going to see the light of day again. It's about accountability, that's all I ever wanted, is accountability, and I think we've gotten it,” Angeli said.
A Black Mark on the FBI
Bulger's case is widely considered a black mark on the reputation of the FBI. The Irish-American gangster ruled violently over Boston's criminal underworld, helped by a relationship with a corrupt FBI agent who shared his ancestry and was willing to turn a blind eye to his crimes in exchange for information on the Italian-American Mafia.
“The actions of a small percentage of law enforcement many years ago caused some people to lose faith and confidence in us,” said Vincent Lisi, the FBI's special agent in charge in Boston. “Our job now is to make sure we can regain the faith and confidence of those people,” he continued.
Bulger denied ever serving as an FBI informant, and had wanted to argue at trial that he could not be prosecuted because he had been promised immunity by federal prosecutors. A federal judge blocked Bulger's attorneys from making that case in court, saying no immunity deal would allow an informant to commit murder.
Carney said Bulger had received prison letters from hundreds of people and responded to all of them.
“Jim looks back on things and thinks about things he might have done differently,” he added, without elaborating.
Bulger rose from a South Boston housing project to become the most feared person in the city at the same time that his brother, William, became the powerful president of the state senate. His story has captivated Boston for years.