Whitey BulgerNormal by cosproductions | No Comments
Bob Fitzpatrick was appointed ASAC (Assistant Special Agent in Charge) of the Boston office of the FBI in late 1980 with a clear mandate: “Kick ass and take names,” according to his superior Roy McKinnon in Washington. And the ass he really needed to kick was that of an Irish gangster named Whitey Bulger. But what Fitzpatrick, one of the most celebrated agents of his time, didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that the adversary he was about to confront was fast becoming the most notorious gangster in all the annuls of American crime history. Bigger than Al Capone, bigger than any of the infamous heads of the Five Families in New York, bigger than John Gotti and every other name of criminal legend. Why?
Because only Bulger had the FBI and the Justice Department acting as willing accomplices in his murderous rise to the pinnacle of the criminal underworld.
Sound crazy? Maybe so, but it happened, the how and the why detailed in BETRAYAL (Forge, January 3), the book I co-authored with Bob Fitzpatrick chronicling his time in Boston and the frustration he faced in trying to end the madness once and for all. The Irish Whitey Bulger, you see, was then on the books as a Top Echelon (TE) informant, vital in the Bureau’s mind to supplying crucial evidence against the Italian mafia until Fitzpatrick ascertained that Bulger was providing no evidence of the kind whatsoever, never mind anything of note. Yet instead of taking Fitzpatrick’s advice and targeting Bulger, the FBI did nothing. The Justice Department through Jeremiah O’Sullivan, head of the Organized Crime Strike Force for New England, did nothing. No less than William Weld, then the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and future governor of the State, did nothing. Fitzpatrick warned officials at the very highest levels of the FBI in Washington about what was happening. They, too, did nothing. Even when no less than three informants capable of proving everything he said was true were murdered thanks directly to sources inside the Boston FBI office who leaked the names of those informants to Bulger, assuring their deaths thanks to a vicious culture of corruption.
Meanwhile, Bulger consolidated the power the FBI had enabled him to seize in the first place. His equally notorious contemporaries and predecessors never had the government’s help, never had the FBI and Justice Department riding shotgun over their murderous exploits. Elliot Ness put Al Capone away on tax invasion. Melvin Purvis gunned down John Dillinger. John Gotti, the so-called “Teflon Don,” died in prison. Whitey Bulger, on the other hand, went on to allegedly murder more than a dozen people under the watchful eye of the FBI after Bob Fitzpatrick recommended he be arrested once and for all after their single fateful interview in March of 1981. No other gangster, no other underworld figure, can make that claim. No other gangster or underworld figure had their brutal efforts aided and abetted by the very officials charged with protecting the rest of us from their actions.
Sound crazy? As a fiction writer, of thrillers specifically, no one would believe this were possible or credible had I made it up. Bob Fitzpatrick wasn’t just any agent either. Before coming to Boston, his major case experience included playing a key role in the takedown of Sam Bowers in the famed Mississippi Burning case, leading the investigation into the Martin Luther King assassination, and running ABSCAM in Miami. The Bureau had the right man for the job all right; they just wouldn’t let him finish it.
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So begins BETRAYAL (Forge, January 3, 2012), my first nonfiction book after thirty novels. The speaker is the Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, addressing his soon-to-be victim John McIntyre, an informant capable of bringing him down once and for all, in 1984.
The hero of BETRAYAL is Robert Fitzpatrick, one of the most celebrated FBI agents of his time who was sent to Boston in late 1980 to “kick ass and take names.” Simply stated, the office had spiraled out of control in large part because of the degree to which agents and officials stretching all the way to Washington were beholden to Whitey Bulger. Bulger, you see, was an informant the Bureau was relying on to give them what they wanted most : the Italian mob. Of course, since he was the titular head of the rival Irish Winter Hill gang and promised to prosper from the takedown of the mafia, he was all too happy to cooperate.
Only he didn’t. In all his years as an informant, Whitey Bulger gave the FBI nothing that helped them take down the mafia. Nothing. That’s what Bob Fitzpatrick uncovered when he got to Boston and what was pretty much confirmed during his first and only meeting with Bulger himself. Check out the following excerpt, one of my favorite scenes in the book:
“I never got your name.”
“That’s ‘cause you didn’t shake my hand. It’s Fitzpatrick.”
“You don’t understand,” he boasted. “I was in Alcatraz; I was in the toughest penitentiaries. I’m a bad guy, not somebody you wanna come out here and mess with.”
“Is that what I’m doing, Whitey, messing with you?”
“You tell me.”
“I just asked you.”
“You got any idea of the stuff I’ve done?”
“That’s why I’m here, to find out what you’ve done and what you’re doing for us. See, you wanna tell me about all the stuff you’ve done when I want to hear what you’re doing for me. Because you’re the informant.” My last remark, a caustic taunt. “Whitey, what are you doing for the FBI?” I finally asked when he lapsed into silence, even though the answer was already written on the parts of his face I could see through the dim lighting. “What are you doing for me?”
The answer, of course, was nothing, and Fitzpatrick embarked on a twenty-year quest, both in and out of the FBI, to prove that to the world in general and Bureau in particular. Three times he developed informants prepared to give up Bulger and force the FBI to give the gangster up as an alleged informant. All three times information leaked out from within the Bureau, and all three times the informants were murdered, the last one being John McIntyre whose body was not recovered until 2000.
What attracted me to Fitzpatrick’s story, which became BETRAYAL, was that it was one of those rare nonfiction “thrillers” that had a third act. Even before Whitey Bulger was finally captured in Santa Monica in California last June, a series of trials over the past few years had already validated all of Fitzpatrick’s claims and fully vindicated his efforts. Bulger’s apprehension was just the icing on the cake.
And here’s the thing. My fictional thrillers also feature heroes defined by their ability to overcome incredible odds and survive, if not thrive, on their own. They are men and women unafraid to buck the system, to do the right thing regardless of what they must sacrifice along the way. Well, that describes Bob Fitzpatrick perfectly.
“I took on plenty of guys like you,” Bulger taunted during that now famous meeting with Fitzpatrick. “Turned out they weren’t so tough either.”
Turned out he couldn’t have been more wrong.