Bulger gets public defender, '94 charges dropped

BOSTON - Former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, who escaped prosecution for 16 years until he was apprehended last week in California with more than $800,000 in cash, was given a taxpayer-funded attorney Thursday after a judge concluded that he is unable to pay for his own lawyer.

Prosecutors argued that Bulger's family — including his brother William Bulger, the former Massachusetts Senate president — have the means to help pay for Whitey Bulger's defense.

But Bulger's provisional attorney, Peter Krupp, said no one in Bulger's family had come forward and offered to help him financially. He also said authorities have seized all of Bulger's assets as the proceeds of illegal activity, leaving him with no way to pay for his defense.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler agreed.

"I find at this time that the defendant is unable to retain counsel privately," Bowler said.

"Red" Shea, a former key member of Bulger's organization who did 12 years in prison for drug trafficking, told CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports that Bulger pulled a fast one -- that he certainly has more money hidden than the more than $800,000 the FBI says it found hidden in the walls of Bulger's apartment in Santa Monica.

"One thing Whitey always told me, he said, 'Whatever you do, never tell anybody where your money is, including me," Shea said, adding that Bulger "absolutely" has the money to pay for a lawyer.

Bowler appointed J.W. Carney Jr., a prominent Boston defense attorney, to represent Bulger.

Carney has represented a long list of high-profile defendants, including John Salvi III, who was convicted of killing two people and wounding five others in a shooting rampage at two Planned Parenthood clinics in Brookline, Mass., in 1994. He also represents Tarek Mehanna, a Sudbury man now awaiting trial in an alleged terror plot to shoot shoppers at U.S. malls, assassinate two politicians and kill American troops in Iraq.

Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of participating in 19 murders during his decades as one of Boston's most notorious gangsters.

Krupp said he believes it will be "profoundly difficult" for Bulger to receive a fair trial, given the pervasive media coverage Bulger received during his years on the run and the recent avalanche of coverage since his capture last week in Santa Monica, Calif.

Carney said it is too early to say whether he will ask for the trial to be moved out of Boston.

"Our constitution guarantees every defendant the right to a fair trial, and we're going to see that he gets it," he said.

The apartment Bulger called home for more than a decade has become one of California's hottest properties, even as FBI agents continue to go through it looking for evidence, Axelrod reports. The owner of Westside Rentals said his phone is ringing off the hook with people wanting to rent it.

"This one is amazing to me because I think people think there's money in the walls," Mark Verge said.

In his orange jumpsuit and shackles, Bulger made the trip back and forth to federal court in a helicopter Thursday, where Tom Donahue, the son of one of his alleged victims was waiting, Axelrod reports.

"Thirty years of emotion about a man who killed my father," Donahue said. "That doesn't go away in a week."

A New England Cable News reporter tweeted that Bulger winked at his brothers as he entered the courtroom.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf granted a bid by prosecutors to dismiss a 1994 racketeering indictment against Bulger so they can focus on a 1999 indictment charging him for his alleged role in 19 killings.

Wolf ruled that prosecutors were within their rights to dismiss the case and rejected a claim by Bulger's lawyer that prosecutors were "judge shopping."

Bulger lawyer: Gov't trying to "game the system"
Bulger prosecution: Murder charges the priority

Krupp had argued that prosecutors decided to charge his client in connection with the murders in a new indictment because they were trying to avoid having Wolf hear the case.

Wolf was a pivotal figure in the Bulger case. He held a series of hearings in the 1990s that exposed the corrupt relationship between Bulger and the Boston FBI. Bulger was an FBI informant who fed his handlers dirt on his gang's main rival, the New England Mob.

"It looks like they are trying to avoid this court as the judicial officer and that's judge shopping, in my view," Krupp said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak Jr. said the later indictment, which includes the murder charges, is simply the government's "best and strongest case."

The families of the 19 murder victims have been waiting for years for justice, Wyshak said.

The prosecutor also blasted Bulger for trying to seek a tactical advantage in court after spending years in hiding.

"He's the one who has been a fugitive for 16 years. He's the one who ran away ... He shouldn't be able to gain a tactical advantage for that at this point," Wyshak said.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.