"Whitey" Bulger Update: Stephen Rakes, alleged Bulger extortion victim, found dead

In this Tuesday, June 12, 2012, file photo Stephen Rakes receives a handshake outside federal court in Boston.
File,AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Stephen Rakes receives a handshake outside federal court in Boston, June 12, 2012.
File,AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Updated 5:34 p.m. (CBS/AP) BOSTON -Stephen Rakes, a former South Boston liquor store owner who claimed reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger muscled him out of business, was found dead Wednesday afternoon, CBS Boston reports.

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Rakes, 59, of Quincy, had been attending Bulger's racketeering trial in Boston and, at one point, was expected to be called as a witness for the prosecution.

Rake's body was found around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Mill Street in Lincoln, Mass., according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

While the cause of death is unknown, Ryan says "there were no obvious signs of trauma." The medical examiner is expected to conduct an autopsy.

CBS Boston reports Rakes was in court for Bulger's racketeering trial almost every day. On Tuesday afternoon, he reportedly learned he was not going to testify and did not come to court Wednesday.

Steven Davis, the brother of alleged Bulger victim Debra Davis, said Rakes was upset when he left the courthouse Tuesday but he wasn't sure why.

Davis said he had repeatedly called Rakes, a friend of his, since Tuesday but had not heard back.

Rakes and his former wife spent $100,000 to open Stippo's Liquor Store in Boston in 1984. But a short time later, according to Rakes, Bulger, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks threatened to kill him if he didn't turn over the store to them.

Investigators say Bulger wanted to use the store as the new headquarters for his criminal enterprise.

Rakes said that Bulger put $67,000 in cash on his table in exchange for the store.

"They gave me a bag of money and said we own the store and started laughing," he told the station in April 2012. "I'm pretty angry still about what happened close to thirty years ago, and I want to make sure Bulger gets justice. I'll be satisfied when he's in jail and never coming out."

Rakes continued, "I feel terrible about what happened and feel sick about it, and I feel shame because I couldn't fight them back because they were so powerful I didn't know what to do."

In 2003, a judge ordered Bulger to pay Rakes $28 million. Rakes wanted the government to go after what he believes is Bulger's hidden fortune.

According to CBS Boston, Rakes had been furious in recent weeks ever since Kevin Weeks denied earlier this month on the stand that Bulger forced Rakes to sell the store. Weeks testified that Rakes had agreed to an offer from Bulger to buy the store for $100,000.

He said when they arrived at Rakes' house to close the deal, Rakes said his wife didn't want to sell the store and complained about the selling price.

Bulger told Rakes that he couldn't back out of the sale and they made the deal, according to Weeks' testimony.

Rakes later disputed Weeks' account, saying he was forced to sell the liquor store.

"Kevin continues to lie, as usual, because that's what he has to do," Rakes said that day. "My liquor store was never for sale - never, never, never."

Rakes' former wife, Julie Dammers, said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press Thursday that she knew of his death, but asked for privacy.

Hearing of Rakes' death was difficult for family members of alleged Bulger victims, reports.

"I feel so bad," said Patricia Donahue, whose husband was allegedly slain by Bulger, according to the site. "You sit here every day with these victims and they become part of your life. He seemed so spirited. He had a lot of spirit."

Donahue said she spoke to Rakes early Tuesday about the possibility of taking the stand, Boston. com reports, saying he was "nervous, but he wanted to give his opinion."

Bulger, the former leader of South Boston's Winter Hill Gang, spent 16 years on the run, becoming one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted before authorities captured him and his girlfriend in California in 2011. He is charged with participating in 19 murders but maintains his innocence.

When Bulger appeared in court in April for the first time in about two years, Rakes told the Associated Press that he began hyperventilating when he saw him. Rakes said Bulger wouldn't look his way.

"The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better," Rakes said.

Complete coverage of the Whitey Bulger case on Crimesider