Monday, April 21, 2008

A Hot Time in the Old Town

by Donna Weaver

What do you do when a former FBI agent is charged with murder? Why, have a fundraiser, of course! Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr wrote a tongue-in-cheek top ten list of things overheard at a fundraiser for former FBI agent John “Zip” Connolly. The fundraiser, or "time," was held at the South Boston Yacht Club in late December 2007. The party, attended by about thirty loyal Zip supporters, was ostensibly to raise money for Connolly’s defense for his upcoming murder trial. "In Zip’s case," columnist Carr wrote, "justice delayed is not justice denied. It’s an absolute imperative."

With a little help from his friends, Zip is certainly giving it his best shot. According to the seven-page criminal court progress docket, the first-degree murder trial date has been reset eight times for Connolly (pictured above during a recent Miami court appearance). Now scheduled for September 8, 2008, Connolly's latest appearance was set before Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Barbara Areces on March 17, until Areces recused herself in January after it was discovered she edited a court hearing transcript because it was not consistent with an audio recording of the proceeding.

Apparently, Connolly is trying to pass the time as he sits in jail serving his present prison sentence. In 2002, Zip was sentenced to ten years for racketeering and obstruction of justice. The convictions stemmed from his relationship with his top confidential informants, James "Whitey" Bulger and Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi. Flemmi is presently serving a life sentence for ten murders. Bulger (pictured right) has held a place on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List since Connolly tipped Whitey of his imminent arrest allowing him to escape. The 1995 indictment was for racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) - murder (18 counts); conspiracy to commit murder; conspiracy to commit extortion; narcotics distribution; conspiracy to commit money laundering; extortion; and money laundering.

The mishandling of confidential informants by Boston FBI agents and supervisors has been called by U.S. Congress "one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement."

In the late 1970s and early '80s, agent Connolly was supervised by John Morris, the head of the FBI's Boston organized crime squad. Morris oversaw the cultivation of Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi as confidential informants. Granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony during 1998 federal court hearings in the mishandling of the CIs, Morris confirmed the allegations of FBI misconduct, admitting that he had alerted Flemmi and Bulger to an investigation targeting bookmakers in 1988, and had asked a federal prosecutor to keep them out of a 1979 indictment for fixing horse races. Morris further admitted that he told Connolly about an informant who had implicated Bulger and Flemmi in a murder, fully expecting this valuable tidbit of information would get back to the FBI’s star mobsters. The informant was subsequently murdered.

It was further discovered that Connolly's FBI supervisor, John Morris, accepted $7,000 in bribes and some wine from Bulger and Flemmi two weeks before coming to South Florida in 1984. There, Morris headed a Special Administrative Investigation into the criminal activity of another notoriously corrupt former FBI agent, Dan Mitrione Jr. Agent Mitrione was convicted of violations of the bribery statute and of drug trafficking in March 1985. Mitrione went bad while heading Operation Airlift, a major undercover drug smuggling investigation. Immediately after resigning from the FBI in June 1983, Mitrione became business partners with his confidential informant, Hilmer Sandini.

My husband, Gary, disappeared a few months later. It is believed Gary saw too much, and was executed. I am not at liberty to name the prime suspect in Gary's murder, but if you read the story, you may not find it hard to guess. Despite the FBI's involvement in Gary's disappearance, his name did not come up once in John Morris' investigative reports. And Gary was not the only person to disappear and be murdered during the Airlift debacle.

Choosing to protect his star informants at all costs has led to Connolly's latest troubles. In May 2005, the former FBI agent was himself charged with murder in the 1982 slaying of John Callahan, an accountant for World Jai Alai in Miami. Morris and Connolly allegedly supplied information to Bulger regarding Callahan being questioned in the 1981 murder of World Jai Alai's recently deceased owner, Roger Wheeler. Callahan was shot to death. His body, with a dime placed face up on his chest--an Underworld symbol of a snitch--was found in the trunk of his car parked in a Miami parking lot. As part of Whitey’s plan to branch out in Florida, Callahan had been skimming profits from World Jai Alai. Wheeler suspected Callahan was cooking the books and ordered an audit in 1981. Before the audit was completed, Wheeler was shot and killed.

Connolly is not the first Boston FBI agent to be charged with homicide. Another retired Boston FBI supervisor and boyhood friend of Whitey Bulger, H. Paul Rico, was employed by World Jai Alai as a security consultant at the time of Roger Wheeler's murder. Rico was alleged to have set up the hit on Wheeler, but in Jan. 2004, soon after his indictment for Wheeler’s murder, Rico died in prison just days before his trial. Rico also framed four men for a 1965 murder they did not commit in order to protect an informant. Joseph Salvati and Peter Limone were both exonerated after spending 30 years in jail. Louis Greco and Henry Tameleo both died in prison before they could be cleared. When asked by a congressman in 1997 if he felt bad about framing the four men, Rico replied,“Whaddaya want from me, tears?"

The mishandling of confidential informants in Boston is a cancer that has grown untreated within the FBI for more than thirty years. It is time for the DOJ to acknowledge the existence of this cancer, and its consequences. To say they need to do much better is an understatement, but the only way to do better is to figure out what you did wrong. However, I'm not sure that is the FBI's intention.

Several civil suits have been brought, and won, against the DOJ and the FBI by families whose loved ones were murdered or wrongly imprisoned for murders they did not commit stemming from the corruption in the Boston office of the FBI. But the Justice Department continues to appeal the judgments made in favor of the plaintiffs. During the recent civil trial involving the four wrongly imprisioned men, Justice Department lawyers argued the FBI had no duty in the 1960s to share the information it had showing the men were wrongly accused. Justice Department attorney Bridget Lipscomb was quoted as saying, "If you find for the United States on the malicious prosecution claim, the remaining claims go away."

What the Justice Department and the FBI need to know is these "claims" are people who lost years of their lives, and in many cases, literally lost their lives, leaving their grieving families alone with nowhere to turn for help. The claims will not go away, Ms. Lipscomb, because we are not going away. The FBI is not above the law. They are not exempt from obstruction of justice or from committing murder-- just ask John Connolly.


Anonymous said...

I have only read the first two parts of this story but I wanted to stop say that I think you are a very courageous woman, Donna. This is indeed like something you'd expect to see at the theater. I'll post again after I finish reading this intriquing story.

Kathryn Casey said...

You are truly amazing, Donna. I can't imagine going through all you have and continuing to fight. It's so much harder when the suspects are in law enforcement. We were talking yesterday about this on Ink Blotter, when we discussed the Becca McEvoy case. With LE, there is still that shield of protection that can mistakenly protect those who shouldn't be protected.

Anonymous said...

I am just astounded. I know that agencies and people of our Government were corrupt but this is awful. I wish people had been honest with you years ago, then maybe you would have this way behind you. I don't understand how people think that secrets and lies are protecting someone. At the same time, knowing all this about your husband years ago might have come at a much higher price. I am looking forward to the epilogue.

I grew up in Miami in the 60s and 70s [my family moved to Texas in 1980 when I was 15]. My dad was a contracor and did a lot of developing, particularly in the Dodge Island area. We lived in HML and Miramar. We moved because of the drugs and even though my father & uncle never got involved themselves, they were surrounded by people who were running drugs and always trying to lure others to help them. At the time I was angry with my parents for moving us but looking, it was probably for the best.

Good luck to you Donna!

Anonymous said...

And I thought Mario Puzo only invented this kind of corruption.

God bless you, Mrs. Weaver. Your courage is inspiring.

I'll keep following this story from here on.

Donna Weaver said...

Thank you all for the comments, and more importantly, for reading Gary's story. The awful truth is that there are so many families affected by the FBI's mishandling of confidential informants. We have suffered the results of this betrayal for decades. And there are so many courageous people still fighting for the truth and for justice. There are important lessons to be learned here and crucial questions still to be asked and answered. I'll address some of that in my next post and reveal more of this cast of characters. If you think you're shocked now--just wait...