A former criminal associate of James “Whitey” Bulger told jurors at the accused mob boss’ trial on Monday that he agreed to testify against his old friend after learning that his former gang pals had begun cooperating with law enforcement.
Bulger, 83, is on trial in Boston federal court on charges including racketeering and 19 murders he is alleged to have committed or ordered while running Boston’s “Winter Hill” gang in the 1970s and 1980s. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
John Martorano, 72, is the first of Bulger’s former associates to take the stand in a trial that is expected to last three to four months, with two other members of Bulger’s alleged gang, Kevin Weeks and Stephen Flemmi, also due to testify.
“After I heard that they were informants, it sort of broke my heart,” said Martorano, who named his youngest son, James Stephen, in honor of Bulger and Flemmi. “It broke all trust that we had, all loyalties, and I was just beside myself.”
The FBI has extensive files of information it says Bulger provided during the years when agency investigators who shared Bulger’s Irish background cooperated with him as they worked to take down the Italian mafia in the US.
Bulger, through his lawyers, denies being an informant.
Martorano, who appeared on Monday in a dark suit and tie, pleaded guilty to 20 murders and spent 12 years in prison as a result of a deal worked out with prosecutors in which he agreed to testify against Bulger.
In opening statements last week, Bulger’s lawyer described the accused as a mild-mannered criminal who engaged in illegal gambling, loan-sharking and drug dealing, but not murder. Prosecutors portrayed him as a “hands-on” killer.
In a moment of levity in the courtroom on Monday, Martorano described the deals that allowed him to sell the movie rights to his life story for US$250,000 and the US$55,000 advance he received for co-authoring a book on his life titled Hitman.
Martorano denied being a hitman, saying co-author and Boston Herald journalist Howie Carr picked the title because “he thought it would sell better.”
Earlier on Monday, the court heard more testimony from former bookmakers who paid “rent,” or tribute money, to Bulger’s gang to be allowed to continue to run their illegal gambling operations.
Richard O’Brien, 84, testified that he began working with Bulger’s gang in the early 1970s, and that the arrangement was helpful to enforce collections on debts he was owed.
“When we had a problem, the best thing I had was to say, ‘Do you want to speak with someone from Winter Hill?’” O’Brien testified.
Under cross-examination by defense attorneys, O’Brien said he had lied during grand jury testimony in 1995, when he denied that he paid “rent” to Bulger out of fear of what would happen to him if he testified against Bulger and his associates.
“Knowing what I did know, or what I thought I knew, I wouldn’t testify against those people because of the repercussions you could have,” he said.