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Investigators: Mob boss was hiding in plain sight

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) - As the FBI chased leads on two
continents, Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger spent nearly
all of his 16 years on the lam in this quiet seaside city, passing
himself off as just another elderly retiree, albeit one who kept a
.357 Magnum and more than 100 rounds of ammunition in his modest
Bulger - the FBI's most-wanted man and a feared underworld
figure linked to 19 murders - was captured Wednesday after one of
the biggest manhunts in U.S. history. His undoing may have been his
impeccably groomed girlfriend.
During a search of Bulger's apartment agents after his arrest,
agents found $800,000 in cash, more than 30 firearms, including
pistols, rifles and shotguns, several types of knives and several
pieces of false identification, Steven Martinez, FBI Assistant
Director in Charge in Los Angeles, said at a news conference
Thursday afternoon.
The weapons were tucked in hiding places throughout the
apartment, Martinez said.
Earlier this week, after years of frustration, the FBI put out a
series of daytime TV announcements with photos of Bulger's blond
live-in companion, Catherine Greig. The announcements pointed out
that Greig was known to frequent beauty salons and have her teeth
cleaned once a month.
Two days later, the campaign produced a tip that led agents to
the two-bedroom apartment three blocks from the Pacific Ocean where
Bulger and Greig lived, authorities said. The FBI would not give
any details about the tip.
The 81-year-old boss of South Boston's vicious Winter Hill Gang
- a man who authorities say would not hesitate to shoot someone
between the eyes - was lured outside the building and captured
without resistance. Greig, 60, was also arrested.
Neighbors were stunned to learn they had been living in the same
building as the man who was the model for Jack Nicholson's ruthless
crime boss in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie "The Departed."
Deputy Police Chief David Doan said it wasn't surprising that
Bulger just blended in with the community
"This guy was an historic figure on the East Coast but no one
on the West Coast knew who Whitey Bulger was," Doan said at the
Thursday news conference.
"If you behave and you don't draw attention to yourself and
you're in a community where you're not well-known, he's just
another old man walking down the street," Doan said.
The arrest closed one chapter in a case that scandalized the
Bulger fled in 1995 after a retired FBI agent who had recruited
him as a government informant tipped him off that he was about to
be indicted. Soon it was discovered that the Boston FBI had a
corrupt relationship with its underworld informants, protecting mob
figures for decades and allowing them to commit murders as long as
they were supplying useful information.
"Although there are those who have doubted our resolve at times
over the years, it has never wavered," Richard DesLauriers, agent
in the charge of the FBI's Boston office, said after Bulger's
capture. "We followed every lead. We explored every possibility,
and when those leads ran out, we did not sit back and wait for the
phone to ring."
While Bulger's capture is the end of a long, frustrating search
for the FBI, it could expose the bureau to even more scandal.
One of Bulger's lieutenants testified in 2002 that Bulger
boasted that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20
Boston police officers, keeping them loyal by stuffing envelopes
with cash at Christmastime.
"If he starts to talk, there will be some unwelcome
accountability on the part of a lot of people inside law
enforcement," said retired Massachusetts state police Maj. Tom
Duffy. "Let me put it this way: I wouldn't want my pension
contingent on what he will say at this point."
On Thursday, more than a dozen FBI agents carried out bags of
evidence from the Santa Monica apartment while neighbors and even
some tourists from Boston watched. Authorities said they seized a
variety of weapons, including the Magnum, and a large amount of
The FBI "just started a new campaign in the Boston press a
couple days ago. We were all laughing how nothing would come of
it," said Ed Dente, who was vacationing from Boston.
The new FBI announcements, which targeted 14 areas where agents
thought Bulger might be, did not include the Los Angeles area.
Instead, they were broadcast in San Diego, San Francisco and a
dozen other locations.
Retired Massachusetts state police Col. Tom Foley, who
investigated Bulger for decades, said he never believed the various
reported Bulger sightings around the world, even the 2002 sighting
in London that the FBI said was confirmed. Foley said it was widely
believed that the FBI didn't actively search for the mobster, at
least initially.
"Apparently, they should have spent more time in this country
looking for him than gallivanting overseas," Foley said.
Damon Katz, chief counsel for the FBI in Boston, wouldn't
comment on Bulger's living in the same place for almost the entire
time he was a fugitive.
On Thursday afternoon, Bulger appeared with his girlfriend in
federal court in Los Angeles and was ordered returned to
Massachusetts to face charges after he waived his right to a
Balding, with a full white beard and wire-rimmed glasses, a thin
but fit Bulger, who was handcuffed, clutched court documents
against his chest and said he understood the charges against him.
"I got them all here," Bulger said in a Boston accent to a
packed courtroom. "It will take me quite a while to finish these.
I know them all pretty well."
Bulger shuffled out of the courtroom and cracked a smile after a
law enforcement officer patted him on the back and led him away.
He faces federal charges that include murder, conspiracy to
commit murder, narcotics distribution, extortion and money
laundering. Greig was charged with harboring a fugitive.
Many people in the Southern California neighborhood where the
crime boss lived were not surprised that Bulger could blend in in
Santa Monica, a densely populated beachside suburb of Los Angeles
where aging, ponytailed hippies, bike-riding environmentalists,
Hollywood actors and others regularly rub shoulders with retirees,
but usually exchange no more than pleasantries.
"This is the perfect place to hide," said Maura McCormick, who
lives in an apartment building next door. "Nobody bothers anyone
Seth Rosenzweig, a writer who lives down the hall from Bulger's
apartment, said the fugitive, who was partial to baseball caps and
dark sunglasses, kept a low profile. He would divert his eyes every
time he got into the elevator with other people.
Josh Bond, a property manager at the building, said the couple,
who went by the names Charles and Carol Gasko, had lived there for
the past 15 years and were "model tenants. We never had any
problems with them," he said.
Bond said the couple always paid in cash but he didn't think too
much of it. "People have different ways of payment," he said.
Santa Monica property records show the apartment had a
rent-controlled rate of $1,145 a month.
Catalina Schlank, who has lived in the building for 35 years,
said she was friendly with Greig but not so much so with Bulger,
whom she called a recluse. "They were a handsome couple, but they
were kind of mysterious," she said.
The couple didn't own a car, choosing to walk everywhere. That's
easy to do in their neighborhood, just down the street from the
Schlank said Greig would often walk to a market before dawn,
bringing back the couple's groceries in a shopping cart and
stopping off to drop Schlank's newspaper at her door, sometimes
with some fruit she had picked up.
The apartment managers also recalled that Bulger seemed
concerned for the well-being of others, once giving a building
worker his flashlight because he was worried about her crossing the
road after she finished her shift at night.
Bulger had a $2 million reward on his head and rose to No. 1 on
the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list after Osama bin Laden was killed.
He was wanted for 19 murders, including one in which the victim
was shot between the eyes in a parking lot at his country club in
Oklahoma. Another was gunned down in broad daylight on a South
Boston street to prevent him from talking about the killing in
Oklahoma. Others were taken out for running afoul of Bulger's
gambling enterprises.
At the same time he was boss of the Winter Hill Gang, South
Boston's murderous Irish mob, Bulger was an FBI informant,
supplying information about the rival New England Mafia. A
congressional committee in 2003 harshly criticized the FBI for its
use of Bulger and other criminals as informants, calling it "one
of the greatest failures in the history of federal law
The retired agent accused of tipping off Bulger, John Connolly
Jr., was convicted of racketeering in 2002 for protecting Bulger
and another mob informant in the Winter Hill Gang, Stephen "The
Rifleman" Flemmi. Connolly was also found guilty of murder in
Miami for helping to set in motion a mob hit in 1982 against a
business executive.
Patricia Donahue, wife of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue,
said she could not believe the news of Bulger's capture.
"I actually never thought I would see this day. I thought the
man was dead," she said. Her husband, a construction worker and
truck driver, was killed in 1982 in a hit on an underworld figure
who was cooperating with investigators. Donahue had given the
target of the hit a ride home that day.
"I am very satisfied to know that the person who pulled the
trigger to end my husband's life is going to go to jail," Donahue
While some investigators thought Bulger was probably moving
around constantly while on the run, Massachusetts state police
Detective Lt. Stephen Johnson said he wasn't surprised that Bulger
and Greig stayed put in California.
"It's very hard to be living on the lam, and when you're that
age, you probably want to enjoy it," he said. "I think he felt
very comfortable there. It may have been a quality-of-life
decision. He'd rather live in the U.S. and take his chances on
getting caught than go to Europe or a Third World country and
suffer conditions that weren't so pleasant."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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