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Mobster: Ex-FBI agent got protection money

Boston mobsters paid former FBI agent John Connolly roughly $235,000 over the years for protection and information that included fingering gang turncoats, a jailed gangster testified Monday at the agent's murder trial.
New England Mob
Former FBI agent John Connolly, left, and his lawyer Bruce Fleicher listen to testimony from Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, a jailed Boston mob leader, during Connolly's murder trial on Monday.J. Pat Carter / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Boston mobsters paid former FBI agent John Connolly roughly $235,000 over the years for protection and information that included fingering gang turncoats, a jailed gangster testified Monday at the agent's murder trial.

Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, 74, spoke softly and sipped orange juice as he recounted his life of crime, including at least 10 murders, as a senior member of Boston's Winter Hill Gang. The gang's long relationship with Connolly included envelopes stuffed with $5,000 for yearly vacations and $10,000 at Christmas, Flemmi said.

"Did you consider him a part of your criminal organization?" prosecutor Fred Wyshak asked.

"We certainly did," Flemmi said, adding that on one payoff occasion Connolly actually said, "'Hey, I'm one of the gang.'"

Connolly, 68, is on trial for allegedly helping orchestrate the 1982 killing in Miami of John Callahan, a former president of World Jai-Alai who had close ties to the gang. Callahan was shot by mob hit man John Martorano.

Martorano testified last week that he acted on the basis of a tip from Connolly that Callahan was about to be targeted by the FBI in the investigation into the 1981 slaying by the Winter Hill Gang of Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler. Callahan's body was found in the trunk of his Cadillac at Miami International Airport.

Flemmi, along with fugitive crime kingpin James "Whitey" Bulger, were longtime FBI informants who were handled by Connolly. Flemmi has pleaded guilty to his role in the Callahan slaying and other killings and is serving a life sentence in the federal prison system's witness protection program.

Testifying Monday, Flemmi said he and Bulger mainly provided Connolly with information about rival Italian Mafia members — and Connolly in turn gave them valuable assistance about people who might "rat" on their criminal interests.

He also tipped them about pending indictments, Flemmi said.

"You need law enforcement sources," he said. "If you can't (get them) you're not going to be able to survive."

Widespread payoffs alleged
Connolly, his former FBI supervisor John Morris and several other Boston-based agents were paid tens of thousands of dollars from an "E.X. Fund" that Flemmi said was set up for payoffs, weapons purchases, lawyer's fees and other mob expenses. Some of the money came from large-scale marijuana dealers.

Eventually, Flemmi said he and Bulger became concerned that Connolly was getting too flashy, wearing expensive suits, buying an upscale home and a boat. They decided to tone down the payments.

"FBI agents weren't making much money back in those days," Flemmi said. "He was the best-dressed agent in the office. People would start looking at that."

Connolly, who retired in 1990, was convicted of racketeering and other charges in 2002 and is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence. He could get life behind bars if convicted of state charges in Callahan's murder.

Martorano, who killed Callahan, fled the Boston area in 1978 after Connolly tipped off the gang about a looming indictment for fixing horse races. After relocating to South Florida, he resumed his criminal career; Flemmi said he and Bulger were taken out of the indictment at Connolly's request.

Flemmi said Connolly was well aware of Martorano's whereabouts but didn't want him captured, figuring it was better for the dangerous hit man to remain free as a threat to Mafia rivals.

"We needed him out there. He was a bogeyman to the Mafia. We wanted to keep him out there as a source of security," Flemmi said.

Flemmi is scheduled to continue testimony Tuesday at the trial, which is expected to last until mid-November.

Martorano, 67, eventually faced justice in 1995, reaching a plea deal in which he served just over 12 years for 20 murders and agreed to testify against Connolly and others. Bulger, 79, remains a fugitive on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list.