As fugitive crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger approaches his 80th birthday, the FBI has had an increase in reported sightings in Florida of the notorious South Boston gangster.
That's not surprising, given the high concentration of older citizens in the Southern state, the FBI says.
But still, authorities are investigating the tips and re-examining his connections there as part of a worldwide search for Bulger, who has been missing for almost 15 years, said Richard Teahan, a supervisory special agent in Boston who heads a task force of FBI agents, state police and Department of Correction officers.
Boston FBI agents hope news reports about Bulger's 80th birthday Sept. 3 will generate new leads.
During a media briefing Tuesday, agents said they were reevaluating old leads from places around the world where Bulger was known to travel before he became a fugitive and where they have received tips since he went on the run shortly before he was indicted on federal racketeering charges in 1995. The search ranges among Ireland, England, Canada, South America and Central America.
"I can tell you with 100 percent certainty ... that we are absolutely dedicated to finding him," Teahan said.
Bulger is charged in connection with 19 murders and is on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list with a $2 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
Teahan said the FBI gets about 30 tips a week about Bulger, but the reports, with one exception, have turned out to be Bulger lookalikes. The last confirmed sighting of Bulger was in London in 2002, he said.
In Florida, the FBI has seen an uptick in reports of Bulger sightings, including tips from people who say they've seen him in Clearwater, Kissimmee and Jacksonville.
Bulger once owned a condominium in Clearwater and had bank accounts in Florida before he became a fugitive, Teahan said.
The sightings have ranged from vague to specific -- "I saw him on a street corner near Walgreen's in Daytona Beach" -- Teahan said.
The FBI released two altered photos showing how the crime boss might possibly look today. One shows an elderly man with wire-frame glasses and a mustache wearing a cap. The other photo shows how Bulger -- who had a receding hairline in a 1994 photograph that appears on Bulger's FBI "Ten Most Wanted" poster -- might look with a full head of white hair.
Noreen Gleason, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said the FBI hopes the photos and media attention will generate new interest in the case, particularly in foreign countries, where Bulger is not nearly as well-known as he is in New England.
"We're at war in a couple of different countries. We want to make sure that people realize that this is still a priority for us. Whitey Bulger's capture is a priority for the FBI," Gleason said.
Teahan said the FBI is also actively searching for Catherine Greig, Bulger's longtime girlfriend, who is believed to be traveling with him and has been charged with harboring a fugitive.
After he disappeared, Bulger's role as a longtime FBI informant was publicly revealed.
Former Boston FBI Agent John Connolly was convicted of racketeering charges in 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, from prosecution for their crimes in exchange for information about their rivals in the Mafia.
In November, Connolly was convicted in Miami of second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi that led to the slaying of gambling executive John Callahan. Connolly was sentenced to 40 years in prison, and is appealing his conviction. Flemmi is serving a life sentence in 10 murders, including the killing of his girlfriend Debra Davis.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)