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Judge: Whitey Bulger can have public defender

James "Whitey" Bulger
Booking photo of James "Whitey" Bulger. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, who escaped prosecution for 16 years until he was apprehended last week in California with more than $800,000 in cash, was given a taxpayer-funded attorney Thursday after a judge concluded that he is unable to pay for his own lawyer.

Prosecutors argued that Bulger's family — including his brother William Bulger, the former Massachusetts Senate president — have the means to help pay for Whitey Bulger's defense.

But Bulger's provisional attorney, Peter Krupp, said no one in Bulger's family had come forward and offered to help him financially. He also said authorities have seized all of Bulger's assets as the proceeds of illegal activity, leaving him with no way to pay for his defense.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler agreed.

"I find at this time that the defendant is unable to retain counsel privately," Bowler said.

She appointed J.W. Carney Jr., a prominent Boston defense attorney, to represent Bulger.

Carney has represented a long list of high-profile defendants, including John Salvi III, who was convicted of killing two people and wounding five others in a shooting rampage at two Planned Parenthood clinics in Brookline, Mass., in 1994. He also represents Tarek Mehanna, a Sudbury man now awaiting trial in an alleged terror plot to shoot shoppers at U.S. malls, assassinate two politicians and kill American troops in Iraq.

Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of participating in 19 murders during his decades as one of Boston's most notorious gangsters.

Krupp said he believes it will be "profoundly difficult" for Bulger to receive a fair trial, given the pervasive media coverage Bulger received during his years on the run and the recent avalanche of coverage since his capture last week in Santa Monica, Calif.

Carney said it is too early to say whether he will ask for the trial to be moved out of Boston.

"Our Constitution guarantees every defendant the right to a fair trial, and we're going to see that he gets it," he said.

Defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr., appointed to represent James "Whitey" Bulger, leaves federal court in Boston, Thursday, June 30, 2011. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler determined that Bulger is indigent and meets the requirements for a court-appointed attorney. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)Steven Senne / AP

Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf granted a bid by prosecutors to dismiss a 1994 racketeering indictment against Bulger so they can focus on a 1999 indictment charging him for his alleged role in 19 killings.

Wolf ruled that prosecutors were within their rights to dismiss the case and rejected a claim by Bulger's lawyer that prosecutors were "judge shopping."

Krupp had argued that prosecutors decided to charge his client in connection with the murders in a new indictment because they were trying to avoid having Wolf hear the case.

Wolf was a pivotal figure in the Bulger case. He held a series of hearings in the 1990s that exposed the corrupt relationship between Bulger and the Boston FBI. Bulger was an FBI informant who fed his handlers dirt on his gang's main rival, the New England Mob.

"It looks like they are trying to avoid this court as the judicial officer and that's judge shopping, in my view," Krupp said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak Jr. said the later indictment, which includes the murder charges, is simply the government's "best and strongest case."

The families of the 19 murder victims have been waiting for years for justice, Wyshak said.

The prosecutor also blasted Bulger for trying to seek a tactical advantage in court after spending years in hiding.

"He's the one who has been a fugitive for 16 years. He's the one who ran away ... He shouldn't be able to gain a tactical advantage for that at this point," Wyshak said.

Hot property
Meanwhile, the simple Santa Monica apartment where Bulger hid from the FBI for more than a decade could soon be one of the hotter properties in the city's rental market.

The door to unit 303 remains sealed with police tape as FBI agents continue to pick the place apart, but a line of would-be renters is already jostling to get a look at the apartment once occupied by America's most wanted criminal.

Mark Verge, owner of Westside Rentals, said his Santa Monica office had been inundated by callers wanting to know when the Bulger apartment would be available and how much it would cost. So many people called, he sent a memo to employees telling them not to promise it to anyone.

"It's a total curiosity," Verge said. "People say they want to rent it. But as the owner, you want the best tenant, not someone who is fanatical about living in a monster's apartment."

Verge's agency has no formal agreement with the 28-unit Princess Eugenia complex where Bulger lived, but has previously advertised several other vacant apartments from the building.

There's not much to distinguish Bulger's former home from any other in the 1970s complex. The corner unit faces away from the sea, is next to an elevator and has two bedroom and two bathrooms.

And it's not available — at least for now.

Bulger, always punctual with his rent, which he only ever gave in cash, had paid through the end of June. FBI agents will remain at his former home for at least two more weeks as they search for anything he could have stuffed into the walls or floors of the two-bedroom unit.

After his June 22 arrest, agents found about $800,000 in cash, more than 30 firearms, multiple knives and several pieces of false identification in the apartment.

The FBI recently allowed a property manager a brief visit inside. Several square and rectangular holes, measuring about 10 inches wide and 18 inches tall, had been cut neatly into the drywall by the front door and in one of the bedrooms.

Agents told the manager that Bulger had kept these hidey holes covered over with pictures and mirrors.

The manager spoke only on condition of anonymity to avoid additional attention from the media.

Josh Bond, the building supervisor, went into the apartment soon after Bulger's arrest and said it seemed like any other. He too had been fielding calls from people wanting to know about renting it.

"We've been getting a lot of calls," Bond said. "People from Boston, people that saw it on the news and want to rent it out. The phone was off the hook there for a few days."

It's not clear exactly when Bulger moved in to the Santa Monica apartment, as its owners had no rental agreement on file.

When he first arrived in the early- to mid-1990s, the units were mainly used as extended-stay vacation homes, the property manager said. They were turned into regular apartments in the late '90s and no one saw a need to collect references or a tenancy agreement from Bulger, who had been a good tenant.

Because the apartment was rent-controlled, which meant rates could only go up a small amount each year, Bulger was getting a relative bargain rate on his rent. According to property records, he was paying $1,145 a month, while some of his neighbors pay more than twice that amount.

The property manager said the ideal new tenant would be a reliable person with good credit.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said it was not known how much longer agents would remain at the apartment. The unit's owners could file a claim with the government for any rent due or damage done to the home during the course of the investigation, she said.