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Bulger witness was poisoned, unrelated to mob case, officials say

Stephen Rakes was found dead in July after learning that he would not testify against alleged mobster James
Stephen Rakes was found dead in July after learning that he would not testify against alleged mobster JamesThe Boston Globe / file

A potential witness against reputed mob boss Whitey Bulger who died mysteriously during the trial was poisoned by a friend in an unrelated killing, Massachusetts prosecutors said Friday.

The death last month of the potential witness, Stephen Rakes, known as Stippo, had added intrigue to Bulger’s federal racketeering and murder trial, which goes to the jury next week.

But prosecutors said Friday that they had found no link to the Bulger case. They charged another man, William Camuti, with poisoning Rakes by putting two teaspoons of cyanide in his iced coffee at a McDonald’s.

Marian Ryan, the Middlesex County district attorney, said that Camuti is believed to have acted alone. She said that investigators believe Camuti owed Rakes money. Camuti, 69, was to be arraigned on attempted murder and other charges later Friday.

Rakes agreed to meet Camuti the night of July 16 at a McDonald’s in the Boston suburb of Waltham, the district attorney said. Camuti used the guise of a real estate deal to lure him, she said. The two men allegedly left the restaurant and drove around, with Camuti later dumping Rakes' body. 

His body was found July 17 in a wooded area of another Boston suburb.

In the mob case, Rakes claimed that in 1984 Bulger had threatened his young daughter and forced him at gunpoint to sell his South Boston liquor store below market value so the Winter Hill Gang could use it as a front.

“The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better,” Rakes told The Associated Press after he saw Bulger in the courtroom in April. He told The Boston Herald newspaper: “I’m not afraid of him anymore.”

Another witness, former Bulger associate Kevin Weeks, testified that Rakes wanted to sell the shop and tried to shake down the gangsters for more money, sparking a confrontation in which a gun was pulled.

Rakes, who was 59 when he was killed, was on the prosecution’s list of witnesses to testify against Bulger but had been told that he would not be called, The Boston Globe reported. The reason was unclear. 

Testimony in the Bulger trial wrapped up Friday. Bulger himself declined to take the witness stand but told the judge, outside the presence of the jury, that he thought his trial was a sham.

“Do what you want with me,” he told the judge.

Rakes was convicted of perjury in 1998 for lying to a grand jury about his encounter with Bulger. He claimed he was afraid to tell the truth, eventually cooperated and did not go to prison.