Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Administrator of “Whitey” Bulger’s Estate Sues BOP Over His Murder

When the 89-year old, wheelchair-bound Bulger was murdered in federal prison in Hazelton, West Virginia, in 2018, it was a sadly predictable end to a life spent both dueling with law enforcement and also profiting from his association with its dark underbelly in Boston.

 Bulger, the acknowledged head of the feared Winter Hill Gang in South Boston in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, sparred with the rival Patirarca crime family for control of the rackets in that city, and was rumored to have cooperated with members of the FBI to undercut those rivals. His two alleged prison assailants had ties to the Patirarca organization, also referred to as the Italian Mafia.

The lawsuit was filed, “pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1971), against the Defendants who include the Warden of USP Hazelton and other additional named and unnamed correctional officer employees of the BOP at United States Penitentiary Hazelton (“USP Hazelton”).” It further alleged that, “James Bulger, Jr. was subjected to a risk of certain death or serious bodily injury by the intentional or deliberately indifferent actions of the defendants and was thereby caused to endure a violent death at the hands of another inmate within hours of his arrival at the facility.”

Bulger was first imprisoned in 1959 for armed robbery and truck hijacking, and while at an Atlanta penitentiary claims to have been admitted into a program where federal authorities injected him and other individuals with LSD for psychological mind-control studies apparently in return for a shorter sentence. He was paroled in 1963, and quickly rose to the top of the Boston criminal hierarchy.

While there, it was rumored that Bulger worked out an arrangement with multiple Boston FBI agents to feed information to law enforcement in return for favorable treatment. This arrangement lasted from the early-1970s until 1994, when Bulger was indicted for racketeering, and his cooperation with the government was discovered by defense attorneys representing other defendants. Bulger fled, and was not arrested until 2011. He was indicted in federal court on 32 counts of firearms and racketeering, and in 2013 received two life sentences, plus five years.

Bulger, who at the time of his arrest was 81, was already in declining health, and was transferred to different BOP prison facilities that reflected his medical needs and his long sentence. After spending years at USP Coleman, his medical status was upgraded, despite his declining health, permitting his transfer to Hazelton.

The wrongful-death court filing alleges that he was not a cooperator or “snitch,” and that federal law enforcement officials, embarrassed by the questionable activities of FBI agents in Boston, did their best to blame that misconduct on Bulger. “Years of litigation widely covered by local and national press led to numerous deals between prosecuting authorities and James Bulger, Jr.’s associates, involving lenient sentences for murders in an effort to garner factual support to prosecute and convict FBI Agent John Connolly and promote the narrative that James Bulger, Jr. was a high-level FBI informant who told on friends, associates, and his competition in the Italian mafia.”

The fact that most of the alleged violent crimes perpetrated by Bulger would have in fact been prosecuted as state crimes, over which federal authorities would have no jurisdiction, lend credence to this allegation. However, as the lawsuit claims, testimony in his 2013 trial “included claims that James Bulger, Jr. gave the government information about Frank Salemme, the one-time leader of the New England Mafia, the boss of the Gambino Crime Family, and Raymond Patriarca the longtime boss of the Patriarca crime family, (which) ensured that James Bulger, Jr., was likely to be incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).” 

There, the lawsuit alleged, he “would face violence at the hands of any number of deadly criminals, their countless associates, and/or any inmate that might want to make a name for himself inside the BOP.” After a government witness was permitted to testify that Bulger was a pedophile, he was put at even greater risk.

The lawsuit also calls into question the suspicious transfer of Bulger to Hazelton, where understaffing has contributed to its reputation as “misery mountain,” and a “gang-run” prison yard. This is the facility into which the 89-year-old invalid was placed.

The lawsuit further notes that BOP “employees are all aware that Federal law, 18 U.S.C. §4042(a)(2)-(3), requires the BOP to ‘provide for the safekeeping, care, and subsistence of all persons charged with or convicted of offenses against the United States’ and to ‘provide for the protection…of all persons charged with or convicted of offenses against the United States.’” It further alleges that the transfer of a high-profile prisoner like Bulger, who was on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list for many years, would have to be approved by not only officials at his former prison, Coleman, his new prison, Hazelton, but also by high-level supervisors at the BOP Central Office in Washington, D.C.

Bulger’s life has received a lot of media attention based upon his criminal activities in South Boston and the public airing of the unsavory details of his close association with corrupt federal law enforcement. That, coupled with his ability to evade capture for almost two decades, was a double black eye for the FBI and the Department of Justice.

As Bulger discovered, however, federal law enforcement does not take kindly to public embarrassment, and has a long institutional memory. The Department of Justice, despite the public naming of the suspects in Bulger’s murder, has yet to prosecute any of the individuals believed to have been involved. See: Bulger v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, Case No. 3:20-cv-00206-TSK-RWT, U.S.D.C. (N.D. W. Va.). 


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Bulger v. Federal Bureau of Prisons