(BOSTON) — Accused Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger smiled and chuckled during the testimony Monday of a former cocaine dealer who greeted Bulger from the stand with a friendly, “How are ya?’
The admitted former coke dealer Joseph Tower told the court how he turned to Bulger to protect his drug operation, and his matter-of-fact testimony contrasted with the teary-eyed apology earlier in the day from a corrupt former FBI agent to the family of a man allegedly slain on Bulger’s orders.
Bulger, 83, is accused of being the South Boston boss of the Winter Hill Gang and is charged with a 32-count indictment that includes 19 murders.
Tower, who was also a musician, told the court that he had a problem.
So he asked Kevin O’Neil, one of the three O’Neils who owned Triple Os in South Boston, for advice, Tower said. His band played at Triple Os and Tower said he knew that Bulger was a regular there.
“I had a pretty big-sized operation. There were problems in the town at the time, a problem in South Boston in regards to drugs,” Tower testified. “There were threats going around, they were shaking people down.”
Later that day Tower got a call to come outside his South Boston home and to “wait for the car.”
He knew what car would be coming, a blue Chevy Malibu with a white top and wire wheels.
“It was well-known as Mr. Bulger’s car,” Tower told the court. When it pulled up, he testified, “Mr. O’Neil was riding shotgun. Mr. Bulger was driving.”
The Malibu rolled to a stop and Bulger leaned out of the window, saying: “Kevin says you have a problem,” Tower recalled on the stand.
A notoriously dangerous guy wanted to take over Tower’s customers, Tower testified.
Bulger listened and then answered. “Yeah, you do have a problem. You definitely have a problem,” Tower told the court. “But then he said, ‘Maybe I can help you.”’
Drugs were big business in Boston during the 1980s, and Bulger had a reputation as the guy who kept the drugs out of South Boston.
Bulger allegedly laid out his solution: Tower would work for him, Tower said.
With Bulger’s help, Tower started making money. Anyone who wouldn’t pay would have to fear “people in South Boston,” Tower told the court.
When Tower sent his brother to collect a drug debt, instead of paying up the men who owed the money threatened to shoot his brother.
“They said my brother is going to die,” Tower told the court. “I said, ‘You got it wrong. I don’t think you know who you are dealing with.”’
Tower, 53, said he reached out to “Jimmy” Bulger for help through an intermediary.
Federal prosecutor Brian Kelly asked Tower to identify “Jimmy” and Tower looked out into the courtroom, and after he hesitated, he grinned and said:
“I know Jim. There he is,” and pointed straight at Bulger. “How are ya?”
Bulger, witnesses in the court said, smiled and even chuckled as the judge repeatedly admonished Tower to slow down with his testimony because his rapid-fire Boston parlance was getting lost by the court recorder. At breaks in the testimony, Tower could be seen winking at people in the courtroom.
The next call Tower received from his brother’s kidnapper was decidedly less aggressive, he said on the stand.
“Your brother is telling us that you are with some people from South Boston,” the caller asked, Tower told the court. “They asked ‘Boots?’ ‘Rifleman?”‘
That was the kidnappers second mistake, Tower said. The federal prosecutor asked why using those names would be viewed as a mistake. “You don’t use Mr. Bulger’s name in regards to doing things,” Tower answered. “Mr. Bulger would pursue someone who would mention his name.”
Bulger did not particularly care for his nickname “Whitey.” He preferred “Boots” because he said it referred to Bugler’s penchant for pulling a switchblade out of his cowboy boots. Rifleman, Tower confirmed, was Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi.
“Everyone knew I had people behind me,” Tower told the court. “I had no problems selling anymore.”
Earlier in the day ex-FBI supervisor John Morris wrapped up his testimony with an apology to the family of Michael Donahue who was killed along with an informant who Morris had fingered.
He was talking about the hit carried out on Brian Halloran. Halloran had gone to the FBI for help, agreeing to testify against Bulger in exchange for federal protection. But before the U.S. Marshals could move Halloran into the witness protection program he was shot dead along with Donahue, who had offered him a ride.
Morris began to tear up Monday as he glanced toward the court benches where Donahue’s widow, Patricia, has sat every day of the trial, flanked by her sons Thomas and Michael.
“I don’t ask for your forgiveness, but I do want to express my sincere apology for things that I have done and things that I didn’t do,” Morris told the court. His eyes watered as he held his gaze steady toward the Donahues.
“Not a day I my life has gone by that I haven’t thought about this. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t prayed that God give you blessing and comfort. I am truly sorry. I do not ask for your forgiveness. That’s too much.”
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