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June 12th, 2013
06:37 PM ET

Author: Whitey Bulger was 'a cunning and charismatic killer'

Bostonians are more than well-acquainted with James "Whitey" Bulger, and his alleged criminal reign from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Bulger, accused of killing 19 people, once shared the FBI's most wanted list with Osama bin Laden and he feared once the al Qaeda leader was gone, his time on the run was short. He was right. Bulger was caught in 2011 after 16 years as a fugitive.

On Wednesday, his long-awaited trial began in Boston. The prosecution described him in opening statements as a "hands-on killer"

But the defense says the picture the prosecution has painted is all wrong. It contends the witnesses, many of whom are described as former henchman for Bulger, are unreliable and that he was never an FBI informant.

But longtime Boston newspaper reporters Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy paint their own picture in their book, "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.”

Cullen and Murphy explain how Bulger viewed himself, writing, “Nothing he had learned contradicted what he had long thought of himself: That he was smarter than most hoods, more cunning and careful and completely at ease in the use of violence as a tool in his chosen trade."

"When you turn him around with some of the great names like John Dillinger and Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel and guys like that, I think the difference ... about Whitey is that he was obviously a cunning and charismatic killer," Cullen said in an interview with CNN.

"He corrupted law enforcement, specifically the FBI, to an extent that no other gangster in American history did. And that's why this story is unique," said Cullen.

Bulger had an awkward relationship with his brother, William Bulger, who became the president of the Massachusetts Senate and held that job for 18 years. He was arguably the most powerful politician in the state because of his longevity and his patronage.

During this period, the Bulger brothers were very close, said Cullen.

"They didn't do anything publicly together, but Whitey was always welcome at Bill's house," said Cullen. "He was always a guest during, you know, important dates, whether it was Christmas or Easter or the kids. He was the godfather of one of Bill's kids, one of his kids - one of Bill's kids - has his name; it's James."

Whitey Bulger was a major FBI informant. According to Cullen and Murphy's book, "Whitey's problem was never with the FBI, who had no intention of going after him. It was with a group of honest local cops, state police officers, and Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS agents who had tried for years to make a case against him."

So Bulger was not worried about the FBI - he gave them what they needed, and they returned the favor. It was honest law enforcement officers that concerned him.

"And honest cops brought him down in the end," said Cullen. "They actually thwarted FBI agents from Oklahoma who were investigating a murder that Whitey was involved in. They actually lied to their own colleagues out in Oklahoma. This stuff is unbelievable, the extent of the corruption."

"And yet only one agent has ever been held responsible about it, because the FBI and the Justice Department, from day one, this was about damage limitation."

Then-special prosecutor John Durham promised a report identifying every FBI agent and supervisor engaged in malfeasance, misconduct, or criminal activity, said Cullen.

"That was 11 years ago and we're still waiting for it. And I'm not holding my breath," said Cullen.

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