BOSTON — In a case that has cast a heavy shadow over the Boston bureau of the FBI, a jury on Tuesday convicted former agent John J. Connolly Jr. of four counts of corruption.
Connolly, 61, was found guilty of racketeering, bribery and alerting New England mobsters to impending indictments. He sat stone-faced in federal court here as he was acquitted on a fifth count of obstructing justice.
Until his retirement in 1990, Connolly's job was to cultivate mob informants as the FBI sought to topple the New England mafia. Prosecutors said he carried out his assignment too well, ignoring two decades of murder, extortion and other crimes committed by notorious mobsters James "Whitey" Bulger, Stephen "the Rifleman" Flemmi, Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme and others.
The decorated former agent grew so close to his informants, prosecutors said, that he warned them in 1994 as federal indictments were about to be handed down against them.
Connolly's tip allowed Bulger to flee before authorities could arrest him. The onetime lord of Boston's crime underworld, one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted criminals, has remained a fugitive since 1994.
At times the revelations in Connolly's two-week-long trial resembled scenes from "The Sopranos." While Connolly's wife--a former FBI secretary--sat beside him, his ex-wife told jurors that a two-carat diamond Connolly gave her originally came from Bulger.
Testifying in exchange for a reduced sentence, John "the Animal" Martorano told jokes as he described killing more than 20 people as a hit man for Bulger's Winter Hill gang--which for years kept an iron grip on the loan-sharking and narcotics trades in Boston.
A former Bulger lieutenant, Kevin Weeks, recalled delivering a $5,000 bribe to Connolly from Bulger. He said Bulger liked to brag that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 police officers in Boston.
As if he were handing out gratuities, Weeks said, Bulger gave law enforcement officials envelopes full of cash. "He used to say that Christmas was for cops and kids."
Weeks also said Connolly came to the Winter Hill gang's headquarters in a Boston liquor store on Dec. 23, 1994, and told him to warn Bulger, Flemmi and Salemme that arrests were imminent.
Connolly's former FBI supervisor, John Morris, confirmed in court that a gift of $1,000 and a case of wine he'd received from Connolly actually was a bribe from Bulger. Morris was protected from prosecution by the statute of limitations.
Connolly never took the stand, and his attorneys concluded their case in one day. To bolster their client's credibility, they played an FBI training video from 1983 featuring Connolly--with a lush pompadour--providing advice for agency rookies.
Cautioning new agents against trying to "out-gangster a gangster," Connolly said in the tape: "You can get friendly with them and you can like them, but you can never forget who you work for and that you're an FBI agent."
But U.S. Atty. Michael Sullivan said Tuesday that "unfortunately, that is precisely what John Connolly did."
At a news conference at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse after the verdict, Sullivan blasted Connolly as "a Winter Hill gang operative masquerading as an FBI agent."
He added: "Although the jury's verdict is just and deeply gratifying, it is always a somber moment to prosecute a law enforcement agent who has crossed the line."
Connolly, who remains free on $200,000 bail, made no comment as he left the courthouse. He could face up to 45 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 7.