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Whitey Bulger arrest: The Mitt Romney connection

June 23, 2011|By Christine Mai-Duc
(Reuters )

After news broke of the arrest of notorious mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, presidential candidate Mitt Romney paused to comment.

"I hope the capture of Whitey Bulger brings some measure of relief to the families of his numerous victims," the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement today. "It brings to a close a sad and sordid chapter in recent Massachusetts history."

Bulger, now 81, has been on the run since 1994, when he fled Boston as federal agents were preparing to arrest him in connection with at least 19 killings, racketeering offenses and other crimes from the early 1970s to mid-1980s. He was arrested in Santa Monica on Wednesday.

Photos: The hunt for James "Whitey" Bulger

Romney's comments made nary a mention of his crusade during his early days as governor to oust Bulger's brother, Billy, from his post as president of the University of Massachusetts.

The battle between Romney and Billy Bulger, a seemingly invincible figure in the Bay State's political machine, was fierce, and Romney did not back down even after being rejected by the university's board of trustees.

"I thought Romney was very strong in his position – and he was right," former state attorney general Thomas F. Reilly said in an interview.

Reilly also called for Bulger's resignation, echoing Romney's claims that Bulger should not continue as university president if he was unwilling to cooperate with authorities.

"You can't have it both ways, and he was trying to have it both ways. Romney said no, and I said no."

Reilly said the inability to locate Whitey Bulger created "a great deal of frustration" among law enforcement. "I thought it was an unacceptable situation with the president of a university."

Billy Bulger had admitted to a grand jury, under protection of immunity, that he'd spoken to his brother after he'd become a fugitive in 1995.

"I do have an honest loyalty to my brother, and I care about him," said Bulger, in a grand jury testimony that was leaked to the Boston Globe. "I don't feel an obligation to help everyone to catch him."

Shortly before Romney was sworn in, Bulger refused to testify in Congress when asked about his brother's whereabouts.  

Upon assuming office, Romney introduced an overhaul of the education system, which included the elimination of Bulger's position. Later, he called on Bulger to resign, saying the episode was casting a shadow on the university.  

"I did personally feel his testimony was lacking in credibility. I felt that the answers were often purposefully evasive and I don't believe this controversy shows any signs of abating," said Romney about the congressional inquiry.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was then chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, and led the questioning that day.

"I'm confident that Billy knew where his brother was and he wasn't going to tell us," said Burton, who added that Bulger's cooperation might have led the FBI to his brother sooner. "I think that was wrong, but he did what he had to do, I guess."

Although the university's trustees backed Bulger, he eventually resigned amid public pressure.

The event was heralded as a success for Romney, who had positioned himself as an outsider taking on the formidable Democratic machine, and an indication that state politics were shifting away from the entrenched, old guard.

Photos: The hunt for James "Whitey" Bulger

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