James "Whitey" Bulger's 1953 mug shot.
The reformed drug dealer and I are sitting in his silver Lexus, across the street from the building where he says he saw James “Whitey” Bulger beat a guy with a Club lock.
The building, on Marshall Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, was once a garage and the epicenter of Bulger's Winter Hill Gang. Witnessing that beating was a lifetime ago for Paul Moran—before he got sober, before the hip replacement, before he stopped dabbling in crime and started working for a union. As a kid in the 1970s, he would sweep the garage after everyone left for the day and fetch frappes for any of the killers, conmen, and bookies who were still mulling around.
The garage is now gone. In its place is a church. There’s a parable of redemption and sin somewhere in this scene: a former drunken car thief who pushed angel dust considering the hub of his misspent youth, which has now been transformed into the Greater Works Church of God.
Moran is not a pious man, but he does understand the appeal of Old Testament justice, especially when it comes to Whitey Bulger, the most notorious Boston gangster of them all.
Bulger’s long-awaited trial started last week. He faces dozens of charges, including 19 counts of murder. Until his 2011 arrest, Bulger was one of America's most-wanted men (second only to Osama bin Laden after 9/11), living on the run for 16 years before authorities eventually caught up with him in Santa Monica, California, where he'd been living there under the name Charles Gasko. According to court documents, testimonies, and informant files already in the public realm, Bulger was an FBI informant for 15 years, while allegedly also corrupting the Boston wing of the FBI. He managed to maintain the slightly at-odds titles of criminal grand poo-bah and federal informant for a decade and a half.
According to his former mob associates, Bulger sent many of his fellow Winter Hill mobsters-in-arms to jail via his FBI snitch work. The established Bulger narrative goes like this: because of his excellent snitching, corrupt federal agents allegedly shielded him from arrest and prosecution. This, according to court documents, allowed him to kill, extort, and push drugs with impunity.
An FBI surveillance photo of "Whitey" Bulger (on the right) and Stephen Flemmi. Photo via
Back to Paul Moran on Marshall Street. Moran tells me about the time he saw Whitey and Stevie Flemmi—another thug cum federal informant who ratted on his fellow gangsters—beat a guy with a Club lock. He doesn't know the reason for the beat down. When I ask him if the guy’s face got busted up, he answers, simply: “Yeah.”
Moran tells me that, as a kid, he coveted a gaudy, blue diamond ring that Whitey wore.
"He said to me, 'Someday, kid, when you got money like I do, you can get your own.'"
He labels Bulger an "odd duck" who was hard to get to know, but nevertheless acknowledges that he was a man who commanded respect. Moran was in the garage when mobsters from New York made the 200-mile trek north to settle a disagreement. A Winter Hill bookie, says Moran, had screwed the New York guys out of thousands on a sports-betting scheme. They came seeking money and retribution. After meeting with Bulger, they left with neither, according to Moran.
“Whatever the deal was, it got washed.”
Ever the pragmatist, Bulger allegedly killed people like Brian “Balloonhead” Halloran for being an informant, despite being an informant himself.
Moran knew Halloran. He doesn’t think he should have been killed. Moran, who admits to making plenty of mistakes in his life, cannot abide hypocrites like Bulger and Flemmi.
“What they should do is put them to a tree and let the people have their fucking justice with them. Put him to a tree—Stevie, too—and just have the people whose lives they fucked up—just like the old days, I guess—just like, stone them, kick them, spit on them... Do to them what they did to people.”
Brian Halloran's 1974 mug shot, eight years before he was murdered.
Another day in Somerville, another aging, union guy with a fake hip and a thick, nonrhotic accent driving around in a silver Lexus telling me how much of a dick Whitey Bulger is. (Actually, in the interests of accuracy, Bobby Martini calls him a "piece of shit," a "sleazeball," a "nobody," and a "stool pigeon," but never mutters the word “dick.”)
Martini grew up in Somerville and was Halloran’s brother-in-law. He hates Bulger.
“If there’s a devil on this earth, it’s Whitey Bulger,” he says.
Martini’s father, also named Bobby Martini, ran the garage that was connected to the Winter Hill Gang. Besides Bulger, Martini actually likes and respects some of the Winter Hill gangsters, like Howie Winter and Jimmy Martarano.
Bulger, he says, once threatened his father but was dissuaded from following through on the threat by a Somerville police captain.
"He went down there the next day and said, 'Are you threatening Martini? Because if you are, whatever happens to him happens to you the next fucking day, you piece of shit.'"
Martini gets pissed off when anyone conflates Whitey with Winter Hill. He is quick to point out that the organization that became known as the Winter Hill Gang formed in Somerville without "Whitey," who hails from South Boston, in the early 1960s.
“To us, he was nothing,” he says.
Jimmy Martorano's 1975 mug shot.
Former Winter Hill associate Jimmy Martorano recalls a time when Whitey Bulger was just another thug on the wrong side of a gangland war. In the early 1970s, Whitey was enmeshed in a South Boston beef between the Mullen Gang and the Killeen Gang. Whitey was aligned with the latter. According to Martarano, he approached Winter Hill to mediate the beef and for protection. He got both. A truce was called. The two gangs merged. Whitey was spared.
“He got lucky when we stopped Pat and his crew [from the Mullen Gang] from killing him,” says Martarano. “That was our mistake.”
Martarano, whose brother Johnny was a Winter Hill hitman who has admitted to killing 20 people, has had a front-row seat to the duplicity that is Whitey Bulger for a number of decades. In the late 70s, he was indicted in a massive horse-race-fixing scandal while he was already serving a ten-year bid in federal prison. He is convinced Whitey and Stevie Flemmi, both of whom were not indicted in that case, ratted on him.
“I had no more to do with the horse fixing case than you did,” he tells me.
At the time, he says, he remembers being relieved that someone had ducked charges relating to the scandal. Now he thinks back with disgust and disappointment that he and his friends in Winter Hill could not piece together what happened sooner.
Whitey allegedly ratted out many of his mobster friends. Martarano, however, doesn’t think there is anyone left to rat on.
He doubts there will be any more federal agents to join John Connolly—a disgraced FBI agent who protected Bulger from capture, who has been convicted of murder and racketeering—in the clink.
Some of the corrupted federal agents are dead, says Martarano, and the statute of limitations for most of the crimes has already expired. The counts of murder are the notable exceptions.
I ask him if he has champagne ready for the completion of Bulger’s trial. He says no.
“I’ll be relieved that it’s all over. Finally.”
Today, Jimmy's brother Johnny is expected to testify as one of the prosecution's star witnesses as the trial continues for an expected three to four months.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @DMacCash
More stuff about mobsters: