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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ex-FBI Agent Faces Trial in 1982 Murder

Ex-FBI Agent Faces Trial in 1982 Murder - Boston Mob Handler Is Charged in Fla.
The Associated Press by Curt Anderson - September 7, 2008

MIAMI -- John J. Connolly was hundreds of miles away in 1982 when gambling executive John Callahan's bullet-riddled body was discovered in the trunk of his Cadillac at Miami's airport. The admitted shooter said he never met Connolly, the disgraced ex-FBI man at the heart of the agency's sordid dealings with Boston's Winter Hill Gang. Yet Connolly will stand trial on murder and conspiracy charges this month as if he had pulled the trigger himself, because prosecutors say he secretly gave information that was crucial in setting up the hit. Jury selection is to begin Monday in Connolly's trial, which figures to rehash some of the ugliest episodes in the Boston FBI's handling of the gang, once led by James J. "Whitey" Bulger and convicted killer Stephen "the Rifleman" Flemmi.

For years, both were top FBI informants on rival Italian mobsters. Connolly was their handler, and he made sure they were shielded from prosecution for murder and many other crimes. That eventually sent him to federal prison on a racketeering conviction. A congressional investigation concluded in 2003 that the FBI's relationship with Bulger and his cohorts "must be considered one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement." The Callahan slaying is part of that history, detailed in numerous court documents, interviews and investigative reports. Callahan was president of World Jai Alai, purchased in the late 1970s by Roger Wheeler, a businessman from Tulsa, who liked the fact that former Boston FBI agent Paul Rico was part of the security team.

Wheeler came to suspect that Callahan was skimming profits from World Jai Alai for the Winter Hill Gang. He fired Callahan and ordered an audit. On May 27, 1981, Wheeler was shot between the eyes at a Tulsa country club by hit man John V. Martorano, who has admitted in court to 20 murders. Callahan was targeted next because Bulger and Flemmi feared he would finger them for Wheeler's killing. Martorano pleaded guilty in 2001 to shooting Callahan and, with the help of an associate, stuffing his body into the trunk of Callahan's silver Cadillac. Rico, Connolly's former FBI colleague, was eventually charged in Wheeler's murder, but he died in 2004 before going to trial. A little over a year later, Connolly was indicted by a Miami-Dade County grand jury in Callahan's killing. A conviction would mean a life prison sentence.

Connolly, 68, is already serving a 10-year federal prison stretch for racketeering and other charges from his associations with Bulger and his gang, including tipping off his former informant about an impending 1995 indictment. Bulger fled before he could be arrested and remains a fugitive, a fixture on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. The federal jury that convicted Connolly in 2002 rejected evidence of his involvement in the Callahan killing, although the charge then was obstruction of justice. Connolly's lawyer, Manuel Casabielle, said little new has surfaced in the years since. "The reason you haven't seen much connecting John to the Callahan murder is because there isn't much. It isn't there," Casabielle said. But prosecutor Michael Von Zamft said the state is confident in its case, even with key witnesses of questionable repute.

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