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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ex-FBI Agent Goes To Trial

In Miami, Prosecutor Tells Story Of Murder And Corruption; Defense Rejects Claims

The Hartford Courant by EDMUND H. MAHONY - September 16, 2008

MIAMI — Former star FBI agent John J. Connolly is accused of one notorious murder, but before prosecutors finished their opening statement to jurors at his trial Monday, they promised to link him to three more and an audacious plot by Boston gangsters to muscle their way into the jai alai industry. It seemed, as prosecutor Fred Wyshak led the jury through about three decades of crimes, that Connolly was at the periphery of all of them. Connolly, accused of murder and conspiracy for setting up the 1982 assassination of former World Jai Alai president John B. Callahan, is corrupt and self-serving, Wyshak said. More to the point, he said, Connolly spent a career working in secret for the criminals he was sworn to stop.

"You have heard that the defendant was an FBI agent," Wyshak said. "You will hear that he was a corrupt FBI agent. You will hear that he gave information to gangsters who used that information to protect themselves and to kill people. And one of those people was John Callahan." Connolly "was just another member" of the Winter Hill Gang, Wyshak said. He hung out with gang leaders James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. He vacationed with them. Over the years, they paid him about $250,000, Wyshak said. "If the gang made a big score, the defendant got a cut," Wyshak told the jury.

Manuel Casabielle, Connolly's lead defense lawyer, dismissed the argument and repeated Connolly's claim that he is a victim of misinformed prosecutors and gangster-witnesses who will say anything for a break on their own sentences. He accused prosecutors of hitting Connolly with just about every major felony in Boston over more than a quarter century in the hope that something sticks. Connolly never told Bulger and Flemmi who in the underworld was informing against them. Connolly didn't have to, Casabielle said, because the two gangsters invariably learned on their own. When one of the victims mentioned by Wyshak became an informant in the early 1980s, Casabielle called it "the worst kept secret in Boston."

The defense lawyer said Connolly recruited Bulger and Flemmi as informants and used them to "decimate" the Italian mafia in New England. Connolly is looking at life in prison, his lawyer said, in part because he has been caught in a political and law enforcement dispute over whether multiple murderers like Bulger and Flemmi should be used as informants against other criminals. "It's not fair to take a bunch of mud and throw it at an individual and hope some of it sticks," he said. "And that's exactly what they are doing in this case." Wyshak called Connolly the Winter Hill Gang's informant. He said whatever information gang members gave Connolly was designed to eliminate their competition for drugs, gambling and extortion in New England.

If Connolly was bothered by what Wyshak said, he didn't show it. He listened without expression. Sometimes he glanced at the jurors, who looked as if they were intrigued by him. Mostly, he bent over a legal pad and took notes. About two years in solitary confinement in a Miami prison while awaiting trial for his life seems to have taken a toll on the previously gregarious and outgoing Connolly. His complexion is pasty. In Boston, during the 1980s, Connolly the FBI agent cultivated the image of a star mob buster. He wore French cuffs and socialized with Boston's most influential political figures. On Monday, prison guards led him into the fortress-like Miami-Dade criminal courts building in chains and a red jump suit. He was allowed to change to street clothes before being presented to the jury.

Wyshak told jurors that the prosecution case centers on the claim that Connolly, as an influential member of the FBI's organized crime team in Boston from roughly 1976 to 1990, fed Bulger, Flemmi and other Winter Hill gangsters the information they needed to avoid prosecution. In four cases that information enabled the gangsters to kill men who were informing against them or might be persuaded to do so. Three of those killings arose from efforts by Callahan, an accountant and Winter Hill financial adviser, to buy World Jai Alai, the company that operated jai alai gambling venues in Hartford and in South Florida. When World owner Roger Wheeler wouldn't sell, Wyshak said Callahan got frustrated and persuaded the Winter Hill Gang leaders to kill Wheeler. In return, Callahan promised Winter Hill a cut of his anticipated jai alai profits.

Three more killings followed, all designed to prevent authorities from linking Wheeler's 1981 death to Callahan and the Winter Hill gang, the prosecutor said. The last to die was Callahan himself. Wyshak told the jury that Connolly provided Bulger the information that led to all three killings. In Callahan's case, Wyshak said Connolly told Bulger that Callahan was a weakling and likely to confess under law enforcement pressure. The fourth murder that Wyshak said prosecutors could attribute to Connolly was the 1976 shooting of Boston area gambler and bookmaker Richard Castucci. Wyshak said prosecution witnesses will testify at trial that Castucci was an FBI informant who provided information about two fugitive gang members. Contact Edmund H. Mahony at

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