James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious Boston mob boss, died in prison less than 12 hours after he arrived at a West Virginia facility. A new Justice Department watchdog report says that his death was caused by a number of things, including poor medical evaluations, a lack of information about the gang Bulger once led, and the fact that both prison staff and inmates were looking forward to his arrival. A report from a Justice Department watchdog that came out on Wednesday says that the prisoners even made bets on how long Bulger would live.
After prison officials tried for eight months to move the 89-year-old mob boss, he was killed at a federal prison in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, in October 2018. Upon his release into the general population, he was allegedly beaten several times by other inmates, including an apparent member of a New York crime family.
The Justice Department inspector general’s report, which came out on Wednesday, doesn’t directly look into Bulger’s alleged murder. Three suspects are going to trial later this month, but the report does show a damaging and “deeply troubling” process that led up to the killing. Even though the investigation didn’t find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing or bad intentions on the part of prison employees, the results have been sent to the Bureau of Prisons, and the actions of at least six officials have been sent to BOP for whatever action BOP thinks is right.
Bulger was one of the most-wanted criminals in the U.S. for many years. He was finally caught in 2011. He was found guilty of 11 murders and other crimes in 2013. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. In the 1970s and 1980s, the former mob boss and well-known FBI informant were accused of killing several people, extortion, money laundering, and weapons crimes.
In 2018, Bulger was in Florida’s U.S. Penitentiary Coleman when he was accused of threatening a nurse. This led prison officials to put him in solitary confinement and start the process of moving him to Hazelton, which required them to downgrade his medical status to meet the requirements of Hazelton.
The report says that Bureau of Prison officials did not “accurately represent” Bulger’s serious health problems, which included a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, and “contravened” the advice of a BOP medical director based on Bulger’s medical record. The report says that they “played down Bulger’s cardiac incidents” and said that his chest pains were caused by his anxiety.
After three failed requests, these decisions made it possible for Bulger to be moved to Hazelton. The report says this shows that the staff was confused, which was caused by “inconsistencies” between written procedures and practices. The “flawed” medical guidelines were one of many things that led the inspector general to give the Bureau of Prisons 11 suggestions (BOP).
The report also points out a big intelligence hole in the way the BOP handled Bulger’s transfer: the Winter Hill Gang, which he was known to lead for years, was not on the BOP’s “Security Threat Group Roster” as an organized crime group.
Even though Bulger has been in trouble with the law for a long time and is known for it, the report says that one official told them “there was no information in BOP’s databases that showed Bulger was a gang member or a law enforcement cooperator.”
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Since the Winter Hill Gang wasn’t on the list, “there was no reason to think that Bulger couldn’t be put at Hazelton,” said the report.
Bulger’s long stay in Coleman’s single housing unit made him say he had “lost the will to live.” According to the watchdog, this may have been one reason he wanted to be put with the men who are accused of killing him in the general population of the new facility. According to the report, Bulger himself asked to be put in the general population of the prison without any extra security. Prison officials agreed to what they called his “adamant” request.
The report says that inmates and more than 100 Bureau of Prison staff knew that Bulger would be coming to Hazelton in October 2018. It is said that prisoners probably found out about the mob boss’ transfer by overhearing prison staff talking about it. On October 29, right before Whitey Bulger was brought into the housing unit, an inmate wrote in an ongoing email, “If I don’t call you tomorrow, we’ll be locked up for probably 30 days because we heard Whitey Bulger is coming to the yard tonight. You remember him as the big Boston.” The Irish mob boss who was just caught a few years ago, well, he’s been a government witness for 20 years, so you already know…”
The office of the inspector general talked to a prisoner who said that “the whole prison” knew Bulger was going to Hazelton and that “both the inmates and the staff were guessing” about how long Bulger would live in Hazelton. According to the inmate, these talks happened because they knew that a lot of people in Bulger’s prison were part of the Genovese Crime family. The inmate went on to tell investigators that other inmates yelled “rat” after Bulger arrived, which was a reference to Bulger’s time as an FBI informant.
But it didn’t seem like only the prisoners was interested in Bulger’s coming. The report says that Bulger’s unit manager in Hazelton, who is only known as “Unit Manager 2,” volunteered to be in charge of the well-known crime boss because Bulger was “widely known.” The OIG’s interviews showed that some unit managers had more experience with high-profile inmates than others, and the Unit Manager said he was the best person to handle Bulger’s imprisonment.
Fotios “Freddy” Geas, Paul “Pauly” DeCologero, and Sean McKinnon were charged with conspiring to kill Bulger in August. They are accused of hitting Bulger multiple times in the head, which killed him. It is said that Geas and DeCologero beat the old crime boss while McKinnon kept watching in the federal facility. Bulger was found in his cell not moving.
Geas was allegedly a member of the Genovese organized crime family in New York, according to the report. However, prison officials told investigators that at the time of Bulger’s transfer, there was no evidence that he was a threat.
According to court transcripts read by the Associated Press, prosecutors say that McKinnon told his mother on the phone shortly before Bulger came to USP Hazelton in October 2018 that inmates were getting ready for the arrival of a “higher profile person.” Prosecutors say that when McKinnon told her it was Bulger, she told him to stay away from the gangster. This is another sign that the prisoners knew the notorious criminal was going to join them.
Investigators also say that McKinnon lied to them. All have said they are innocent.
In response to the inspector general’s report, the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that it has “begun a number of improvements to its medical transfer system, including better communication between employees involved in the process, multiple pieces of training for personnel, and technological improvements.”
BOP said that it does not give out information about staff investigations or possible punishments.
In a statement, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, “The fact that these serious problems happened with a well-known prisoner like Bulger was especially troubling since the BOP would probably handle the case of such a prisoner with extra care. We think that no BOP inmate’s transfer, whether they are a dangerous criminal or not, should be handled the way Bulger’s was in this case.
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