KINGSTON, R.I. – December 28, 2011 – When Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Fitzpatrick went to the bureau’s Boston office in 1980, he wasted no time setting up a meeting with bureau informant James “Whitey” Bulger.
Despite being told by fellow FBI agents that “Bulger was a great guy” and that “you’ll love him,” Fitzpatrick had heard too many stories about FBI corruption in dealing with Bulger and the mobster’s alleged links to numerous murders.
As he recently told an audience of students, faculty and community members at the University of Rhode Island’s Forensic Science Seminar, he was ordered to clean up the Boston operation and he decided to dig into its relationship with Bulger.
After 16 years on the run, Bulger was arrested in California in June 2011 and charged with 19 murders. Fitzpatrick captivated the audience with his tales of deceit, murder and the dangers of going after one of Boston’s most protected mobsters.
Fitzpatrick retired from the FBI after a long and distinguished career that also included investigations into the Ku Klux Klan bombings in Mississippi, the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and the ABSCAM bribery case that led to the arrest of several congressmen. Fitzpatrick detailed his Boston odyssey in a book co-authored with Jon Land, Betrayal, Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down.
Fitzpatrick’s reward for his excellent work was a promotion to assistant special agent in charge of the Boston office.
When he arrived in Boston, Fitzpatrick sat down with Massachusetts State Police Lt. Col. John R. O’Donovan, whom the agent had met while running a class at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. During the class, O’Donovan told him the Boston FBI office was corrupt. Fitzpatrick admitted he was leery of talking with him a second time.
“I was afraid of what he might tell me,” said Fitzpatrick. “He said the FBI office was not only doing nothing, but it was protecting Bulger.”
After going through numerous files on Bulger, including those from the Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Fitzpatrick “learned there were a whole bunch of bad things going on. My guys were telling me that the Mass. State Police were just jealous that we had such a good informant. I found out Bulger was being protected at all levels of the FBI. I had to find out whether we should keep protecting him.”
So with another agent, Fitzpatrick drove out to Bulger’s home. On the drive, the other agent told him “Bulger is a great guy.”
“When he (Bulger) answers the door, I put my paw out, but he doesn’t shake it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I go into the condo and everything is dark, but he is wearing sunglasses.”
Fitzpatrick, a trained profiler, said he became more uncomfortable because he couldn’t see Bulger’s eyes. “Part of profiling is looking at the guy and tuning into him.”
While FBI agents are trained to treat informants as “arms-length friends,” Fitzpatrick quickly came to the conclusion that Bulger was neither a friend nor a good guy.
“In the kitchen, he starts telling me what a tough guy he is, and that he was a (prison) enforcer in Alcatraz and Leavenworth,” said Fitzpatrick. “That’s great, but what are you doing for me (the FBI)?”
Bulger bristled at the question and then Fitzpatrick noticed another FBI agent in a dark portion of the room. “He’s not supposed to be there,” Fitzpatrick said. “The agent says, ‘Hi Bob,’ and then I see a smirk on Bulger’s face.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is that this is a setup, and I decide to leave,” Fitzpatrick said.
Walking back to the car to meet the agent waiting for him, Fitzpatrick made a decision. “I am going to close this guy down. I don’t like him. I don’t trust him.”
But just as he entered the car, the other agent said, “Isn’t he (Bulger) great?”
Seething, Fitzpatrick told the agent that he was going to shut Bulger down as an informant. The other agent told him he couldn’t.
From that first visit with Bulger, Fitzpatrick spent six years battling the Irish crime syndicate allegedly headed by Bulger and he also arrested a Mafia crime boss. But as he confronted dirty FBI agents, a culture that fought against embarrassing the FBI and the murder of mob informants, Fitzpatrick saw the end of his bureau career coming. He never did succeed in closing down Whitey Bulger.
However, 10 years after his quest began, The Boston Globe began an investigative series on FBI corruption and Bulger’s alleged role in the deaths of numerous informants. Fitzpatrick said “even then the bureau did not close him (Bulger).”
After leaving the FBI, Fitzpatrick became a private investigator, and ironically is now a senior expert for the bureau on the Bulger case, as well as profiling, abnormal criminal psychology, terrorism, hostage negotiation, cartel drug trafficking and organized crime.
Victoria Antonelli, an intern in the URI Department of Communications & Marketing and a junior journalism major, contributed to this story.