Watchdog finds prison failures before Whitey Bulger killing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The beating of notorious gangster James White Bulger In the hands of other inmates, it was the result of multiple levels of management failure, widespread incompetence and flawed policies within the Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department inspector general’s report said. Wednesday.

At least six office workers should be disciplined, a watchdog has concluded after a years-long investigation into how the 89-year-old was killed in his cell. hours after an FBI informant arrived at a troubled West Virginia prison.

The inspector general found no evidence of “malicious intent” by bureau officials, but said a series of bureaucratic errors left Bulger behind bars at the mercy of rival gangsters. The report found no evidence of federal criminal wrongdoing, focusing instead on prison policies and operations.

Bureau officials tried several times to downgrade Bulger’s medical status to move him to other prisons after he caused trouble in Florida, despite using a wheelchair and having a serious heart condition.

News of Bulger’s transfer to West Virginia’s USP Hazelton was widely circulated by agency officials and spread quickly among inmates before his arrival. Bureau officials ignored or were unaware of Bulger’s notoriety when handling his transfer, despite his well-known history as an FBI asset.

“In our view, no transfer of BOP inmates, whether a notorious offender or a non-violent offender, should be handled the way Bulger’s transfer was in this case,” the report said.

It is the latest black eye for the bureau, which has come under increasing scrutiny from Congress and the public following the deaths of several high-profile inmates, including Bulger and wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who died in custody in 2019.

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Associated Press investigation has revealed numerous crises at the agency, including widespread employee misconduct, rampant allegations of sexual abuse and severe staffing shortages that have hampered emergency response.

Since Bulger’s death, prison officials have improved communication about medical transfers and improved training and technology, the agency said in a statement responding to the report. The office said it could take further action, but did not comment on whether any of the employees had been disciplined.

Bulger was played by Johnny Depp in 2015’s Black Mass and was the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s ruthless crime boss in 2006’s The Departed. Bulger ran a mostly Irish mob that ran loan sharking, gambling and drug rackets. He worked as an FBI informant providing information on the New England mob at a time when fighting organized crime was the FBI’s top national priority.

He fled Boston in late 1994 after being tipped off by the FBI, and spent 16 years as one of America’s most wanted men before being captured at age 81 in Santa Monica, California. In 2013, he was convicted of 11 murders, as well as extortion and money laundering.

After his killing, experts widely criticized Bulger’s move to Hazelton, where workers had already raised concerns about violence and understaffing, as well as being placed among residents rather than more protective housing.

More than 100 Bureau of Prisons officials learned in advance that Bulger would be moving to Hazelton, and prison officials openly discussed the move in front of inmates, the inspector general’s report said. So many prison officials knew that it was impossible for the inspector general to determine who disclosed it to inmates, the report said.

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Several inmates told bureau officials they all knew Bulger was going to be killed, the report said. One inmate said: “He was a rat. What do you think would happen to him?” Another said: “I heard he was a well-known government informant. … It seems he shouldn’t have walked around the yard. He wouldn’t be good anywhere.”

There was no formal process for deciding which unit to house prisoners at Hazelton. One case manager told investigators they were “just picking them off the bus as usual,” the report said. In Bulger’s case, the head of the unit volunteered to take him in, believing his team was best equipped to deal with a high-profile inmate, even though the unit housed at least one other inmate with ties to organized crime.

In a lawsuit against the former director of the Bureau of Prisons and others, Bulger’s family accused prison officials of failing to protect Bulger, even though they were well aware that he had been called a “snowball.” The lawsuit said the penitentiary, nicknamed “Misery Mountain,” was such an inappropriate place to send Bulger that it appeared he had been “deliberately sent to his death.” A judge dismissed the case in January, ruling that federal law prevented the family from suing the decision to move Bulger to West Virginia.

The Ministry of Justice brought charges of murder only this yearalmost four years lateralthough officials had immediately identified the suspects.

Former mob hit man Photios “Freddy” Geass and Massachusetts mobster Paul J. DeCollero are accused of repeatedly punching Bulger in the head while a third man, Sean McKinnon, acted as a lookout. An inmate witness told authorities that DeCologero said he and Geas used a belt with a lock attached to it to beat Bulger to death, prosecutors say.

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They are charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder. They could face up to life in prison if convicted under a revised indictment filed Wednesday, which carries a stiffer possible sentence. They have pleaded guilty and McKinnon has denied any involvement in the murder.

According to the watchdog report, Bulger’s medical and psychological health deteriorated after he was held in solitary confinement in Florida for eight months — convicted of threatening a nurse — and prison officials struggled to figure out how to move him. Bulger told prison officials “he had lost the will to live,” which may have been a factor in his insistence that he wanted to be housed with other inmates in West Virginia rather than in a more secure unit.

Bulger never admitted to working with the FBI, although evidence presented at his trial showed that Bulger secretly provided information on various criminals. Court documents released in his family’s civil case showed officers interviewed him after he arrived in Hazelton. An intake screening form signed by Bulger said he answered “no” when asked if he had ever assisted law enforcement in any way and if he knew of any reason he should not be placed in the general population.

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Richer reported from Boston.

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