News Column

Bulger Enforcer Says Jai Alai Murders Worried Boss

July 8, 2013

James "Whitey" Bulger's right hand man said Monday that the crime boss once confided to him that their gang's attempt to penetrate the jai alai industry -- and the string of cover-up murders that followed -- would likely be his undoing.

Kevin Weeks, a beefy strong arm man and Bulger protege, testified at Bulger's racketeering trial Monday that the crime boss revealed his concern in the spring of 1982 -- after the second and third jai alai related murders and just days before what would become the fourth and final murder.

Weeks, testifying under a grant of immunity, said he watched Bulger pull the trigger personally on murders two and three.

Weeks said Bulger, disguised by a wig and a floppy, glue-on mustache, tore across the South Boston waterfront on May 11, 1982 in a "souped-up" car modified to evade pursuit by putting down a smoke screen and oil slick. Outside The Pier restaurant, he said, Bulger pointed a machinegun out the window and cut down a disaffected gang member named Edward Brian Halloran. Also killed was Michael Donahue, a bystander whose misfortune was to have offered Halloran a ride home.

Over the following days, Weeks said Bulger and his partners were planning what would become the final jai alai murder, that of former World Jai Alai president John B. Callahan, when Bulger disclosed, in an apparent burst of frustration, that he had been against the jai alai take over from the beginning.

Weeks said Bulger claimed to have known all along that the jai alai plan would end badly because it necessarily had to begin with the murder of Roger Wheeler, the rich and influential Tulsa, Okla. industrialist who had just bought World Jai Alai, a major player in the U.S. pari-mutuel industry.

"(Bulger) said he didn't want anything to do with it," Weeks said. "He said this guy is politically connected and he would never survive it."

Bulger's misgiving would prove prescient, if he was truthful with Weeks. Two of Bulger's partners in the Winer Hill gang, testifying earlier in his trial or in a related case, had different recollections. They said they did not have to drag Bulger into the Wheeler murder. They said he agreed after learning how much money jai alai could produce for the gang..

Bulger partners Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and gang hitman John Martorano said the Wheeler murder was proposed by Callahan, a gang associate who also was a former World Jai Alai president. If Wheeler were out of the way, Callahan said he could resume control of the company. If he did, he promised the gang $10,000 or more a week, Flemmi and Martorano said.

Weeks said Bulger was having second thoughts a year after Martorano shot Wheeler in the face outside his Tulsa country club.

Halloran had just been gunned down. Weeks said Bulger told him he had learned from a corrupt FBI agent that Halloran had approached the FBI and offered to implicate the Winter Hill Gang in Wheeler's death. Weeks said Bulger and others in the gang began almost immediately afterward to arrange Callahan's murder in Florida, after learning from the same agent that Callahan was being sought for questioning.

The killings of Halloran and Callahan slowed the jai alai investigation, particular in Boston where Bulger and Flemmi are accused of paying corrupt law enforcement officers for information about investigations involving them. But Wheeler and World Jai Alai had interests in Connecticut and Florida, as well as Oklahoma -- and detectives in those states continued to pursue the murder of a legitimate businessman who taught Sunday school at his church.

Bulger was suspected of involvement in what were for the most part killings of other, relatively obscure gangsters until Wheeler was shot to death.

One of his lawyers, J.W. Carney Jr. recognized that pattern last month in his opening statement to jurors. Carney, referring specifically to jai alai murders in Florida and Oklahoma, said Bulger is too smart to have risk massive law enforcement pressure by killing Wheeler.

The broad racketeering indictment on which Bulger is being tried accuses him of involvement in 19 murders, including those of Wheeler, Halloran, Donahue and Callahan.

Regardless of the outcome of his trial here, Bulger, 83, faces trial and possible death penalties in Oklahoma and Florida for the Wheeler and Callahan murders.


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