And how did he know Bulger and Flemmi knew?
By Monday morning, Aug. 4, 1980, it was war. The ranking State Police officer, Lt. Col. John O'Donovan, was on the phone complaining about the leak to the head of the FBI's Boston office. The state police and FBI office were already accustomed to tangling over glory and credit for fighting crime in Massachusetts, but this kind of accusation marked a nadir of a strained relationship.
Faced with the angry fingerpointing, law enforcement did what it always does -- it held a meeting. The summit at a Ramada Inn in Boston convened four days after Morris's party blunder. Attending was a Who's Who of Law and Order: O'Donovan and Long from the State Police, county prosecutors, Boston police officials, an FBI official, and Jeremiah T. O'Sullivan.
O'Donovan presented the State Police's grievances. Looking around the room, he spiced his indignation with a small bluffing game. He claimed their bug had been "extremely productive" until it was tipped. And he said they knew Bulger and Flemmi were informants. Of course, the State Police had no solid proof that Bulger and Flemmi were FBI snitches. But O'Donovan had a strong hunch about Bulger's possible ties to the FBI, going back an encounter he'd had with the gangster a couple of years earlier. O'Donovan recalled going to see Bulger at Marshall Motors. The issue was a threat against a state trooper from one of Bulger's associates in the Winter Hill Gang. Packing two guns, O'Donovan stopped by the garage to convince Bulger that any move against a trooper was a stupid idea. Bulger quickly assured the lieutenant colonel that nothing would come of the hot-headed rhetoric. Then the two chatted sociably about life along the law enforcement landscape, with one thing leading to another, and finally to the FBI. O'Donovan mentioned he preferred the older agents in the Boston office to the younger ones, saying newer agents like John Morris were too inexperienced in the ways of Boston. He made it clear he was not impressed by Morris and other young turks.
About two weeks later, O'Donovan took a call from a fuming John Morris who wanted to know: Why was O'Donovan badmouthing the FBI with Whitey Bulger? O'Donovan was brought up short, and concluded that either the FBI had a bug planted inside Marshall Motors or that Bulger was an FBI informant.
Morris' indiscreet call only compounded O'Donovan's mistrust for the FBI supervisor. O'Donovan saw the agent as a schemer who maneuvered behind a friendly demeanor. Another time, he'd passed along a State Police tip to Morris about a fugitive on the "Ten Most Wanted List." The same day, Morris and several agents raced to capture the terrorist bomber. There was no joint arrest. Just an FBI press conference. O'Donovan and his troopers were forgotten on the sidelines.
But none of this was proof of skullduggery. It was just troubling background that an experienced policeman never forgot. And at the Ramada, O'Donovan didn't get into this kind of history. Nor did he or Sgt. Long disclose that the troopers, despite the setback at the Lancaster Street Garage, were planning to take another run at Bulger and Flemmi later in August. Instead, O'Donovan focussed on recapping the debacle at the garage, climaxed by his conviction that the FBI had compromised the bug. Between the lines, the topic on the roundtable was nothing short of accusing FBI agents of a crime: obstruction of justice.
But the FBI did not flinch. It was their kind of game. Its representative, an agent named Weldon L. Kennedy, one of the assistant supervisors in Boston, listened politely to O'Donovan of the State Police. Once O'Donovan was done, Kennedy had little to say.
We'll get back to you, he finally offered. But that was it.
Copyright 2000, Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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