on May 30, 2000
At first it seems like pure fiction: One of Boston's most notorious mobsters, who also happens to be the brother of one of Massachusetts' most powerful politicians, spends more than a decade as a secret informant for the FBI. And, using his informant status as a shield, he grows his criminal empire and commits just about every crime on the books, including murder. As incredible as it sounds, it's all true and it's all here, and it's better than fiction. This is a powerfully written narrative by two prize-winning investigative reporters who covered the story and revealed some of its most dramatic elements. By combining their powerful reporting skills with rich writing flair, Lehr and O'Neill bring readers into the heart of darkness. They show how a relationship that began among children in the housing projects of South Boston evolved into a corrupt deal among dangerous adults that ultimately humiliated the nation's top law-enforcement agency and extended the reign of some of the very mobsters the FBI was supposed to eradicate. The book moves seamlessly from the streets and storerooms of Boston, to the corridors of political power, to the ornate federal courthouse where the deal comes crashing down.
on January 4, 2002
"Black Mass" is the chilling account of how two killers from South Boston were able to manipulate the FBI for a period of decades. James"Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi were legendary wiseguys in Boston during the 1970s. John Connolly a childhood acquaintance of Bulger's who made good and joined the Boston FBI. When Connolly hooked up with the tough guy from his old neighborhood things began to go awry.
Connolly was awed by his friendship with Bulger and used his contact in the underworld as proof of his prowess as an agent. For their part Bulger and Flemmi were able to pass along innocuous mob gossip to the Feds in exchange for protection form local law enforcement. Carefully placed tidbits of information helped the FBI to arrest enemies of the Bulger gang. With each arrest Whitey and Flemmi were able to expand their own power base. Those people who complained to the police were inevitably redirected to the FBI. Once the bureau had its hands on a case, the stonewalling began. This was a cycle that continued from the late 60s up until the mid 90s. During this period the `invaluable informants' provided little of substance to their `handlers'. However the agents were able to cook the reports and win commendations and promotions for themselves. At the same time, over a dozen murders are directly attributed to the pair.
If there is honor among thieves you can't prove it from this book. "Black Mass" is a shocking story of deceit and corruption within Boston law enforcement, politics and organized crime. It is almost impossible to describe the level of hubris on the part of the crooks who were protected by the FBI and those very agents who cosseted the killers in order to advance their own careers. If they are lucky, the crooks end up behind bars, but many meet their fate in the trunk of a car.
No small part of this seems to flow from good old-fashioned insularity, the "Us vs. Them" mentality so prevalent in South Boston. The area was still reeling throughout the 1970s from the forced bussing earlier in the decade. To many Bulger, was a mythic Robin Hood figure. He might be a crook but he was Southie's crook and a damned good one at that. With a cunning that allowed him to outwit the police at every turn, it was a blow for hometown pride that the Italian Mafia was failing while the Irish mob was waxing in power. This was the myth that the Bulger gang worked to promote while at the same time Whitey was murdering and extorting from the citizens of his old neighborhood. His cunning ability to outwit the police boiled down to being an informant for the FBI and his concern for the streets he grew up on is evident by how he promoted the use of drugs to the people in Southie.
This account is a sad story of how the best intentions (Like the FBI informant program) can have the worst results.
on May 31, 2000
This book rips the door off its hinges on the back-room deals struck by the FBI's John Connolly and Whitey Bulger. The great lengths that Connolly went to cover Whitey's track will make your stomach turn. The writers capture that sense, back it up with hard evidence, and invite the reader into that dark place where the line between good and evil merge.
O'Neill and Lehr have beaten everyone to the punch on a story that has never been told and will shock the senses. Black Mass is destined for greatness and is a book that was made for the big screen.
on November 26, 2000
Here is a fascinating topic of recent interest which the authors seem to have spent a lot of time researching. Unfortunately, one gets the feeling they did not spend much time writing it.
It is always difficult for multiple authors to write a cohesive narrative. In this case, the reader sometimes feels (s)he is talking to a forgetful party guest who keeps telling the same joke or story. The same incident is brought up several times as though it were the first, probably a result of duplicated effort among the authors combined with poor editing. Likely the publisher was in a hurry to get the book out while the topic was still current.
Some of the writing is just plain silly. "Bulger was the head on Connolly's glass of beer." Even if that means something -- and I will never be convinced of that -- it does not contribute to my understanding of the case.
The Bulger/Flemmi case could be the basis for a really great book, and I hope someday it will be. This is just a Boston Globe story that is much too long.
on September 6, 2002
The plot of "Black Mass" revolves around a fateful decision by the Boston FBI concerning the so-called Irish Mafia of South Boston and its infamous boss-the notorious James "Whitey" Bulger. The FBI was so eager to break up the local Italian Mafia that, for years it used Whitey as a confidential informant. Was there a payback? There certainly was: Whitey was allowed to run his bookmaking, loan sharking, shake downs and other criminal activities without serious interference from law enforcement. Were there "complications"? There certainly were: Apart from obvious slippery morality behind the FBI operation, certain local agents get "slightly too cozy" with Whitey and his right hand man, Stevie "The Rifleman" Flemmi. There is a great nickname! I won't divulge what happens but suffice it to say that a sharp eyed-or was it sharp eared? -Defense attorney unravels the deal. Is justice ultimately done? The reader will just have to find out by him or herself! Fair warning: the epilogue fails to tie up all loose ends. BM reads as if it were two stories. The early going is uneven, choppy and routine. Then BM finds its' stride and develops into fine true crime reading. Perhaps that was due to dual authorship or dual editing. The end result is ultimately satisfying. BM is an excellent example of the dangers of good intentions (stopping the Italian Mafia) unraveling into a its' own sinister crisis and creating its' own maelstrom of crime. BM is a 5 star work, but with one star subtracted for the weaker early stages. Boston residents can quite easily add back the 5th star. True crime devotees living in eastern Massachusetts should love this one.
on July 10, 2000
This book is a good intro but leaves out any detail about the agents involved or the prosecutors.It does not address early concerns in the case,such as how the FBI is alleged to be involved with such things as pornography as well.It also treats this case as an anomaly, but as Congressman James Trafficante of Ohio noted on the news show "Nightline", FBI agents have been alleged to have a similar arrangement there in Ohio. It seems as if the real 'Mafia' is actually a conglomeration of gangsters and govt employees from many branches of govt ,and not just the FBI.Once into this network, you have the protection of being the police while the underground connections for cleverly concealing your activities.
on June 19, 2004
Written by two veteran Boston reporters, "Black Mass" is a story of crime and corruption that turns into a gripping tale of good intentions gone awry. Taking place on the mean streets of South Boston, a mere twenty miles or so from where I've lived my whole life, this book tells of a violent intersection of cultures: the tribal culture of Irish America, the often-closed culture of the Federal Bureau of investigation, and the violent culture of organized crime. And unfortunately, it's all true. At bottom, "Black Mass" presents a haze of divided allegiances and moral ambiguity, that may well shake your faith in our government-appointed protectors.
Looming large over the whole story is the imposing figure of James J. Bulger Jr., or "Whitey Buljah" as he is more commonly known around these parts. Long before the Bloods and Crips were household names, Bulger emerged from a culture where street gangs were omnipresent and career options for adults were mostly restricted to the Armed services, politics, factory and police work, or crime. Unfortunately, Whitey Bulger never quite outgrew the gang culture of his youth, and he proved exceedingly skilled at the crime profession. As intelligent as he was soulless, Bulger graduated from street enforcer to bank robber (with a stint in Alactraz along the way) to organized crime kingpin with his hand in all things illegal as the head of the vicious Winter Hill Gang. Along for the ride was the aptly nicknamed Stevie "The Rifleman" Flemmi, a barbaric killer whose Mafia connections made him a perfect stoolie in the Boston FBI's war against the Mafia.
It was in 1975 against the backdrop of the FBI's battle with La Cosa Nostra that FBI agent John Connolly, who emerged from the same projects as Bulger, crafted a plan to bring Whitey and Flemmi into the Bureau's fold as informants. It sounded like a sweet deal for all those concerned: Bulger and Flemmi got to take out the Winter Hill Gang's competition, and the FBI got a well-placed ally in its effort to bring down Boston's ruling Angiulo family. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. The FBI did manage to bring down the Angiulos, due largely to its now-legendary wiretapping operation at Gennaro Angiulo's headquarters, but Bulger and Flemmi remained connected to the FBI long after they had outlived their usefulness. In fact, as this book makes clear, the two gangsters greatly enlarged their stature in Boston's underworld during the 1980's, and they did it with the full knowledge and even collaboration of the FBI.
As O'Neill and Lehr explain, the shared South Boston origins of Bulger and Connolly, which seemed like such an asset back in 1975 when Connolly was recruiting Whitey, ultimately became a liability. Coming from a tight-knit, tribal culture like Southie, Connolly couldn't exactly be counted on to maintain his objectivity in dealing with Bulger, whom he even came to refer to as a "good bad guy." An even deeper problem, though, was John Connolly himself: a smooth-talking lady's man who liked the high life a bit too much, Connolly eventually became virtually indistinguishable from his prized informants. Hanging out with Bulger and Flemmi and accepting their gifts, Connolly didn't just look the other way while Bulger, Flemmi & Co. enlarged their empire and the bodies piled up; he was an active assistant in their operation. Although they were frequently pursued by the Massachusetts State Police, local detectives, and even the DEA, the two gangsters were virtually untouchable.
Perhaps even worse, O'Neill and Lehr make it clear that the FBI's mishandling of its two prized informants went beyond John Connolly's corruption to encompass a massive institutional failure. With Connolly corrupted and a series of supervisors compromised, the Bureau's guidelines for oversight of informants became essentially null and void. Falsified reports that exaggerated Bulger and Flemmi's usefulness while understating their criminal activities became the norm, and even those in other law enforcement agencies who suspected something amiss had their efforts blocked. One painful lesson to be drawn from this book is that the law is only as strong as those who enforce it. When those charged with stopping crime drift to the other side, where do we turn then?
on July 13, 2000
This work is quite interesting but one thing i am concerned about is that there has not been hard proof that Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi actually performed any murders or organized them. Much of the case against Bulger and Flemmi seem to stem from testimony by persons trying to get out of serious culpability for what transpired.Kevin Weeks for example, who was groomed by Bulger and now is looking at serious prison time is cooperating with federal authorities in laying all the blame at Bulger and Flemmi's feet.We don't know right now who is actually responsible for what and it may be premature to pass judgement on Connolly,Bulger and Flemmi until all the facts,if ever,are in.
on May 3, 2001
There is an individual who may have ties to this case Burton and others may be unaware of. The person had some contact with individuals who were 'into Jai Alai' and lived in close proximity to where Salvati and Limone and Salemme lived. This person has been conspicuously kept sequestered and Dan Burton et al might want to investigate further..information has been provided to America's Most Wanted.
H Paul Rico appeared before Congress but it seems odd that he would do this if he had anything to hide. The general public is not considering the possibility that perhaps he really did submit the lead from an informant on behalf of Salvati and Limone but it was mishandled higher up. Not withstanding the allegations against Rico, it is sad to see a former star FBI agent lacking ANY support from his peers. Current and future FBI agents at this very moment might be making decisions that will land them too in the position Rico and Connolly are in.
A concern in this case is that much information has been lost,witnesses are dead and security restrictions in place that may bar Rico and others from fully disclosing the particulars.
Another curious item is that the FBI has not established its own anonymous lead source.
Former Governor Paul Cellucci is responsible for releasing Salvati.