WASHINGTON – House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton is on a mission to uncover FBI abuses during its investigation of organized crime in Boston between the 1960s and 1980s.
So far, he is on a roll.
Burton first heard last year from Joe Salvati, who was thrown in prison in 1967 for a 1965 murder he didn't commit. He was released in 1997 after his lawyer uncovered documents that showed FBI agents chose to prosecute Salvati, who had been named by an informant to whom Salvati owed money. That informant turned out to be a murderous mobster.
Burton recently uncovered new information about measures FBI field agents took to protect informants known to be hit men and mob bosses. Among that information are memos that indicate that the very top of the FBI food chain — former FBI Directors J. Edgar Hoover, William Webster and William Sessions — all knew that field agents were protecting murderers and actually gave their blessing.
It angered Burton so much that he has introduced legislation to get Hoover's name off the FBI headquarters building in Washington.
Now Burton is now turning his sights on the president of the University of Massachusetts, William Bulger.
Bulger, 68, is the former president of the state Senate. He is also the brother of 73-year-old James "Whitey" Bulger, an alleged mobster who headed the Winter Hill Gang and was an informant for the FBI.
Whitey Bulger has been in hiding since 1995 when a Boston FBI field agent tipped him off that the Massachusetts state police and federal drug agents had built a racketeering case against him, his lieutenant Stephen J. "The Rifleman" Flemmi and five others. Flemmi and the others were all arrested.
Flemmi's admission to the court that he was being protected by the FBI first generated interest in the bureau's willingness to protect mobsters in exchange for information. Flemmi is currently serving out a 10-year prison sentence and is awaiting trial on other charges.
Since his disappearance, Whitey Bulger has been indicted on additional charges related to 18 murders committed by the Winter Hill Gang, and he is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.
William Bulger was asked last week to testify before a congressional committee about his fugitive brother. His lawyer Thomas Kiley refused the request, saying Bulger would not testify voluntarily at a field hearing in Boston scheduled for last Friday.
So Burton ordered a congressional subpoena, according to the committee's chief lawyer Jim Wilson, "because Mr. Kiley was so emphatic in his message that Mr. Bulger will not appear.''
The committee delivered the subpoena to the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington Monday morning. The service's Boston office will deliver the subpoena to Bulger, whose office is in Boston. On Tuesday, Bulger is scheduled to visit the university's flagship campus in Amherst, Mass., about 95 miles west of Boston.
"It has Mr. Bulger's name on it,'' said Nick Mutton, a committee spokesman. "It will be served directly to Mr. Bulger."
Kiley may still try to have the subpoena quashed or take other action to try and prevent Bulger's testimony. But if that doesn't come to pass, and if Bulger fails to show up, he could face his own jail time.
Bulger could likely be asked about his own influence with law enforcement while his brother was an informant between 1965 and the late 1980s.
Only one retired FBI agent out of a dozen has been convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice. At John Connolly's trial earlier this year, confessed hit man Joseph Martorano testified that William Bulger asked the FBI to protect his brother.
Martorano testified that when Connolly asked William Bulger what he could do for him, the reply was: "Just keep my brother out of trouble.''
Bulger has denied that claim.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.