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Ex-FBI agent faces tough questions in Bulger trial

whitey_bulger.jpg

This June 23, 2011 booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger, captured in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run. Bulger's trial began Wednesday, June 12, 2013 in federal court in Boston, where he is charged with playing a role in 19 killings during the 70s and 80s while allegedly the boss of the Winter Hill Gang.AP/ U.S. Marshals Service

Former FBI Agent John Morris appeared sheepish when he admitted under questioning from a prosecutor that he accepted $7,000 in cash and two cases of wine from James "Whitey" Bulger at a time when authorities say Bulger was both a feared gangster and a prized FBI informant.

His embarrassment is likely to deepen when he is cross-examined by Bulger's lawyer.

Morris began testifying Thursday in Bulger's racketeering trial. Bulger attorney Hank Brennan began his cross-examination late in the day, so Morris was certain to face more questions Friday.

Bulger, 83, is charged with playing a role in 19 killings during the 1970s and `80s while allegedly leading the Winter Hill Gang.

Bulger stared intently at Morris as he testified. At one point, he called Morris "a (expletive) liar under his breath, according to prosecutor Brian Kelly, who complained to Judge Denise Casper and asked her to admonish Bulger. The judge instructed Bulger to let his lawyers speak for him.

Morris said he helped protect Bulger and his partner, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, from prosecution at the request of former FBI Agent John Connolly, their handler at the agency. Morris, who was Connolly's supervisor, said he recommended excluding them from a 1978 race-fixing indictment because of their value as informants on the Italian Mafia. Morris said he spoke with the prosecutor on the case, and neither Bulger nor Flemmi were indicted.

Bulger vehemently denies being an informant. Through his lawyers, he has insisted that he paid FBI agents to tip him off about investigations and indictments, but not provide the agency with information about other criminals.

Bulger's lawyers contend that Connolly fabricated many of the reports in Bulger's 700-page informant file to cover up his own wrongdoing. Connolly was later convicted of racketeering and second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger and his gang members to protect them.

Morris recalled asking Connolly -- who he described as his "best friend" -- what Bulger and Flemmi wanted from the FBI.

"He said, 'a head start,"' Morris testified.

He said Bulger and Flemmi wanted to be tipped off if they were about to be arrested so they could get away.

Connolly was convicted of doing just that: tipping off Bulger to an indictment, prompting him to flee Boston in 1994. Bulger was one of the nation's most wanted fugitives until he was finally captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.

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