BOSTON – Notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger told agents who arrested him last week that he returned to Boston in disguise and "armed to the teeth" several times during his 16 years on the run, prosecutors said Monday.
The revelations about Bulger's description of life on the lam were included in a memo filed Monday by federal prosecutors who are objecting to Bulger's request for a taxpayer-funded attorney.
Bulger, 81, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang who is charged in connection with 19 murders, was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., last week, after spending years on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Bulger, who was also a top-echelon FBI informant, fled Boston after he was tipped by his former FBI handler that he was about to be indicted.
Bulger, while being brought back to Boston by federal agents, waived his Miranda rights and "admitted that he had been a frequent traveler as a fugitive," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Kelly and Fred Wyshak Jr. said in their memo.
They said Bulger admitted traveling to Boston several times "armed to the teeth" because he "had to take care of some unfinished business."
"Bulger refused to elaborate on whom he visited, when exactly he visited, and who was with him on these trips to Boston," Kelly and Wyshak wrote.
"While Bulger also admitted that he had previously stashed money with people he trusted, he did not identify anyone who might be currently hiding his assets."
Bulger also said he visited Las Vegas to play the slots on numerous occasions and "claimed he won more than he lost." He also said he traveled to San Diego, then crossed the Mexican border into Tijuana to buy medications, according to the memo.
"The foregoing facts are of course significant because they indicate Bulger may have additional assets and/or allies willing to assist him in his current predicament," Kelley and Wyshak wrote in the memo.
The prosecutors also said Bulger told the U.S. Pretrial Services office in Los Angeles that his brother, former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger, may be willing to help post bail for Catherine Greig, Bulger's longtime girlfriend who was arrested with him after the couple was found in California. Greig is charged with harboring a fugitive.
"Of course, if that is true, William Bulger might also be willing to pay for an attorney to represent his brother, James Bulger," prosecutors say in their memo.
William Bulger could not immediately be reached for comment. Messages were left with his attorney, Thomas R. Kiley, and a spokesperson.
Kelly and Wyshak said the court should require an affidavit from William Bulger and another Bulger brother, John, before deciding whether Whitey Bulger is entitled to a public defender.
Peter Krupp, an attorney who represented Whitey Bulger at his initial appearance in court last week, said no one in Bulger's family has offered to help him pay for his defense.
"Mr. Bulger has not and will not request any members of his extended family to pay anything for his defense, nor can he control any family member's assets to pay anything for his defense," Krupp wrote in a memo arguing that Bulger does not have the money to pay for a private attorney.
"His family has not come forward to hire counsel, and there is no evidence to support the government's surmise that extended family members might be willing and able to hire counsel or make some contribution toward the cost of hiring counsel," Krupp wrote.
In their memo, prosecutors say that during his 16 years on the run, Bulger "financed a relatively comfortable lifestyle" for himself and Greig. After he was arrested, agents found $822,198 in cash in his apartment, much of it in packages containing $100 bills that were hidden inside a wall, prosecutors said.
Kelly said in court last week that prosecutors plan to seek forfeiture of the money. Money that is earned illegally is subject to forfeiture to the government.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf will hold a hearing Tuesday on Bulger's request for a public defender.
In an order issued Sunday, Wolf urged prosecutors and Krupp to try to reach an agreement on the issue. In his order, Wolf said the determination of whether a defendant is entitled to a public defender is made on the basis of income and assets available to the defendant.
"Assets that have been seized or restrained pending possible forfeiture are not considered to be available to retain counsel," Wolf wrote.
A lawyer for one of Bulger's victims won a lien on the cash found in Bulger's apartment, which means the money will be frozen for now. U.S. District Court Judge William Young issued the order Friday.
A judge will decide later whether the victim, Julie Dammers, or the government will get the money, said Boston attorney Anthony Cardinale, who represents Dammers.
Dammers and her ex-husband, Stephen Rakes, say they were forced at gunpoint to sell their liquor store to Bulger. The lien was requested by Dammers and the bankruptcy trustee for Rakes.
Cardinale said the money should be used to help pay off an unpaid civil judgment Rakes and her ex-husband received. The 2005 judgment, including interest, is now up to about $31.5 million, Cardinale said.
Bulger's girlfriend, who originally asked for a public defender, withdrew that request and hired Kevin Reddington, a high-profile criminal defense lawyer from Brockton. Greig, who is charged with harboring a fugitive, has a detention hearing scheduled in court Thursday.