Federal Bureau of Investigation, File, Associated Press
BOSTON — Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger was captured near Los Angeles after 16 years on the run that embarrassed the FBI and exposed the bureau's corrupt relationship with its underworld informants.
After an international manhunt, the FBI finally caught the 81-year-old Bulger on Wednesday at an apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., along with longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig, just days after the government began circulating pictures of her on daytime TV in a new campaign to find the fugitive crime boss.
The arrest was based on a tip from the campaign, the FBI said without giving details.
FBI agents put the apartment under surveillance on Wednesday afternoon and, employing a ruse officials would not explain, lured Bulger out and arrested him without incident, authorities said. The couple were using the aliases Charles and Carol Gasko.
Bulger had a $2 million reward on his head and rose to No. 1 on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list after Osama bin Laden was killed.
A variety of guns and a large amount of cash were found in the apartment, the FBI said. Federal investigators declined to say how Bulger got enough money to live on.
"Although there are those who have doubted our resolve at times over the years, it has never wavered," said Richard DesLauriers, agent in the charge of the FBI's Boston office. "We followed every lead. We explored every possibility, and when those leads ran out, we did not sit back and wait for the phone to ring."
The model for the ruthless gangland boss played by Jack Nicholson in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie "The Departed," Bulger was wanted for 19 murders. One victim was shot between the eyes in a parking lot at his country club in Oklahoma. Another was gunned down in broad daylight on a South Boston street to prevent him from talking about the killing in Oklahoma. Others were taken out for running afoul of Bulger's gambling enterprises.
"He left a trail of bodies," said Tom Duffy, a retired state police major in Massachusetts. "You did not double-cross him. If you did, you were dead."
At the same time he was boss of the Winter Hill Gang, South Boston's murderous Irish mob, Bulger was an FBI informant, supplying information about the rival New England Mafia. But he fled in January 1995 when a retired agent tipped him off that he was about to be indicted.
That set off a major scandal at the FBI, which was found to have an overly cozy relationship with its underworld informants, protecting mob figures and allowing them to carry out their murderous business as long as they were supplying useful information.
A congressional committee, in a draft report issued in 2003, blasted the FBI for its use of Bulger and other criminals as informants, calling it "one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement."
Patricia Donahue, wife of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue, said she could not believe it when she heard the news.
"I actually never thought I would see this day. I thought the man was dead," she said. Her husband, a construction worker and truck driver, was killed in 1982 in a hit on an underworld figure who was cooperating with investigators. Donahue had given the target of the hit a ride home that day.
"I am very satisfied to know that the person pulled the trigger to end my husband's life is going to go to jail," said Donahue, 66.
Bulger lived on the third floor of the Princess Eugenia, a three-story, 28-unit building of one- and two-bedroom apartments three blocks from a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Neighbors said the couple did not stand out.
Barbara Gluck, who lived on the same floor as the couple, said she didn't know their names but recognized them from photos on the Internet after their arrest.
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