Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Report on Whitey Bulger’s murder leaves unanswered questions

On the morning of Oct. 30, 2018, the notorious Boston mobster and FBI informant Whitey Bulger was found beaten to death in his cell at the federal prison in Hazelton.  Bulger, 89, ailing and in a wheelchair, had been at the prison just 12 hours.

But he never should have been there at all.

A sweeping report by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General determined that “staff and management performance failures; bureaucratic incompetence; and flawed, confusing, and insufficient policies and procedures” by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) led to Bulger’s death.

Notably, the report determined there was no “malicious intent” on the part of the BOP. However, there were failures at every level.

Bulger was transferred from FCI Coleman in Florida to Hazelton, even though Bulger’s serious health issues required that he be held at a facility capable of providing the appropriate medical treatment. Hazelton could not, but the BOP downgraded Bulger’s medical classification because he was a troublemaker at Coleman, had threatened staff and they wanted to get rid of him.

At least 100 BOP employees knew of the pending transfer and that word quickly spread among the Hazelton inmates. Bulger, along with being an organized crime leader and murderer, had also been an FBI informant. He had enemies, and the widespread knowledge of the transfer put Bulger at greater risk of harm.

The investigators concluded that Bulger’s “health, his notoriety and history as an FBI informant, and the record of violence among inmates” at Hazelton made his transfer to the prison unusual. “This knowledge among Hazelton inmates subjected Bulger, due to his history, to enhanced risk of imminent harm.”

Once at Hazelton, witnesses say he was treated like “any other inmate” and placed in the general prison population. That is suspicious because he was not like every other inmate and clearly a target for retribution. At Coleman, he was separated from other inmates. Notably, a Hazelton unit manager volunteered to take Bulger in his unit.

Bulger lasted exactly one night. Video surveillance shows that the following morning, two individuals entered Bulger’s cell at 6:16 a.m. and emerged seven minutes later. About two hours later, a correctional officer discovered Bulger unresponsive with “visible injuries to his head and face.” He was pronounced dead a short time later. He had been severely beaten with a padlock.

In August, three men, who were all in Hazelton at the time, were accused in Bulger’s death. Fotios Geas, 55, Paul J DeCologero, 48 and Sean McKinnon, 36, were all charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, according to the Justice Department. They are awaiting trial.

Whitey Bulger is not a sympathetic figure. He was a violent and ruthless mobster who spent his life inflicting pain on others. No tears should be shed over his death. However, the larger issues here are the multiple failures within the federal Bureau of Prisons that put Bulger in a position to be murdered.

The inspector general’s report concludes no one within BOP set Bulger up. Perhaps the simplest explanation is the most logical — serious failures in both job performance and management. But the specific details in the report do raise questions about how a particular chain of events conspired to lead to Whitey Bulger’s murder.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.