G-man’s ties to Bulgers began on Southie streets

G-man’s ties to Bulgers began on Southie streets

Jose Martinez

Long before his now-discredited days at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, John J. Connolly Jr. was a kid growing up on the South Boston streets where, even then, the Bulger brothers were legend.

The bookish William Bulger latched on to the kid and steered him first into a lifeguard post at L Street, then on to Boston College. In 1968, Connolly joined the Bureau as an agent in New York.

It was there that Connolly’s star began to rise. In 1972, he collared fugitive Boston mobster Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme in Manhattan. Salemme was on the run from an attempted murder indictment at the time. A few months later, in February, 1973, Connolly won his transfer home to the Boston office. Within months, the agent had cultivated the other Bulger – Southie crimelord James “Whitey” Bulger – as a snitch in the FBI’s quest to topple Boston’s faction of La Cosa Nostra.

All Whitey wanted in exchange, the story goes, was a promise that his politician brother never be told. Connolly, who still considers the former Senate president and now University of Massachusetts president a friend, agreed.

Along the line, Connolly also paid a visit to Billy Bulger, asking him what he could do to repay him for all his help over the years.

“Just keep my brother out of trouble,” Billy Bulger replied, according to John Martorano, the confessed Winter Hill hit man. Bulger has denied making the statement.

Connolly’s relationship with Whitey Bulger and his cohort, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, spanned 15 years. It was an era that saw dozens of Mafia convictions, including North End Mafia boss Gennaro Angiulo and his three brothers in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, Whitey Bulger and crew seized even more control of the Boston’s underworld rackets.

When Connolly retired in 1990 after 22 years with the FBI, he took a job as a lobbyist with Boston Edison and settled into what appeared to be family life with his second wife and three sons in Lynnfield.

Then came the infamous Christmas tip-offs of 1994 that sent Whitey Bulger, Flemmi and Salemme running from impending indictments. Whitey remains on the lam. Flemmi awaits trial. Salemme testified against Connolly, who was indicted himself just before Christmas 1999.

Yesterday, in a courthouse on the South Boston waterfront not far from his boyhood haunts, the once-celebrated G-man was convicted by a federal jury on charges of obstructing justice, racketeering and making a false statement. He will be sentenced Aug. 7.

Copyright 2002

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