“Don’t mention [Whitey] in the story if you know what’s good for you,” was the threatening message delivered to a Boston journalist just one month before William Bulger was officially elected Senate president. Whitey was using his influence to make sure that his brother got a chance to rule with an iron fist in Beacon Hill’s Senate.
Journalist Richard Gaines, was reporting for the Boston Phoenix when he received this threat. He was working on a story about the incoming Senate president, William Bulger, when he received a message, from a TV reporter with mob ties.
Gaines said “It is one of those moments that is seared in your memory.” His editors dropped the reference to Whitey in the piece. The threat had worked.
Just days later TV reporter Jack Kelly and four underworld characters were wiped out in the famous Blackfriars nightclub massacre. They were shot as they played backgammon in the club’s basement.
Whitey was sending a clear message to the local reporters – if they wrote something he didn't like about his brother they would face the consequences.
William Bulger went on to dominate Beacon Hill politics for 17 years. Politicians and the media looked at William and saw the threat of Whitey looming in the background.
William always refused to disavow his brother. In fact he said his gangster brother would be welcome in his home.
Dick Lehr, a former Globe reporter, spoke to the newspaper, about that his experiences as part of the investigative team that uncovered the corrupt relationship between the FBI and Whitey Bulger. He said that for several decades both of these men “cast a really long shadow” over the Senate and Boston’s underworld.
Lehr maintains they almost always shaped reporting. He said “They were at the top of the respective games, in politics and crime…There never was a more powerful politician than Bill Bulger, and in the underworld, Whitey was king. It infected - and affected - the coverage of politics and crime.’’
In 1988 the Globe Spotlight Team were about to write a series of articles on the relationship between Whitey and the FBI when an agent called Kevin Cullen, one of the reporters. He was warned that Bulger would “blow [his] brains out” if he didn’t like what he read in the Globe.
A Boston Herald crime reporter, Paul Corsetti, started to carry a gun after a confrontation he had with Whitey in a bar. Again Whitey threatened to kill him.
Kevin Weeks, Whitey’s top lieutenant, claimed, in a recent book, that he staked out Howie Carr, the radio host, at his home in Acton. Weeks waited across the street in his car, armed with a rifle. The former lieutenant said the only reason he didn’t pull the trigger was because Carr walked out of the house with his daughters.
Politicians also felt the pressure. Kevin White, a four-term mayor, had a strained relationship with William Bulger. He recalls cowering in a tennis club in Boston. He feared that Whitey would kill him when he left the club.
In a 1978 interview with WGBH-TV’s Chris Lydon White said “Whitey would be crazy enough to do it even then. And if they shoot me, they win all the marbles.”
No hard facts ever linked William to Whitey’s threats. The Globe tried to reach William to comment on these threats but they were unsuccessful.
Another former Senate president, John E. Powers, said the Senate constantly blocked his pay rises as the clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court. He said this was because he had once fired Whitey from a no-show janitorial job in Suffolk.
A former Republican state treasurer, Joseph D. Malone, was just eight months in the job when Whitey won $1.9 million in the lottery in 1991. Malone called the ticket a fraud.
Malone received a call from an investment banker, who had worked on William Bulger’s Senate staff and was a close confidant of the Senate president. He said “His line was, that this was not appreciated, my going out of the way to take shots at [Billy’s] brother.”
Malone continued saying that the message was he would “never see it coming, but it will come in a lot of different ways from a lot of different people. Tell him to keep his head up.”
He rejected the threat. At the time Malone thought the issue lay only with William, the Senate leader. He presumed the worst that would happen would be that his budget was cut.
“We all felt an air of intimidation as we went through the whole incident…Naively, maybe stupidly, I never thought this guy was out of control and dangerous and that his reach was as far as it was,’’ Malone said. “I thought Whitey Bulger was like most organized crime folks, that he would keep his violence with people within organized crime.’’