The brother of a notorious South Boston crime boss killed in a West Virginia federal prison two years ago filed a lawsuit last week against 30 unnamed prison employees for allegedly failing to protect him.
Fellow inmates killed James “Whitey” Bulger Jr. just hours after his transfer to United States Penitentiary, Hazelton, a federal prison in Preston County, on Oct. 30, 2018. Bulger had been transferred from a prison in Florida where he had spent the previous four years.
Bulger was a member of, and later led, the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American organized crime operation based just outside Boston, before he fled arrest for racketeering charges in 1994. Bulger avoided authorities for nearly 17 years, becoming second on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list behind Osama bin Laden, before he was arrested in California in June 2011.
A jury found Bulger guilty on charges of racketeering, extortion and money laundering. The jury also found that he was involved in 11 murders. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, plus five years.
Bulger was accused by a co-defendant in the 1994 racketeering case of being an FBI informant, and over the years the allegation became truth to the American public, according to the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of West Virginia.
“In James Bulger Jr.’s absence and without retort, James Bulger Jr.’s role as an FBI informant was embedded in the criminal community, the legal community and American history. Virtually every description, account, promotion and depiction over the next twenty years led with the supposition that James Bulger, Jr. was an informant and that he took down the Boston Mafia,” Bulger’s brother, William Bulger, wrote in the lawsuit.
Because of the “snitch” tag attached to his name, the Federal Bureau of Prisons should have never moved Bulger to Hazelton, which the lawsuit claims is home to constant inmate violence. Bulger was 89 years old and used a wheelchair when he entered Hazelton that day.
The lawsuit claims 30 employees in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, from the director of the entire agency to the Hazelton correctional officers assigned to ensure Bulger’s safe transfer, are responsible for his death.
William Bulger claims these employees failed to protect his brother and violated his Eighth Amendment rights, which gives protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit claims Bulger is perhaps the most infamous and well-known inmate to be incarcerated in a federal penal institution since Al Capone.
Bulger was housed in two prisons before Hazelton — in Florida and in Tuscon, Arizona — known as “soft yards,” which were developed as a place for inmates with long sentences to serve who are in need of protection from other inmates because of a substantial risk of harm and who need protection because of the nature of their crimes, according to the lawsuit.
“[O]nce James Bulger Jr. was in the custody of USP Hazelton, these defendants exposed him to other inmates even though they knew or should have known that such exposure would result in an attack on James Bulger Jr. by one or more inmates and would result in his serious injury or death,” the lawsuit reads.
The Bureau of Federal Prisons did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
The lawsuit also accuses federal employees in Washington, D.C., who were responsible for the process of transferring Bulger from Florida to Hazelton.
“Predictably, within hours of his placement in general population at Hazelton, inmates believed to be from New England and who are alleged to have Mafia ties or loyalties, killed James Bulger Jr. utilizing methods that included the use of a lock in a sock-type weapon,” the lawsuit reads.
According to a statement from the Bulger family, neither the Bulgers nor Hank Brennan, the family’s attorney, have received information about any investigation into his death or his transfer to Hazelton.
“The family of Mr. Bulger have pursued this action in an attempt to learn what happened to their loved one, demand transparency and accountability of persons employed by the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons who may be responsible for Mr. Bulger’s death, and the hope that this action may provide some meaningful reform in the federal penal system and assist other families and residents of federal prisons who have unfairly suffered inappropriate conditions of incarceration,” the family said.
Wheeling attorneys Jay T. McCamic and Anthony Werner, and Charleston attorney Dante diTrapano and the Calwell Luce diTrapano law firm, are serving as local counsel for Bulger’s family.
The family is seeking damages for Bulger’s physical and emotional pain and suffering, as well as for wrongful death, according to the lawsuit.
The case was assigned Monday to Judge Thomas Kleeh.