USP Coleman II Penitentiary in central Florida has long been known as a safe haven for government informants and other marked men in the federal prison system.
But when James “Whitey” Bulger arrived in 2014, then-manager Charles Lockett wasn’t going to take any chances. He said he kept Bulger away from the general population for six months and spoke to the most influential inmates to make sure they wouldn’t budge. boston aged mobster.
“He’s an old man, but the gangsters don’t forget,” said Lockett, who is now retired.
After four years in Coleman, Bulger, 89, was transferred to a prison in West Virginia with a much more violent reputation. Less than 12 hours later, the wheelchair-bound crime boss was found beaten to death.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced charges against three menincluding a mob hitman, in connection with the 2018 killing. But nearly four years after the killing, the Justice Department has yet to shed light on how the former mobster and informant of the FBI ended up in the general population of one of the most violent prisons in the country.
“While the defendants may be guilty of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, the federal prison system must also be held accountable,” said Robert Hood, former chief of internal affairs for the Bureau of Prisons and former director of the ‘ADX Florence “supermax”. Colorado Jail. “The public needs to know why the BOP knowingly created a death sentence for Whitey Bulger.”
Hank Brennan, Bulger’s longtime attorney, filed a lawsuit on behalf of his family against the Bureau of Prisons in October 2020, alleging the agency failed to protect him.
The lawsuit, which sought $200 million in damages, was dismissed in January. U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey said in his ruling that federal courts are not authorized by Congress to weigh in on prison housing decisions that result in injury or death.
Brennan said he believed the Justice Department waited to file the charges until the civil suit was dismissed to avoid having to turn over evidence that could help the family’s case.
“They knew a civil trial couldn’t take place unless we knew who signed the transfer order, who ordered and who approved putting him in a place where everyone knew he would be murdered. “Brennan said.
“They just don’t want this information made public,” Brennan added. “And they don’t want to pursue theirs, and they never will.”
Stacy Bishop, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Virginia, dismissed Brennan’s claims.
“The civil case brought by Bulger’s family had no impact on the criminal investigation or the timing of the indictment,” Bishop said.
A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson declined to comment, saying it was not providing information related to the investigations.
Known for his platinum hair and penchant for violence, Bulger ruled the streets of South Boston for decades. He disappeared in 1994 before a pending charge and evaded police for more than 16 years. But the infamous fugitive was captured in Santa Monica, California in 2011 and eventually sentenced to two life terms for his role in 11 murders.
He had no altercations with other inmates at Coleman Prison. But by the end of his time there, he was confined to a wheelchair and suffered from heart problems and other health issues.
It remains unclear why he was moved to Hazelton Penitentiary in West Virginia, rather than a medical facility at the prison. Known as the “Mountain of Misery”, Hazelton had a very different reputation than the Florida establishment.
Two inmates had been killed there in the previous six months and prison staff complained of a dangerous shortage of staff.
Bulger was taken to a cell just before 10 p.m. on October 29, 2018, according to prison records. He was found dead at 8:21 a.m., hours after the cells in his unit were unlocked so prisoners could leave for breakfast.
Four detainees were immediately placed in solitary confinement. They included the three men who were ultimately charged – Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55; Paul DeCologero, 48; and Sean McKinnon, 36 – as well as Bulger’s cellmate at the time, Felix Wilson.
Geas was serving a life sentence for murder and other crimes. According to federal prosecutors, he was an enforcer for the New England mob in the 1990s and early 2000s, making him a direct rival to Bulger, who was the head of Boston’s Irish mob.
DeCologero was serving a 25-year sentence for racketeering and witness tampering.
McKinnon was Geas’ roommate at the time of the murder, but he had no Mafia connection. He was serving a seven-year sentence for stealing firearms from a Vermont gun store.
All three remained in solitary confinement for over two and a half years as the investigation dragged on.
By the time the indictment was released, both DeCologero and McKinnon had been transferred out of Hazelton. DeCologero was in another prison; McKinnon was on probation in Ocala, Florida.
During his initial court appearance, prosecutors said McKinnon acted as a lookout while Geas and DeCologero repeatedly punched Bulger in the head, according to a transcript obtained by NBC News.
The three men have been charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder. Geas and DeCologero were charged with additional charges: accessory to first degree murder and assault causing grievous bodily harm. McKinnon was also charged with making false statements to a federal agent.
Daniel Kelly, a lawyer for Geas, said his client’s indictment came as no surprise, but he didn’t expect it to take so long.
“What’s missing from the indictment here are the people who put Mr. Bulger in this position,” Kelly said. “They should be unindicted co-conspirators.”
It was unclear whether DeCologero had hired an attorney. McKinnon’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment, but he previously told NBC News that McKinnon had nothing to do with the murder.
Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor, said the lack of responses from the federal government about the circumstances surrounding Bulger’s transfer was likely due to the slow criminal investigation.
Criminal investigators were almost certainly looking into whether Bureau of Prisons personnel deliberately endangered Bulger as part of a conspiracy with prisoners seeking to kill him, Little said. And those investigators wouldn’t have wanted a report to come out with yet-to-be-released details about how Bulger ended up in Hazelton while the investigation was ongoing.
“It would potentially bring to light parts of the investigation that you would otherwise like to keep secret,” said Little, who is now an attorney in private practice in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice has opened an investigation. Lockett, Coleman’s former manager, said he was interviewed by investigators a year after Bulger’s murder, but hasn’t heard from them since.
A spokesperson for the inspector general’s office declined to comment on the status of the investigation.
Lockett, for his part, said he still does not understand why the elderly and sick mobster was transferred to Hazelton prison and placed in a regular living unit.
“I would never have done that,” Lockett said. “And if I had had any comments, I would have said, ‘No, no, no’.”