‘Serious’ prison failures led to Whitey Bulger’s murder, finds DOJ report

James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, Fotios ‘Freddy’ Geas, Sean McKinnon, and Paul ‘Pauly’ DeCologero (clockwise from top left) (AP/Collier County Sheriff/Family handout)

A damning report from the Justice Department watchdog has revealed that “serious” failures from prison officials ultimately led to the murder of high-profile mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger just 12 hours after he was moved to a notoriously dangerous jail in West Virginia.

The 99-page report, released on Wednesday, found that more than 100 Bureau of Prison (BOP) officials knew in advance about Bulger’s transfer from Coleman to Hazelton and that many spoke openly about it in front of inmates – despite risks that the 89-year-old could be targeted by other inmates.

The probe did not find that any BOP employees involved in his transfer “acted with a malicious intent or an improper purpose”, but did uncover what was described as “serious job performance and management failures at multiple levels within the BOP”.

Among the issues, the report said that it was “deeply troubling” that the 89-year-old, wheelchair-bound inmate who suffered from heart conditions was placed in a single cell in the special housing unit prior to his transfer and was then moved to a facility with a lower level of medical care.

The bombshell findings comes more than four years after Bulger was savagely beaten to death inside US Penitentiary Hazelton in West Virginia and just months after three other inmates were charged with his murder.

The 89-year-old infamous leader of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang was transferred to the facility on 29 October 2018.

The next morning, he was found by prison guards wrapped in blankets and posed to appear as if he were sleeping. He had been beaten to death and was left almost unrecognisable.

This August, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55, Paul “Pauly” DeCologero, 48, and Sean McKinnon, 36, were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit first degree murder.

At the time of his murder, Bulger was serving two life sentences for the murders of 11 people, as well as a string of other charges including extortion, money laundering and drug dealing.

During the 70s and 80s, Bulger was the leader of Boston’s infamous Winter Hill Gang, while also acting as an informant for the FBI.

He famously went on the run in 1995 – one day before he was to be indicted on federal racketeering charges – and evaded justice for the next 16 years, 12 of which he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

In 2011 – at the age of 81 – he was finally arrested in Santa Monica, California, and was convicted of 11 murders in 2013.

Right up until his death, Bulger continued to deny that he was ever a government informant.

Prison officials and Bulger’s own family slammed the decision to move Bulger from a safer prison in Florida to the troubled West Virginia prison known to be dangerous to snitches, where he was also placed among the general population.

In 2020, Bulger’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and 30 prison employees, saying that he was “deliberately placed in harm’s way”.

The suit, which sought $200m in damages, claimed that Bulger was “subjected to a risk of certain death or serious bodily injury by the intentional or deliberately indifferent actions” of prison officials.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in January.