According to a Justice Department investigation, a number of government errors contributed to the murder of incarcerated Boston mobster and former FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger in 2018 after he was transferred to a maximum-security prison.
The department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, stated in an internal investigation released on Wednesday that “bureaucratic incompetence” accompanied Bulger’s transfer to a US penitentiary in West Virginia, where he was battered to death within 24 hours of his arrival.
The report recommended disciplinary action for six employees of the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), but found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. “The fact that the serious deficiencies we identified occurred in connection with a high-profile inmate like Bulger was especially concerning given that the BOP would presumably take particular care in handling such a high-profile inmate’s case,” the report said.
Bulger’s death is just one of several high-profile deaths that have drawn attention to the Bureau of Prisons. They include the suicide death in federal custody of se* trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in 2019. The agency has been accused of neglect, incompetence, staffing shortages, and widespread se*ual assault allegations.
Before Bulger arrived in West Virginia, workers had already started to bring attention to the facility’s issues with violence and inadequate staffing.
Before fleeing Boston in 1994, Bulger had a double life as a Boston mobster and an FBI informant. He remained on the run for 16 years before being apprehended in southern California at the age of 81 in connection with 11 murders and a number of other crimes.
Bulger was relocated from a Florida jail, where he had been confined alone, to a US penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virginia, in 2018. He was 89 years old and bound to a wheelchair at the time of the transfer when he was thrown in the general population and beaten to death in his cell around 12 hours later.
The report harshly criticized the BOP’s handling of the transfer, stating that the agency had failed to take adequate preparatory measures for a prisoner of Bulger’s stature, and that the agency’s mistakes left Bulger vulnerable to rival gangsters at the new facility. According to the report, BOP employees openly discussed Bulger’s transfer as if they were “talking about a football game” in front of prisoners who bet on how long he would live.
The agency also tried to downgrade Bulger’s medical status to facilitate the transfer, despite the fact that he had a serious cardiac condition. Three incarcerated people were indicted on felony charges for Bulger’s murder earlier this year. Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55, is a former mafia hitman who was already serving a life sentence for the murders of Genovese crime family boss Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno and associate Gary Westerman in 2003.
In a statement released by the BOP, the agency said that prison officials have improved communications between workers on medical transfers and are adding more training and technology in response to the incident.
Bulger’s family has filed a lawsuit against the BOP, alleging that prison officials were aware that Bulger’s notoriety as a “snitch” put him at risk behind bars. Bulger’s move to Hazelton was also stated to be so unsuitable that it looked he was “deliberately despatched to his death.”
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