'Deliberately placed in harm's way': 'Whitey' Bulger's family, attorneys blame authorities for gangster's brutal prison death

His family blames prison authorities and the DOJ.

September 23, 2019, 12:45 PM

James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston mob boss killed in 2018 while serving a life sentence in federal prison, had his medical status altered, allowing for his transfer to the general population section where he was beaten to death within hours of his arrival, according to an exclusive document obtained by ABC News.

Bulger’s medical status was lowered on Oct. 8, 2018 to level two, a notch beneath his medical status prior to his transfer to United States Penitentiary, Hazelton, the internal Bureau of Prisons document shows.

The mob boss and one-time FBI informant, serving a life sentence for crimes committed while head of Boston’s Winter Hill gang, was linked to 11 murders. He had suffered multiple heart attacks and was confined to a wheelchair, a source familiar with his condition told ABC News, leaving his attorneys puzzling over how Bulger’s medical condition suddenly improved.

"Mr. Bulger’s physical/medical condition was fraudulently upgraded to effectuate a transfer and place to Hazelton on or about Oct. 29 or Oct. 30, 2018," attorneys Hank Brennan and David Schoen wrote in an administrative claim against the Department of Justice, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News.

"To be clear, we do not believe that the transfer to Hazelton and placement in general population was simply dangerous, negligent, reckless and irresponsible; we believe it was also intentional and part of conspiracy among BOP, DOJ employees and others to intentionally cause Mr. Bulger’s serious injuries and death," the complaint said.

"We believe BOP employees knew or had reason to believe the transfer would place him in grave danger and likely lead to his death," the attorneys wrote.

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment citing pending litigation.

Prison officials tried to move Bulger from United States Penitentiary, Coleman in Florida in April of 2018 but that transfer request was denied for medical reasons, the internal BOP document shows.

PHOTO: Booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger.
Booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger.
U.S. Marshals Service via AP, FILE

Bulger was kept in isolation in Coleman’s Special Housing Unit for six months until his eventual transfer to the federal penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virgina.

“Mr. Bulger was denied appropriate access to medical care and was frequently and intentionally placed in solitary confinement without any end date or right to mitigate,” the complaint said.

The complaint, a precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit, sought $200 million in damages, though forfeiture claims would make it impossible for the family to benefit financially if they are successful.

The family of Whitey Bulger signaled its intent Friday to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Justice Department, nearly a year since the Boston gangster was beaten to death.

Bulger, who was 89 when he died last October, had been moved into the general population at Hazelton where he was attacked within hours.

“We believe that James Bulger was deliberately placed in harm’s way,” the family said in a statement provided to ABC News by their attorney Brennan. “There is simply no other explanation for the transfer of someone in his condition and inmate status to be placed in the general population of one of the country’s most violent federal penitentiaries.”

According to the family, Bulger had anticipated being moved from USP Coleman to a medical facility better equipped to manage his failing health.

“Instead, he was transported to USP Hazelton where he was murdered within hours of arrival,” the family statement said.

The FBI has been investigating Bulger’s death but, as yet, no charges have been brought. The family said their notice of claim is meant to get answers.