James 'Whitey' Bulger Case: Feds Want to Focus on Murder Charges

Prosecutors ask judge to let them drop racketeering charges.

June 28, 2011, 4:28 PM

June 28, 2011— -- Federal prosecutors said today they want to drop racketeering charges against James "Whitey" Bulger, so they can press on with murder-related charges against the former boss of Boston's Irish mob.

Bulger, who was defiant in his first appearance last week, shuffled into court this afternoon looking tired and subdued. Wearing an orange jumpsuit with the letters PCCF on the back, the mobster said nothing during the 30-minute proceedings.

It was a sharp contrast to his cocky performance last week when he told the presiding judge he wouldn't need a court-appointed attorney if the feds would give him his money back.

The hearing today was supposed to revolve around Bulger's financial status and whether he needed taxpayer money to foot the bill for his legal representation. According to a court filing by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts, Bulger had $822,198 in cash hidden in a wall when he was arrested June 22 after 16 years on the run.

Instead of money, the hearing before Judge Mark Wolf dealt with the government's request to dismiss "with prejudice" the 1994 racketeering charges against Bulger. The government filed a motion today to dismiss those lesser charges in favor of concentrating on more serious charges involving 19 murders that were filed in 1999.

Both the court and the defense have a chance to fight the dismissal of those charges. Peter Krupp, Bulger's current court-appointed attorney, made a plea for time to confer with his client and called the government's request to dismiss the racketeering charges "troubling" and referred to it as "forum shopping."

If prosecutors were allowed to drop the charges that include extortion, loan sharking, witness tampering and conspiracy, it would remove Bulger's case from Wolf's court, since another judge is assigned to the indictment on the murder charges.

Wolf asked Bulger's attorney to file paperwork related to the federal prosecutors' request by the end of the day Wednesday.

Krupp then asked the judge to look into leaks by law enforcement officials to members of the press. Government lawyers quickly jumped in to say they were conducting their own investigation into leaks and would respond to the court by Wednesday.

Kevin Reddington, the attorney for longtime Bulger girlfriend Catherine Greig, also attended today's hearing and told ABC News.com that he had filed a request to delay her next court appearance to give him "time to look at the case."

Reddington confirmed that he had met with Greig but he refused to characterize her demeanor. In a financial affidavit obtained by ABCNews.com, Greig claimed she had no cash on hand, was not employed and had not received any income in the past 12 months. She also declared herself single and said she "did not know" how much her monthly bills were.

As for Bulger, government officials are still trying to find out whether the stash of cash in his California apartment is his sole source of income. To that end, law enforcement officials are trying to put pressure on Bulger to disclose whether he has other ways of paying his legal bills.

In a five-page filing, the U.S. Attorney's office urged Wolf to ask Bulger's brothers, William (Billy) and John, to file financial affidavits with the court. Legal experts, however, agree it is unlikely any court would compel the brothers of a defendant to pay for his defense, which is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The court filing also contained several bombshell disclosures including that Bulger had returned to Boston on numerous occasions to "take care of some unfinished business" and he did so while traveling in disguise and "armed to the teeth."

During his flight from Los Angeles to Boston last week on a government jet, after waiving his Miranda rights, the newly loquacious Bulger also told officials that during his 16 years on the lam he had traveled across the border into Tijuana to buy medicine and that he had "previously stashed money with people he trusted."

Criminal associates of Bulger's, Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi and Kevin Weeks, have also both told investigators that Bulger "had been hiding money for years."

According to government lawyers, these are all good reasons to indicate Bulger "may have additional assets and/or allies willing to assist him in his current predicament."

Bulger is due back in court on Thursday at 1 p.m.