May 14, 2001 -- Two families who claim their lives were destroyed by two Massachusetts mob figures-turned-FBI informants said they plan to sue the Boston FBI for $600 million.
Attorneys for the families of slain Oklahoma millionaire Roger Wheeler and South Boston liquor store owner Stephen Rakes claim the FBI is responsible for Wheeler's shooting death and the extortion of Rakes.
Both crimes, the attorneys say, were orchestrated by longtime FBI informants — and reputed Boston organized crime lords — James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
"These are two law-abiding families from different walks of life whose lives were destroyed by two known criminals and killers and the FBI could have foreseen it," attorney Paul Kelly said today. "They [FBI officials] knew the potential danger these men posed to these families and did nothing to prevent it."
Kelly served notice of the suit to the FBI in Boston on Friday. The FBI has six months to respond to the legal claims. If the agency does not respond or settle the claims out of court, then Kelly said a lawsuit would be filed in November.
Wealthy Businessman Betrayed?
The families, Kelly said, were not involved in the allegedly criminal activities of Bulger and Flemmi and were "chosen at random" by the reputed Irish-American mobsters.
Oklahoma businessman Wheeler was the chairman of Telex Corp. and had several other businesses at the time of his death in 1981, including World Jai Alai in Miami, Fla. Unknown to Wheeler, Kelly says Bulger and Flemmi had infiltrated World Jai Alai before Wheeler bought it, and the pair had set up a cash-skimming operation.
Wheeler found out about the scheme and began conducting his own investigation. Eventually he contacted the FBI. However, Wheeler's investigation led to his death after, attorneys claim, the FBI tipped off Bulger and Flemmi, who then sent a hit man to kill Wheeler.
"To protect their gravy train, James 'Whitey' Bulger and Stephen Flemmi dispatched one of their killers, who ambushed Mr. Wheeler after he finished a round of golf at the Southern Hills Country Club on a Wednesday and literally shot him between the eyes," said Kelly. "He was a family man with a wife and five children and at the peak of his earning potential."
Kelly said Wheeler was worth $50 million at the time of his slaying. Earlier this month, John Martorano, the hired hit man, confessed in federal court to killing Wheeler under orders from Bulger and Flemmi.
A Business Lost, a Family in Fear
Unlike Wheeler, Stephen Rakes and his wife Julie came from a humble background and had poured their savings into opening a liquor store in South Boston when, their attorneys say, they were approached by Bulger and Flemmi. With gun-wielding associates at their side, they told the Rakeses that they were taking over their liquor store and forced them to sell their business to them, Kelly said. They said if the Rakeses refused, they would harm the family, Kelly said.
The Rakeses sought the help of a police officer, Joseph Lundbohm, who then contacted John Connolly — the FBI agent who handled Bulger and Flemmi.
Bulger and Flemmi, Kelly said, approached the Rakeses again and warned them not to talk to law enforcement officials or implicate them before a grand jury. Over the next several years, the Rakeses were repeatedly threatened. Stephen Rakes was so scared of implicating Bulger and Flemmi that he lied before a grand jury and was convicted in 1998 of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Federal prosecutors believe Connolly allowed Bulger and "The Rifleman" to get away with 18 murders and other crimes over a 15-year period. Connolly is awaiting trial on federal racketeering and obstruction charges. Bulger has been missing since 1995 and is on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, while Flemmi is awaiting trial.
In wake of the allegations against the FBI in the alleged mishandling of Bulger and Flemmi, Rakes was not sentenced to prison but was given probation in exchange for his cooperation with authorities. However, eventually, Rakes will seek to have his conviction thrown out.
"That is something we will look into next," Kelly said. "Only after their [the FBI's] devil's deal became public did they not decide to send him to prison. Here's a man on probation for a crime he should have never been charged with in the first place."
FBI Under Fire
The Wheelers and Rakeses will seek $500 million and $100 million, respectively, for lost business and mental trauma in a lawsuit.
The Boston FBI has refused to comment on this latest charge against its beleaguered office.
A congressional panel is investigating the law practices of the office and other Massachusetts law enforcement agencies over the past 30 years in light of the cases involving Bulger, Flemmi and Joseph Salvati, a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for almost 30 years.
In Salvati's case, the Justice Department uncovered reports that FBI agents knowingly used false information provided by an informant to convict Salvati and five other men in a 1965 mob hit.