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Bulger defense aims to cast doubt on FBI probe, records

Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger is seen in a booking mug photo released to Reuters on August 1, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Marsha
Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger is seen in a booking mug photo released to Reuters on August 1, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Marsha

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - Defense attorneys for James "Whitey" Bulger on Wednesday sought to reveal the ugly side of Boston FBI history when they questioned a federal official assigned to investigate an agent convicted of turning a blind eye to the reputed mob boss's crimes.

For two days on the witness stand, special agent John Marra reviewed the FBI's 700-page file on Bulger, and the defense was hoping to cast doubt on whether the key piece of evidence is reliable.

The FBI contends that Bulger served as an informant for more than a decade and provided tips on rival gangs to corrupt FBI agent John Connolly at a time when the bureau was focused on taking down the Italian Mafia.

Connolly and Bulger shared an Irish ethnic background and hailed from the same Boston neighborhood.

Bulger, whose story inspired Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning 2006 film "The Departed," denies being an informant. He contends he had paid Connolly for information but provided none of his own.

The special agent, who read accounts of Bulger blaming gangland rivals for some of the 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and '80s, acknowledged under cross-examination that he "didn't verify" all the information contained in them.

Connolly, the primary author of the files - who was convicted of racketeering and murder charges - sometimes falsified information in his reports on Bulger and associate Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, Marra said.

But Marra said he had no reason to believe Connolly or other agents fabricated all the reports in Bulger's informant file.

Defense attorney Henry Brennan questioned Marra about whether he had received a complete copy of the file and whether he was aware of a special file room at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., that included a safe containing documents not included in informant files.

"I was told the complete informant file for Mr. Bulger was in the FBI Boston office," Marra said.

Testimony ended for the day in early afternoon. Marra is scheduled to return to the witness stand on Thursday.

Bulger, 83, fled Boston after Connolly warned him in 1994 that arrest was imminent. He evaded capture for 16 years before the FBI caught up with him a little more than two years ago living in Santa Monica, California, with his girlfriend, a cache of weapons and more than $800,000 in cash.

He has pleaded not guilty to all criminal counts, which also include racketeering, extortion and drug dealing in addition to murder. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Bulger's defense has argued that Connolly fabricated material in the reports to provide a cover for his regular meetings with Bulger.

In an effort to polish Bulger's public image, his attorneys have asked U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper to modify a court rule that limits what they can say about the case outside the courtroom.

Their aim, attorney J.W. Carney argued, was to be able to respond to newspaper columns, blogs and comments that are critical of Bulger.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Ellen Wulfhorst and Douglas Royalty)

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