There are two main versions of the Bulger brothers. One brother, Whitey, turned to crime, became a crime syndicate leader, and is on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. The other much younger brother, William, didn’t know his brother well and was not influenced by him, yet instead wanted to help others. William became the good brother to Whitey’s bad brother, and William went into politics and became a powerful Massachusetts State Senate and rose to be an influential political leader as Senate President Pro Tempore.
This book suggests another version. It claims William and Whitey together violated public ethics by working in cahoots. It shows how cocaine dealing associates of Whitey’s obtained state jobs with William’s assistance and how a budget amendment introduced by Senator Bulger forced the retirement of several State Police officers investigating Whitey. It further disputes William’s assertions that he had little awareness of what his brother was doing.
William Bulger admittedly was not a political reformer. “Show me a reformer and I’ll show you someone who won’t be back” through reelection, Bulger once claimed. Bulger admittedly was a master of the political deal. He grew up in a Boston where local residents knew the police and prosecutors could be bribed and pardons and commutations could be purchased. When William made it to the legislature, patronage was widespread. Legislators often got jobs with little responsibilities for their friends. State Rep. Barney Frank would quip how, when he arrived at the Massachusetts Capitol, he found more people to open doors than there were doors.
Whitey not only was a criminal, he was a medical subject who as a prisoner was given LSD and studied. To what degree the drug affected Whitey, we can speculate. To what degree the government felt guilty for the damage they inflicted, we may never know. What is known is that Whitey began playing both sides. Whitey became an FBI informant. Yet, Whitey didn’t switch sides. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover seemed so hungry for organized crime information that the FBI looked the other way when informants performed their crimes. To Whitey, this allowed him to take advantage of both worlds. He could get the FBI to arrest his rivals and get them to look the other way as he took over the lead in mob activities.
While William was a political leader of South Boston, Whitey controlled the rackets operations (allegedly driving out the Cosa Nostra and taking control himself) in South Boston, and the FBI and the Bulger brothers helped each other out, according to the author. Senator Bulger was there to help FBI agents, who generally weren’t highly paid, find other jobs when forced into retirement. Senator Bulger was accused of extortion, yet an FBI probe quickly found the Senator Bulger had done nothing wrong. Indeed, William and the FBI agent who investigated him seem to have become friends, as William served as the master of ceremonies at the FBI agent’s retirement party.
William Bulger helped elect John Silber as Governor. While Silber and Bulger had a good working political relationship, Silber worked less well with the public. Governor Silber upset many voters by stating that a women over age 25 were over the hill, openly questioning why so many welfare recipient s were “from the tropical climates”, and proclaiming he that the elderly should die and to make room for the young. Opponents openly began calling for the end of the “Silber-Bulger” form of government.
Sensing that his political career was ending, William Bulger shifted into academic and became the President of the University of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, William’s taking the Fifth Amendment before Congress when questioned about organized crime was not well received by University Trustees. William Bulger resigned his Presidency.
It should be noted that the author was one of the University Trustees who opposed William Bulger. Still, the book appears to be very well researched and is an intriguing expose into one of Massachusetts most powerful families. Whether it is the story of a family whether both sons crossed the lines of lines of legality and morality, this book argues the answer to that question is: they both did.