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It's Whitey Bulger on trial, but FBI's bad behavior is recounted, too (+video)

Retired FBI supervisor John Morris took the witness stand in the Whitey Bulger trial Thursday and Friday, describing conduct that could have landed him in jail if he hadn’t gotten an immunity deal.

By Staff writer / June 28, 2013

This 2011 booking photo provided by the US Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger, captured in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run.

U.S. Marshals Service/AP/File

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Officially it is former crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger who’s on trial, but this week a lot of incriminating evidence pointed in another direction: at Boston FBI agents whose job was to take down organized crime.

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Retired FBI supervisor John Morris was on the witness stand Thursday and Friday, describing behavior that could have landed him in jail if he hadn’t gotten an immunity deal for his willingness to testify.

Mr. Morris acknowledged that he accepted money and gifts from Mr. Bulger, that he helped to feed sensitive information to Bulger, and that he signed off on misleading reports about what information Bulger was sharing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Bad behavior by the FBI doesn’t mean that Bulger is likely to win the “not guilty” jury verdict that he hopes for. He's being tried on racketeering counts that include 19 alleged murders.

But the trial is opening a new window on a cautionary chapter in FBI history.

Four decades ago, in an era when the agency’s focus was on attacking Italian-American organized crime, its Boston office developed a cozy and corrupt relationship with the Irish-American crime group led by Bulger and a few colleagues.

The FBI listed Bulger and his partner, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, as top informants against other criminals. But Bulger’s handler, a former Morris subordinate named John Connolly, went from being lauded for his anti-Mafia successes to serving prison time as a convicted felon.

On Friday, Morris acknowledged that he panicked when Bulger and Mr. Flemmi were indicted in 1995 because he knew his acceptance of bribes from Bulger could be exposed.

"I was worried about whether I could be prosecuted," Morris said. "I certainly did not want my bad behavior known in any manner, shape, or form."

Mr. Connolly was convicted of tipping off Bulger to the 1995 indictment, which had prompted Bulger to flee Boston in what became a 16-year stint as a fugitive. Flemmi is in prison. Bulger was captured in 2011, while living in California, and is now immersed in a trial that could last through the summer.

Morris said he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors because he "wanted to set things straight" after taking actions he knew were wrong. He ended up testifying for the prosecution when Connolly was convicted of second-degree murder, in 2008.

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