Whitey Bulger trial: Cyanide is ruled in death of would-be prosecution witness

An official autopsy determined that Stephen Rakes was killed by cyanide that was slipped into his iced coffee. A friend of convicted mobster Whitey Bulger was charged in Mr. Rakes's death.

Michael Dwyer/ AP Photo/ File
Stephen Rakes smiles after greeting an acquaintance outside the liquor store he once owned in the South Boston neighborhood on June 6, 2013. Authorities say Rakes, who was on the witness list for the racketeering trial of reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, was poisoned.

The death of a potential witness against James “Whitey” Bulger trial who had hoped to testify in the mobster's trial this summer was caused by cyanide poisoning, the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office has concluded in an official autopsy report. 

Prosecutors allege that William Camuti, a longtime friend and associate of Mr. Bulger's, slipped cyanide into a cup of iced coffee he gave to Stephen “Stippo” Rakes when the two met up at a McDonald’s parking lot in July.

Mr. Camuti, who allegedly owed Mr. Rakes money and lured him to the meeting where he gave Rakes the poison beverage, then drove his body around for several hours before finally depositing him in a wooded area in a Boston suburb, prosecutors say. 

Camuti, who according to law enforcement officials previously had admitted to the cyanide poisoning, had previously been charged with attempted murder, misleading police, and unlawful disposition of human remains, connected to his alleged role in Rakes’s death.  

MaryBeth Long, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, said prosecutors now intend to file additional charges against Camuti based on the official report. 

In September, The Boston Globe reported that Camuti admitted his guilt in Rakes's murder after he attempted to commit suicide. 

The prosecution has a detailed case against Camuti that includes GPS records that place his car in the woods where Rakes’s body was found. Prosecutors also say they found evidence of Camuti inquiring about the purchase of potassium cyanide in his e-mail account. 

Potassium cyanide is relatively easy to obtain and can be purchased online. 

A judge ordered Camuti held without bail.

Camuti, the former owner of the Loan Depot, a Boston mortgage lender, was convicted in 1993 of 11 counts of mail fraud, according to the Globe. 

Authorities said Rakes’s death was not related to the Bulger case, though it was the kind of occurrence that typified Bulger’s reign over South Boston’s organized crime rings in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to reports, Rakes openly despised Bulger, and blamed him for seizing control of his South Boston liquor store to use as a headquarters for Boston’s Irish mob in 1984.  

“The day I see him [Bulger] in a box, not breathing, will be better,” Rakes told the Associated Press in April. 

Rakes said Bulger forced him to sell his store at gunpoint in front of Rakes’s two daughters for a fraction of what the store was worth. 

A former Bulger associate, Kevin Weeks, disputed Rakes’s account at Bulger's trial. According to Mr. Weeks, Rakes was trying to shake down the gangsters, a move that provoked Bulger, a notoriously short-tempered mobster, to pull his gun, NBC reported

Rakes was set to testify against Bulger to rebut Weeks’s version of events, but was removed from the witness list at the last minute for unknown reasons. 

Several days after he was supposed to testify, Rakes met up with Camuti in Waltham, Mass., a Boston suburb, and was killed.

The next day, a jogger found Rakes’s body in a wooded area of Lincoln, a nearby suburb, about 30 minutes away from the city. 

According to the AP, Bulger – who was convicted of crimes ranging from murder to extortion to money laundering – will effectively get a life in prison sentence when he is sentenced in November in Massachusetts. He plans to appeal the decision.

Bulger also faces murder charges in Florida and Oklahoma, both death penalty states.  

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