Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down by Robert Kirkpatrick and Jon Land – review

By on January 9, 2012

Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, was like a law unto himself. He and his gang were involved in drug and gun smuggling, and the murders of over 40 people. FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick, most famous previous to the Whitey Bulger case for supervising the ABSCAM sting operation, made it his mission to bring Bulger down in his new job as Assistant Special Agent in Charge (SAC) for all of New England. Fitzpatrick, a true American hero, wouldn’t back down from the investigation even when pressured by politicians and those in the law profession who wanted Bulger to remain free, believing he would serve them better as an informant. Robert Fitzpatrick’s fascinating account, action-packed and interesting in itself, takes on the suspense and aura of a fictional page-turning thriller with the aid of his New York Times bestselling co-author, Jon Land. Together, they work magic, making this compelling nonfiction story a Must Read for anyone who loves reading True Crime books.

Compounding the challenges that Fitzpatrick faced were other law enforcement agencies, which often stood in his way and blocked his efforts. Whitey had taken over the largely Irish Winter Hill Gang, but for many FBI agents, who were focusing their attention on the Italian mob, Bulger was more useful free so he could continue to act as an informant. Although Bulger’s “intelligence often produced nothing,” in return for it the agents allowed him “free rein on the streets.” Bulger claimed to hate others who were “rats,” like the bookie Richie Castucci, whom he ordered to be killed after “borrowing” $8000,000 from him; yet, when ratting was beneficial to himself, and to continuing his criminal operations, then it was okay to be a rat.

Reading the book gives one a different outlook on many things, including how the conflicting priorities of law enforcement agencies often enable criminals to continue their careers for years. Bulger, for example, committed crimes right under the noses of the FBI and the MSP (Massachusetts State Police). Though there were some people who didn’t like it that informants like Bulger could get away with as much as he did, one reason he could, according to the authors, is because their repuations were at stake. They wanted to get information to help prosecute their cases any way they could, and if an agent got in their way, he often paid a price for it.

That’s what led up to the murder of Richie Castucci, who told an FBI agent how he’d assisted Whitey Bulger by stashing away two criminals on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List. You’d think that learning about these two thugs would make the agent, “Opie,” gain favorable attention from his superiors, but at Boston headquarters, agent John Connolly instead wanted the two thugs, Joe McDonald and James Sims, to remain on the loose. They were “supposed to give intelligence about Angiulo’s [a criminal Connolly was more interested in] group in the North End.” So Connolly informed Whitey about Richie’s being a rat, which led to Whitey’s ordering a hit on Richie.

For Robert Kirkpatrick, this was taking the idea of priorities in the importance of cases too far. He was more determined than ever to make sure Whitey Bulger was brought to justice. Kirkpatrick was shocked when, upon meeting with Bulger, the head of the Winter Hill Gang acted as if he was in charge. Bulger probably felt that way because he had been allowed to pursue whatever criminal activities he had wanted to for years, because in the cause of bringing down the Italian mafia, his being free and a prized informant was more vital to certain agents. Fitzpatrick wanted to have Bulger arrested for murder, but he managed to always stay at least one step ahead of the author’s attempts to nail him.

Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down by Robert Fitzpatrick and Jon Land details the now-retired FBI agent’s efforts to see Bulger brought to justice. Whitey finally went into hiding in 1994, though he remained on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List for years after his disappearance. It wasn’t until last year that Whitey Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, California. Though it had been almost thirty years since Robert Fitzpatrick first heard of Bulger and became determined to see him brought to justice, he finally succeeded. This is a book that’s impossible to put down, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the True Crime genre.

About Douglas Cobb

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