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July 18, 2013

Alleged Bulger extortion victim is found dead

BOSTON (AP) — A man who had hoped to testify in the ongoing racketeering trial of reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger and vocally criticized him has been found dead, authorities said Thursday.

The body of Stephen Rakes was found Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln, Mass., with no obvious signs of trauma, the Middlesex District Attorney's Office said. Authorities were conducting an autopsy to determine the 59-year-old Quincy man's cause and manner of death.

Prosecutors say Rakes and his former wife were forced to sell Bulger their South Boston liquor store in 1984 to use as a headquarters for his gang and as a source of legitimate income. But a government witness gave a differing account on the stand last week.

Rakes attended Bulger's trial every day through Tuesday, when was last seen there.

Rakes' former wife, Julie Dammers, said in a telephone interview Thursday that she knew of his death, but asked for privacy.

Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, spent 16 years on the run, becoming one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted before authorities captured him and his girlfriend in California in 2011. He is charged with participating in 19 murders but maintains his innocence.

Rakes was a vocal critic of Bulger leading up to the trial, saying in April when Bulger appeared in court for the first time in about two years that he began hyperventilating when he first saw the defendant. Rakes said Bulger wouldn't look his way.

"The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better," Rakes told The Associated Press that day.

Rakes was eager to get on the witness stand, according to Tommy Donahue, son of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue. But prosecutors told the judge Tuesday who their remaining witnesses would be and Rakes wasn't among them.

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