BOSTON — A former U.S. customs agent says that a man who James “Whitey” Bulger, 83, is accused of murdering was cooperating with law enforcement before he disappeared in 1984.
Bulger is accused of shooting John McIntyre, a crewman on the Gloucester-based swordfishing vessel Valhalla after learning that he was talking to authorities.
Donald DeFago, 64, now a private eye in the South, testified at Bulger’s racketeering trial Wednesday that McIntyre described drug smuggling and a failed attempt to ship weapons to the Irish Republican Army from Gloucester.
In 1984, DeFago said he was part of organized crime task face targeting reputed Irish mob boss Joseph Murray Jr. of Charlestown. He detailed in court Wednesday how through surveillance officials learned Murray planned a trip to Amsterdam to buy a large amount of hashish with McIntyre.
In September that year, DeFago said US Customs agents learned that Irish authorities had seized 7 1/2 tons of of automatic rifles, submachines guns and hand grenades worth $1 million from a ship there. The weapons, destined for the Irish Republic Army, had been off-loaded at sea from the Valhalla, which was was in international waters and could not be stopped. The vessel headed back out to sea, albeit under surveillance.
Irish officials said at the time that it was the largest seizure of IRA-bound weapons to date.
The Valhalla was identified on Oct. 16, 1984, when it came into Boston Harbor, DeFago said. McIntyre and the ship’s captain, a Gloucester man, would be questioned by Customs officials as they disembarked. The ship was searched but no arms except for an empty 9-mm shell casing were found.
Several days later McIntyre was arrested on a drunken driving charge in Quincy and mentioned drug runs. DeFago said he then questioned McIntyre during one interview with an FBI agent who was friendly with Bulger buddy John Connolly, a corrupt FBI agent.
DeFago said during the two-hour, tape-recorded interview McIntyre described several past and future drug deals. He would mention Patrick Nee and Murray’s involvement with the Valhalla, and the so-called “Danish Deal.”
A sailboat would leave Quincy and swap out crews at sea with another vessel carrying the drugs, which McIntyre said he would bring into Boston Harbor.
DeFago said that information and surveillance led authorities to believe that ship was the freighter Ramsland. The Norwegian freighter was seized and brought into Boston Harbor. Officials searched for three days before a drug-sniffing dog alerted. Thirty-six tons of marijuana were found in the ship’s gravel cargo, DeFago testified. To get at the drugs, he said, bulldozers and cranes were needed to remove the gravel, and jackhammers were needed to remove hatches that had been cemented shut.
DeFago met again with McIntyre, who told the agent he been approached by Nee about a drug-smuggling operation. For $20,000, he could be part of the deal and get his own ship, The Surge.
Customs supplied the $20,000, McIntyre met with Nee at a South Boston restaurant, and came out without the money. DeFago testified that he thought the sting operation would go through, but McIntyre vanished. He testified McIntyre did not want to enter witness protection.
“He had instructions to call us ... every day and when he didn’t call we got suspicious and started to go out and look for him,” DeFago said. Officials searched places he frequented in Boston, a Rhode Island rehab center and Provincetown.
McIntyre’s body was not found until 2000.
Bulger associate Kevin Weeks testified earlier that Bulger shot the man in the head after being tipped off he was informing.
A federal wiretap shows Bulger clearly felt invested in the Valhalla operation. He first heard of the foiled deal on Boston’s Channel 7 News. “That’s our shipment. That’s ours!,” he was recording as saying by a Drug Enforcement Agency bug installed in his home.
Nee has admitted at previous hearings to bringing McIntyre to a South Boston home, saying Bulger, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi and Kevin Weeks were waiting to “just talk” to the fisherman.
Weeks testified McIntyre admitted he was an informant after Bulger tortured him in the cellar.
When Bulger asked McIntyre whether he wanted a bullet in the head, Weeks testified “The kid said, ‘Yes, please.’.”
Nee said he returned to the house to find the three burying the body. McIntyre had been tortured, and Weeks and Flemmi would both later say Bulger shot the man in the head.
Soon after, Connolly would tell Bulger he would be indicted on racketeering charges.
Bulger fled, and his name climbed the FBI’s most wanted list.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer J.W. Carney, DeFago acknowledged that Bulger’s name wasn’t mentioned once in his recorded interview with McIntrye, although Nee and Weeks were, but said Bulger was not the target of the investigation. DeFago also said he received tips that Murray may have been behind McIntyre’s death, and not Bulger.
The 83-year-old Bulger is accused of playing a role in 19 killings during the 1970s and ‘80s.
A DNA expert also testified Wednesday about her efforts to identify the remains of the bodies of six victims Bulger is accused of killing and burying in makeshift graves. One of those identified was McIntyre, whose body and that of two other alleged Bulger victims was moved from the South Boston home’s cellar to a pit near Florian Hall in Dorchester. She said a tooth found in the grave was a 99.5 percent match with McIntyre’s mother Emily. She said ribs, hair and other teeth also matched McIntyre’s mother.
The late Gloucester captain of the Valhalla pleaded guilty to exporting the arms, for which Murray and Nee had paid him $10,000, and to importing the marijuana found aboard the Ramsland.
Murray pleaded guilty to gun-smuggling and tax evasion in the Valhalla case.
The men had faced 22 years in prison and $156,000 in fines. The recommended sentences were 10 years for Murray, seven for the captain, and six for Nee. The sentences would later be reduced to four years for Nee and Andersen.
Nee would serve 18 months in federal prison. When he was released in 1989, he severed ties with Bulger, saying he was disgusted by McIntyre’s murder.
Andrea Holbrook may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3456, or email@example.com.