Witness in trial of 'Whitey' Bulger found dead
Alleged extortion victim had been due to testify against Boston Irish mob boss
Stephen Rakes (L) and Stephen Davis arrive for trial of accused mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger at the US Federal Courthouse in Boston. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Files /Reuters
Stephen Rakes was found yesterday afternoon in Lincoln, Massachusetts, about 26 km northwest of Boston, showing no obvious signs of trauma, according to the Middlesex Country District Attorney’s office.
The medical examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death, the district attorney’s office said.
Mr Rakes, 59, was on the long list of victims of Bulger’s feared “Winter Hill” gang who were due to take the witness stand in the mob boss’s trial on charges relating to 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr Rakes, known as “Stippo,” once owned the South Boston Liquor Mart, which prosecutors charge Bulger’s gang took over in a 1984 shakedown. He was on the government’s list of witnesses but had not yet taken the stand.
Bulger’s gang took over the liquor store to use as a money-laundering front that could conceal their illicit income, prosecutors charge. Like the gangsters, Mr Rakes had grown up in working class South Boston, then a predominantly Irish-American community.
Mr Rakes had attended Bulger’s trial almost every day. His death came as the jury prepared to hear from one of Bulger’s long-time associates, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for his role in many of the murders of which Bulger is accused.
Bulger, now 83, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of charges including racketeering and 19 murders that prosecutors say he committed or ordered in the 1970s and 1980s. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, though his lawyer admitted that Bulger was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark, essentially an “organized criminal.”
Bulger and Flemmi, who had not seen each other since 1994 when Bulger fled Boston to evade arrest, briefly got a look at each other this morning when Flemmi was brought in to testify but then hustled back out of the courtroom and a new witness called.
Their tale recalls a dark side to Boston’s FBI office during that period, when both men were listed as FBI informants but also were given tips by corrupt agents who helped them escape capture and root out “snitches” within their ranks.
Their story inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning film “The Departed,” in which Jack Nicholson played a character loosely based on Bulger.
In 2004, Flemmi pleaded guilty to 10 murders in a deal that spared him the death penalty, and his testimony is expected to form the backbone of the government’s case against Bulger.
Defence attorney J.W. Carney of the Boston law firm Carney & Bassil on today cross-examined former drug dealer William David Lindholm, who was jailed on drug and tax evasion charges in 1991 but released early for cooperating in the case against Bulger.
Lindholm admitted to having submitted fake tax returns while he earned more than $10 million as a marijuana smuggler.
“For you the lying was worth it, because of the benefit that you would get in return,” Carney asked. “Yes,” Lindholm replied.
In six weeks of testimony, witnesses so far have described Bulger as a cold-blooded criminal quick to violence. Former associates have accused him of participating in killing several people suspected of talking to law enforcement. Others said he used fear to extort cash.
Yesterday a former drug kingpin testified that Bulger forced him to play Russian roulette in a nightclub’s back room in 1983 as a way to make him hand over $1 million, and then later threatened to “cut my head off”.
Bulger’s trial has riveted Boston and given the jury a glimpse of an era when machine-gun toting mobsters shot associates and ‘rats’ who talked to authorities, then buried their victims’ bodies in basements or under bridges.
Bulger fled in 1994 after tip from a corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent. He was finally captured in Santa Monica, California, in 2011 after 16 years on the lam.