BOSTON, Mass. — Former drug smuggler William David Lindholm has a harrowing tale of how reputed Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger allegedly tried to extort $1 million by having a bullet fired past Lindholm’s head.
In the end, Lindholm lived to testify Wednesday at Bulger’s federal trial about surviving a high-stakes, Russian roulette-style game.
Bulger is charged in the deaths of 19 people during some two decades when prosecutors say he terrorized South Boston as the head of the Irish mob. He also faces charges of extortion, racketeering and money laundering. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecutors allege Bulger shook down more than a dozen criminals and made them pay “rent” — cash for permission to carry on with their business on the streets of Boston.
Lindholm told jurors that he had never met Bulger until that 1983 encounter.
Bulger allegedly wanted a piece of the action but had no idea that Lindholm had successfully brought in a whopping $72 million in marijuana from Colombia into Louisiana, the East Coast smuggler testified.
Lindholm said he was summoned to a meeting at the Marconi Club after his pals, closely affiliated with Bulger and his organized crime associates, fed Lindholm the ruse that they needed help with a “problem” they were having.
Bulger allegedly had Lindholm’s pockets emptied before brandishing two guns, telling him “you are here because you are not with anybody.”
“A bullet was put in the chamber it was spun and pointed at my head,” said Lindholm.
According to Lindholm, Bulger ordered one of his associates to shoot past Lindholm’s head with a silencer — proving the gun worked — before ordering his associate to dump the bullets on the table and reload with a single bullet.
“The trigger was pulled and it didn’t go off,” the witness testified.
Lindholm said he had “dealt with the Mexicans and Colombians before” and talked Bulger down to a $250,000 payment. When they struck a deal, Bulger “shook my hand and said I handled myself well,” Lindholm told the court.
Lindholm said he was reluctant to talk shop with Bulger because he thought the place was bugged. Lindholm said that Bulger “was asking questions like a police officer might ask me.”
At that, Bulger, 83, dressed sharply in a pressed blue button-down shirt, slowly turned his head toward the witness and stared.
Bulger has fought the notion that he was an FBI informant during a 20-year period, though prosecutors have submitted a 700-page informant file that suggests otherwise.
Just before court broke, prosecuting attorney Zachary Hafer asked Lindholm whether Bulger made any threats toward him about attempting to sell drugs in Boston without Bulger’s permission.
“Yeah, he’d cut off my head,” Lindholm said.
Lindholm, who is in the witness protection program, is testifying on a compulsion order under grounds of immunity. He was convicted of drug and tax evasion charges and joins the laundry list of government witnesses who served a lesser sentence after agreeing to cooperate.
Weapons were destined for the IRA
Bulger’s alleged international crimes also took center stage during the 23rd day of the trial.
Prosecutors allege he sent guns to the Irish Republican Army on the fishing trawler Valhalla that departed from Boston Harbor in 1984.
The guns were transferred to a vessel in Irish waters and were seized by Irish law enforcement before they reached the IRA, a former U.S. Customs agent testified.
The interception of the weapons was seen as a moral victory for the IRA over the British because it showed that Americans were willing to ally with the IRA, according to agent Donald J. DeFago.
DeFago testified that one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims was cooperating with the FBI and Customs on this Valhalla exchange, as well as the attempted importation of 36 tons of marijuana into Boston Harbor. Because of John McIntyre’s cooperation, the marijuana was seized by authorities.
McIntyre was arrested on drunken driving charges when he began cooperating with the feds, said DeFago.
The agent, now 64, formally interviewed McIntyre in October 1984, with an FBI agent who he said knew John Connolly, Bulger’s rogue FBI handler who is now imprisoned. The prosecution charges that Bulger ordered a hit on McIntyre when he learned he was cooperating with authorities
Though DeFago testified that McIntyre named dozens of organized crime associates responsible for the seaborne marijuana exchanges, he never once named Bulger or his No. 2, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
McIntyre said it was Pat Nee, a reputed Charlestown gangster, who was the head of the jobs. DeFago said he “understood that Whitey and Flemmi were apart of Nee’s crowd.”
Bulger’s alleged No. 2 takes stand Thursday
Sparks are likely to fly Thursday when Flemmi, nicknamed “The Rifleman,” takes the stand.
Defense attorneys say Bulger heard that Flemmi was arrested on extortion charges in 1995 on the radio and decided to go on the run for 16 years, landing himself on the FBI’s most-wanted list before being arrested with his girlfriend in their Santa Monica, California, apartment in 2011.
Flemmi argued he had immunity and should be exonerated of charges because he was an FBI informant. A judge ruled he did not have immunity, and he was sentenced in August 2001 to 10 years in prison for extortion and money laundering as part of a plea agreement.
The government’s star witness was once Bulger’s front man for the “Winter Hill Gang,” collecting money from bookies and inspiring fear in those that didn’t pay their debts.
Flemmi pleaded guilty to 10 murders after charges were brought in 2004 and was spared the death penalty after agreeing to testify against Bulger.
The two will be reunited Thursday for the first time in 18 years.
Prosecutors say Flemmi’s testimony will be the nail in the coffin in locking up the Bulger case.
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