LOS ANGELES — James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list for his alleged role in 19 murders, has been captured near Los Angeles after living on the run for 16 years, authorities said Wednesday.
Bulger led the violent Winter Hill Gang, a largely Irish mob that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets in the Boston area. He was nicknamed “Whitey” for his shock of bright platinum hair.
Richard Des Lauriers, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office, released the following statement:
FBI agents have arrested James “Whitey” Bulger and his girlfriend Catherine Greig in California. Recent publicity produced a tip which led agents to Santa Monica where they spotted both Grieg and Bulger at a residence. The two were arrested without incident. Initial appearances will be scheduled in the Central District of California. FBI Boston and the U.S. Attorney in the District of Massachusetts will have further information on Thursday.
Bulger, 81, was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang when he fled in January 1995 after being tipped by a former Boston FBI agent that he was about to be indicted. Bulger was a top-echelon FBI informant.
Bulger grew up in South Boston. His younger brother, William, was one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts, leading the state Senate for 17 years and later serving as president of the University of Massachusetts for seven years. William Bulger testified about his brother before a congressional committee and has said he has only heard from his brother once since he became a fugitive.
Over the years, the FBI battled a public perception that it had not tried very hard to find Bulger, who became a huge source of embarrassment for the agency after the extent of his crimes and the FBI’s role in overlooking them became public.
Bulger later was listed as one of the agency’s “Ten Most Wanted” for his alleged role in 19 murders, including the slayings of businessmen in Florida and Oklahoma. He was next to Osama bin Laden on the list and had a $2 million reward on his head.
Prosecutors said he went on the run after being warned by John Connolly Jr., an FBI agent who had made Bulger an FBI informant 20 years earlier. Connolly was convicted of racketeering in May 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, also an FBI informant.
Bulger provided the Boston FBI with information on his gang’s main rival, the New England Mob, in an era when bringing down the Mafia was one of the FBI’s top national priorities.
But the Boston FBI office was sharply criticized when the extent of Bulger’s alleged crimes and his cozy relationship with the FBI became public in the late 1990s.
During his years on the run, the FBI received reported sightings of Bulger and his longtime girlfriend Greig from all over the United States and parts of Europe. In many of those sightings, investigators could not confirm whether it was actually Bulger who was spotted or simply a lookalike.
Flores said the FBI had been conducting a surveillance operation in the area where the arrest was made. He gave no details of the arrest.
The FBI in Los Angeles didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom contributed to this report.