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Into the Boston Convention Center, I walked past James "Whitey" Bulger's gold diamond claddagh ring, appraised at $15,000. I also walked past a lady's Rolex and lady's diamond ring.
The sterling silver "Pyscho Killer Skull" ring in sterling silver didn't interest me either.
Ditto the rat mug.
No, I wanted to see Lot Number 1061 which is far more emblematic of the Bulger yard sale and flea market on display here.
There it was as described in the catalogue: "Big bag of rubber bands" along with "miscellaneous TV tray and Hamster Wheel."
I figured Lot 1061 posed the essential question of the whole auction:
"Are you kidding me?" asks Pat Donahue.
Donahue has more than a passing interest in the auction. Her husband was gunned down by Bulger in 1982, an innocent man and father of three giving a ride home to a neighbor who Bulger also killed.
Donahue has never received a penny from the government, despite the evidence her husband was killed by a man who had been tipped off by the FBI beforehand, and protected by the FBI and the Department of Justice afterward.
And now comes Lot 1061 and many like it.
"That's the reason I'm going," says Donahue, "because I am very curious what lowlifes would want to spend their money on that stuff."
In the name of benefiting some 20 families of Bulger's murder victims, the U.S. Marshals Service is putting to bid 135 lots of personal possessions of Bulger and his girlfriend Catherine Greig.
"My goal is hopefully to generate as much money as possible that we can then distribute among the many victims that are in this case," says U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. "It's that simple."
The conventional federal auction in drug forfeiture cases involves boats, cars, planes and mansions.
This one features the personal and the prosaic.
In one lot: "14 used t-shirts — some torn, 2 black t-shirts."
In another: "electric meat cleaver, tea pot, mini Crock Pot" and "Bionaire steam mop with directions (not checked for working order)."
Privately, most of the feds concede its mostly junk. But as the U.S. Marshals' John Gibbons says, it's their junk now that they've taken it away from Bulger.
"We've seized his stuff. He's not happy," says Gibbons. "He's in jail. He's not able to enjoy the stuff."
"A lot of this is yard sale stuff," I say, "so how do you sell yard sale stuff to get more than its intrinsic value?"
"Yeah, well we're hoping — and hate to say it — but based upon his notoriety that individuals will be able to come out here and maybe put a bid on this stuff," says Gibbons.
Looking at the cheap furniture, zirconium jewelry, "cat coffee mug" and "poodle salt and pepper shakers"-- stuff it looks like the fugitive couple themselves could have have picked up along the yard sale byway — it's clear that the only hope for commanding high prices is the allure to some that the stuff has been touched by Bulger.
"How do you buy something from somebody that's killed multiple people?" asks Pat Donahue. "I just can't believe they would put that stuff up for auction."
"What's going to happen is the Bulger glorifiers are the ones that the government is targeting here," says Michael Heineman, a lawyer who has represented families of Bulger's victims. "You know, those people that still glorify Whitey. Those are the people who are going to want a piece of paraphernalia from him."
In private, even federal officials here say they worry the auction will glorify a monster.
While declining to express her opinion about Bulger's skull ring and matching belt, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who acknowledges the auction feels "creepy," offered a rationale.
"There are people who glamorize him and make him bigger than life," says Ortiz, "and they're going to exist whether we do this auction or not. And at the end of the day, I think that the whole purpose of it is to generate this income for the victims."
The proceeds will add to the shares among 20 families of over $800,000 found in the walls of Bulger's apartment in Santa Monica when he and Greig were arrested five years ago this week.
But the bitter history of the Department of Justice fighting the civil suits filed by Pat Donahue and every other family of Bulger's victims has visited this auction.
"I think it's nothing more than another publicity stunt by the U.S. Attorney's Office to say, 'Look what good guys we are. Look how we're helping the victims here,'" says attorney Michael Heineman.
"[The Department of Justice] fought each and every victim along the way and was successful in keeping family after family after family from getting justice," says Heineman.
As for the man whose pajamas and size nine and a half Asic running shoes, all unused and in three identical pairs, are going up for auction this weekend, his attorney Henry Brennan rallied to the cause of the families of the victims his client murdered. He says Bulger deserves credit for pushing the government into sharing the money from Santa Monica.
"It seems to me," says Brennan, "if the United States Attorney's Office truly cared about compensating the victims they would take some of the millions of dollars they had previously taken from the illegal proceeds of everybody involved and simply write a check to the victims families. This is a show."
And one that even the U.S. Attorney concedes is somewhat creepy.
Carmen Ortiz says she's hoping the auction will bring in a million dollars. As for what doesn't sell: the U.S. Marshals say it will go up for another auction.
More pictures from the auction:
This segment aired on June 24, 2016.
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