Support the news
Every day in the court system, people are asked to inform on others when they don't want to do so. Sometimes, the choices are especially stark, as is the case when people are ordered to testify or else face being sentenced to prison: contempt of court.
That charge comes into the public eye Monday as the prisoner Catherine Greig appears in the federal courthouse in Boston for refusing to answer questions about her longtime companion, the infamous Boston mobster and convicted murderer James "Whitey" Bulger.
Despite Added Prison Time And Threat Of More, Greig Hasn't Talked
In 2012, Greig was sentenced to prison for eight years for conspiracy to harbor the fugitive Bulger.
Outside the courthouse, Greig's attorney Kevin Reddington gave voice to her attitude at the time. It hasn't changed.
"She was in love with the guy, and she lived with him for 16 years," Reddington, who is based in Brockton, said. "Of course she doesn't regret it."
During the last year, Greig could not have made herself clearer to federal prosecutors as they tried to coerce her into answering questions about Bulger's time as a fugitive.
From her federal prison cell in Minnesota, federal prosecutors repeatedly shipped her back to the federal courthouse in Boston. They put her in front of a grand jury.
The government has only said that it wanted to ask about others "who assisted and harbored Bulger."
Federal Judge Denise Casper, who had presided over Bulger's trial, ordered Greig to answer questions.
And she refused.
That's the charge here.
"There's almost no defense to it," said Robert Sheketoff, a defense attorney who has no connection to the case. After all, he said, the facts are out there.
"They just have to show that you were ordered to testify by a judge, and that you refused to do it," Sheketoff explained. "And that's criminal contempt."
There is no fixed penalty, so if convicted, Greig could remain in prison for months, if not years, longer.
Atop of this charge for criminal contempt, Greig has already been punished with a finding of civil contempt in December 2014.
"The concept of civil contempt is that you hold the keys to your jail cell in your own hands," Sheketoff said. "... You are sentenced indefinitely either for the life of the grand jury or for when you decide that you're willing to purge yourself of the civil contempt and go before the grand jury and testify."
In that case, the judge ruled in closed proceedings that for every day Greig kept silent, another day would be added to her stay in prison. Nine months passed. Nine months were added to Greig's stay in prison.
Greig never talked.
Greig, A Non-Violent Offender, Could End Up Spending More Time In Prison Than A Bulger Hit Man
Now comes the highly unusual decision by the U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz to seek criminal contempt atop the civil contempt.
Former federal prosecutor and now a Boston criminal attorney Brad Bailey calls it an act of last resort.
"When you have no more options and when you want to just punish someone for their continued refusal when they have no right, in your opinion, to refuse, that's where you resort to charging them with criminal contempt," Bailey said.
Greig's attorney said Greig is resigned to never getting out of prison. And Bulger's attorney, Henry Brennan, said Greig doesn't know anything.
"There is absolutely no evidence — other than traveling with him and knowing he's a fugitive — she ever knew about the criminal conduct or engaged in the criminal conduct," Brennan said.
The position of the U.S. Attorney's Office appears to be that Greig could no longer invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. And in any event, her lawyer said she never invoked it.
So why wouldn't she talk if she has nothing to hide?
"If she answers truthfully that she doesn't know anything, at least truthfully as you understand it, she may get indicted for perjury," defense attorney Sheketoff said.
Perhaps Greig does know something, like where Bulger stashed some of the millions he made in extortion. Bailey, the former federal prosecutor and now criminal attorney, said that's what federal prosecutors suspect.
"She has to know where some of that money was hidden and perhaps was even told by him," Bailey said.
On all matters Bulger — except for love — Greig is silent. But, prosecutors will not take no for an answer.
An editorial by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly has accused the U.S. Attorney's Office of "prosecutorial overkill."
Civil libertarian and Cambridge attorney Harvey Silverglate said federal prosecutors can seek one contempt charge after another, thereby continuing to extend Greig's imprisonment, by changing the questions and changing grand juries, into the future.
"It is a process without end. The only time it really ends is when a judge decides that nothing the government is going to do is going to work, and the judge orders it to end, and that could be after years," Silverglate said.
The government is going forward, some defense attorneys suggest, to avoid precedent. Because if it lets up on Greig in a high-profile case, it could encourage others to withstand its coercion and keep their silence in the future.
Bulger's lawyer says something else is going on. He cites the deals the U.S. Attorney's Office gave to others, like the girlfriend of John Martorano, the mobster who turned government witness against Bulger. Martorano's girlfriend laundered money when he was a fugitive, and she was never charged.
"Clearly, this is a case of punishment by proxy," Brennan said. "They can't hurt Jim Bulger, so instead they try to hurt Catherine Greig as a way to punish him."
By custom and practice, according to the former prosecutor Bailey, Greig could get 36 additional months or more for criminal contempt.
For a nonviolent offender with no criminal record before harboring a fugitive, Greig would end up spending a prison term as long or longer than John Martorano, who murdered 20 people by his own count.
This segment aired on October 19, 2015.
Support the news