Bulger Prosecutor Reflects On 23-Year Career, And His New Venture

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From left to right: federal prosecutors Fred Wyshak and Brian Kelly, and defense lawyers Henry Brennan and J.W. Carney. (Jane Collins)
From left to right: federal prosecutors Fred Wyshak and Brian Kelly, and defense lawyers Henry Brennan and J.W. Carney. (Jane Collins)

Brian Kelly has been at the center of several of the biggest federal cases in Boston over the last two decades.

He led the prosecution of former Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, supervised the corruption cases against former Massachusetts House speakers Sal DiMasi and Tom Finneran, and oversaw the investigation of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art theft.

But now, after 23 years in the U.S. attorney's office, Brian Kelly has left his position as chief of the public corruption and special investigations unit. He's going to the other side of the courtroom: next month, he'll join the Boston law firm Nixon Peabody to defend people and businesses accused of white-collar crime.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Kelly about his career to date and the professional challenges ahead of him.


Brian Kelly, former chief of the U.S. attorney's public corruption and special investigations unit.

Excerpts from Interview

On why he's moving to private practice:
The reality is I've got two kids in college and third about to go there, so that certainly focused my attention, as did the conclusion of the Bulger case. If I was ever going to do something different, I thought now would be a good time.

His reaction to revelations of corruption within the Boston FBI:
Everyone understands there are corrupt people within society in general. It didn't change my world view in any way. It just solidified in me the desire to make sure that people who commit serious crimes are prosecuted.

On whether he ever thought Bulger would never be found:
Certainly there are times when you have your doubts, but we always held out hope, in large part because his girlfriend never surfaced. We figured he wouldn't be able to survive on the run without her. Just in terms of day-to-day activities, I can't see him as a guy who goes shopping for food or I can't see him as a guy who could interact normally with a lot of people in day-to-day life without losing his cool and exposing his true nature.

On how his white-collar work will differ from his job as a prosecutor:
I'm sure it will feel a bit unusual at first...First of all, I won't be able to indict people any more [laughs]. Ultimately, litigation is litigation, so the skills are transferable, but it will be a different mindset, for sure, in how you approach a trial...I'd love to have the next Madoff case, although I'd prefer my client to be actually innocent. But certainly that would be a fascinating case to work on.

His main reflection as he steps away from his long-time job in the U.S. attorney's office:
I think that when people work together and persevere in a common goal they can accomplish great things, and I think that's what happened in the Bulger case. And ultimately we triumphed over a very evil criminal organization and a very evil group of men.

This segment aired on December 12, 2013.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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