July 19, 2013 11:59:24 AM
BOSTON -- Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi barely scratched the surface of his long criminal relationship with James "Whitey" Bulger as he began what is expected to be hours of testimony against Bulger at his racketeering trial.
During his brief, 15 minutes of testimony Thursday, Flemmi said both he and Bulger were partners in the Winter Hill Gang, a violent Irish mob. He also said he and Bulger were longtime FBI informants who squealed on the rival Mafia as well as assorted criminals in South Boston.
But court recessed for the day before prosecutors had a chance to ask Flemmi about Bulger's role in numerous killings Bulger is accused of orchestrating or committing.
Flemmi is due back on the witness stand Friday.
As court ended Thursday, the 79-year-old Flemmi, with his hands on his hips, glared at Bulger as he waited to be taken away by federal marshals. The two men then snarled what sounded like obscenities at each other.
It was their first meeting in nearly two decades.
Flemmi said he hasn't seen Bulger since about a week before Christmas in 1994. That was when they got tipped off by John Connolly, their former FBI handler, that they were about to be indicted.
Bulger fled Boston and was one of the nation's most-wanted fugitives for more than 16 years until he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
Flemmi was arrested and has been in prison ever since.
Flemmi said he was with Bulger and heard him give information to Connolly "hundreds of times" over 15 years.
"Who did most of the talking at these meetings?" prosecutor Fred Wyshak asked.
"James Bulger," Flemmi replied.
That comment seemed to rankle Bulger, who insists that he was never an informant and told people that being a "rat" was the worst thing anyone could do, according to testimony.
Prosecutors said Bulger and Flemmi ran the Winter Hill Gang for more than 20 years, making millions by extorting drug dealers, bookmakers and loan sharks.
Bulger is accused of participating in 19 killings during the 1970s and '80s. Flemmi pleaded guilty to 10 killings, extortion, drug distribution and other charges. He is serving a life sentence.
Before Flemmi took the stand Thursday, word spread through the courtroom that a former Boston liquor store owner who had hoped to testify against Bulger and openly despised him had been found dead. Authorities said a jogger discovered the body of 59-year-old Stephen "Stippo" Rakes in the woods along a street Wednesday in Lincoln, Mass.
Prosecutors said an autopsy Thursday found no signs of trauma. Investigators trying to establish the cause of death were awaiting toxicology results.
Bulger is accused of forcing Rakes and his former wife to sell their store in 1984 to use as a headquarters for his gang and as a source of legitimate income.
Kevin Weeks, Bulger's former protege, gave a differing account when he testified last week. Weeks said Rakes wanted to sell the store, agreed to a price and then tried to increase that price.
Friends said Rakes was eager to testify against Bulger.
"The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better," Rakes told The Associated Press in April.
But it appeared earlier this week that prosecutors had decided not to call Rakes as a witness after all. When they listed their remaining witnesses for the judge, Rakes was not among them.