Authorities: Bulger witness found dead

2013-07-18 21:26
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

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Boston - A man who was on the witness list for the racketeering trial of reputed mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger, and had been a vocal critic of the reputed gangster, was found dead, authorities said on Thursday.

The body of Stephen Rakes was found on Wednesday afternoon with no obvious signs of trauma, the District Attorney's Office said. Authorities were conducting an autopsy to determine the 59-year-old Quincy man's cause and manner of death.

Rakes and his former wife were forced to sell Bulger their South Boston liquor store in 1984 to use as a headquarters for his gang and as a source of legitimate income, prosecutors say. But another prosecution witness testified that wasn't true, and it was unclear whether prosecutors would put Rakes on the stand.

Bulger, the reputed boss of the mostly Irish-American Winter Hill Gang, became one of the nation's most wanted fugitives after he fled Boston in 1994. His early, romanticised, image was that of a modern-day Robin Hood who gave out free Thanksgiving dinners to working class residents of the South Boston neighbourhood where he grew up.

Prosecutors say Bulger was secretly working as a high-level FBI informant and used their tips to fight against members of Boston's Italian-American Mafia - known as the New England Mafia - once the top federal crime-fighting priority.

Rakes regularly attended Bulger's trial and was last seen there on Tuesday.

He was a vocal critic of Bulger leading up to the trial, saying in April when Bulger appeared in court for the first time in about two years that he began hyperventilating when he first saw the defendant. Rakes said Bulger wouldn't look his way.

"The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better," Rakes told The Associated Press that day.

Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, spent 16 years on the run, becoming one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted before authorities captured him and his girlfriend in California in 2011. He is charged with participating in 19 murders.

The Winter Hill saga inspired the 2006 Martin Scorsese film "The Departed", with Matt Damon in the crooked cop role and Jack Nicholson playing a Bulger-like Irish-American gangster.

Bulger maintains his innocence.

Read more on:    james 'whitey' bulger  |  us

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