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SNHU professor chronicles how he chased Whitey Bulger

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 06. 2012 11:14PM


MANCHESTER - While pursuing James 'Whitey' Bulger for 20 years, Col. Thomas J. Foley was constantly frustrated by the number of people protecting the reputed Boston mobster - on both sides of the law.

'I couldn't believe how the good guys were bad guys,' said Foley.

Foley, the retired former head of the Massachusetts State Police and a criminology professor at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, has written a book about the two decades he spent trying to bring down Bulger and his criminal empire.

'Most Wanted: Pursuing Whitey Bulger, the Murderous Mob Chief the FBI Secretly Protected' will be released tomorrow, and chronicles Foley's investigation of Bulger, his underlings and associates, and the structure of the Mafia and the Irish mob in the Boston area.

It also gives an inside look at the pushback Foley received from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which he eventually discovered was protecting Bulger, who doubled as one of the FBI's most well-connected informants.

'A lot of books have been written about Whitey, and the exploits of the Winter Hill Gang, but this is one side of the story that has never been told,' said Foley, 57. 'This is the story of how the investigation was conducted. This is an inside, first-person account. It really walks people through the whole process, through our efforts to bring charges against Bulger and his associates, and bring them to justice. I think it shows how this case pointed out the need for law enforcement to handle our informants and make sure that our informants don't handle us. I hope it shows the need for change, and points out how that change has never come.'

A new policy regarding how the FBI handles informants was established over a decade ago, but Foley says it still is not being followed by agents.

The book points out that a tip about an impending indictment from former Boston FBI Agent John J. Connolly Jr. set Whitey off on his 16-year run from law enforcement. Connolly has since been sentenced to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder in Miami. The information he provided his informants led to the murder of a man Connolly feared could put him in prison.

Connolly also is serving a 10-year federal sentence for racketeering.

The book outlines what Foley terms the 'pushback' he received from the FBI as he investigated Bulger's crime ring, including one instance where he was presented with a plaque that read, 'The Most Hated Man in Law Enforcement' from FBI agents at a Christmas party at the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston, He feels the plaque was a warning to stop his investigation.

'At times, yes, things like that were a little embarrassing, for sure,' said Foley. 'But I, and members of our Organized Crime Unit, we looked at it that if the FBI was worried enough to do something like that, we must be doing something right. We must be getting close. Instead of deterring us, they inspired us.'

Foley and his team collaborated to put Boston mobsters Stephen 'The Rifleman' Flemmi, Frank 'Cadillac' Salemme, henchman Kevin Weeks and others in prison. Their work also brught charges against Connolly.

Foley said that writing the book brought back all the frustrations generated over decades of chasing Bulger and his gang, mainly aimed at the government's handling of the case.

'It was more than chasing Bulger. The system needed to be changed,' Foley said. 'A lot of that hasn't happened. We expose the issues regarding how this whole investigation was handled. Not everyone's going to like what they read here.'

The book ends with Bulger being apprehended in June, 2011 with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, in Santa Monica, Calif. Bulger faces a litany of charges, including the murder of 19 people, racketeering and drug trafficking. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 5 in Massachusetts.

Foley said he received a phone call while he was on a trip to Florida with his wife from Col. Marian J. McGovern, superintendent of the state police, telling him of Bulger's capture.

'I remember sitting up for a few minutes, then watching the reports come in on TV,' said Foley. 'Anyone who pursued him will tell you they wish they caught him, but we're all glad he was finally apprehended. I remember sitting down in a restaurant for dinner the next day, and for about the first time in 16 years not looking around to see if he was in the crowd. I never realized how keyed up I was as far as always looking for him goes, until that moment. It was the best dinner I had in years.'

Foley took a break from teaching at SNHU while writing the book. He said he expects to be back on campus in January.

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