The Persecution of Robert Fitzpatrick
In Beantown, the indictment and upcoming trial of retired FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick on perjury charges is a vindictive prosecution designed to intimidate potential whistleblowers and rewrite history.
By T.J. English
The case of the notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger is not yet over. It is not over because a federal prosecutor in the District of Massachusetts does not want it to be over.
Earlier this week, Assistant U.S. attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. filed papers in the case against Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired FBI agent who, in the summer of 2013, testified on behalf of the defense at the trial of Whitey Bulger. In April 2015, nearly two years after the trial was over, the U.S. Attorney’s office arrested Robert Fitzpatrick and charged him with six counts of perjury and six counts of obstruction of justice based on his testimony.
The charges have little to do with Fitzpatrick’s testimony regarding Bulger’s crimes. Rather, prosecutors are claiming that Fitzpatrick committed perjury by exaggerating certain aspects of his career as an FBI agent.
Fitzpatrick is 76 years old and in failing health. If convicted on federal perjury and obstruction charges, he faces fifteen years in prison – which for him would be a virtual life sentence.
I know Bob Fitzpatrick. I met and interviewed him numerous times for a book I wrote on the Bulger case entitled Where the Bodies Were Buried. He is a good man. He was raised in the church-run Mount Loretto orphanage in Staten Island, New York. He served with distinction in the U.S. Army. He’s been married for thirty years to a woman who works in hospital administration and has two daughters, recent college graduates, of whom any father would be proud.
Back in 1981, Fitzpatrick, a sixteen-year veteran of the FBI, was transferred to Boston and walked into a hornet’s nest. The corruption Fitzpatrick encountered was astounding, not only within his own FBI division but also within the halls of justice. Among those who would later be exposed as playing a crucial role in the Bulger conspiracy was Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, chief of the state’s Organized Crime Strike Force and later U.S. Attorney. O’Sullivan protected Bulger and his criminal partner Steve Flemmi, who, unbeknownst to the public, were serving as informants for the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the same time they were killing people with impunity.
At the Bulger trial, prosecutors Wyshak, Brian Kelly and Zachary Hafer – working for the same U.S. Attorney’s office that once had a duplicitous relationship with Bulger and Flemmi – found themselves in a difficult position. Prosecuting Bulger for his voluminous crimes was the easy part; the evidence was overwhelming. Far more challenging was to control the narrative of the Bulger prosecution so that it did not reveal the historical continuity of corruption that helped to make Bulger possible.
Bob Fitzpatrick was not the only retired lawman that took the stand and detailed corruption that spread beyond the FBI into the U.S. Attorney’s office and all the way to DOJ headquarters in Washington D.C. In many ways, the testimony of retired special agents Joe Crawford, Fred Davis and Matt Cronin was even more devastating in its detailing of what happened to agents who smelled a rat in the Boston criminal justice system and attempted to do anything about it. But Fitzpatrick, it seems, is being punished because he had the “audacity” to write a book about it.
In Betrayal (Forge Books: 2011), a book about Fitzpatrick’s FBI career, written by Fitzpatrick and Jon Land, the ex-agent vented his frustrations over his years as Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the bureau’s Boston division. The internal law enforcement corruption that Fitzpatrick lays out in his book has been corroborated many times over by others who published books and testified at the Bulger trial. But by testifying at the trial on behalf of the defense, Fitzpatrick – in the eyes of the prosecutors – stepped over to the other side and must now be punished.
In motion papers filed in federal court this week in Boston, prosecutors Wyshak and Hafer cite that in his testimony Fitzpatrick mentioned that early in his career, while stationed in Memphis, he was among the first agents on the scene of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Fitzpatrick noted that he, among other agents, discovered the gun that was used by James Earl Ray to kill King. The prosecutors are seeking to submit as evidence a transcript of an interview Fitzpatrick did for a CNN documentary in which he says, “Then I was transferred back to Memphis. Martin Luther King came to Memphis and I was told that King had just been shot. We found the gun and through the fingerprints we identified James Earl Ray, and we arrested him in London.”
The prosecutors note that nowhere in the official record of the King assassination is Robert Fitzpatrick’s name mentioned as having been among those who found the gun.
And that is it: that is a primary count in the government’s perjury case, that Fitzpatrick may have exaggerated this detail from his 22-year-long law enforcement career about something that occurred nearly a half century ago.
Among other counts in the Fitzpatrick indictment is whether or not he accurately stated his managerial mandate when he was first transferred to the Boston FBI office, and whether or not he was present at the physical arrest of Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo, boss of the Boston mafia, as he alleged in his book and on the witness stand.
Clearly, the reason Bob Fitzpatrick has been indicted has nothing to do with these picayune acts for which he has been charged. His prosecution has to do with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston shoring up its legacy and attempting to rewrite the public record. By seeking to discredit Fitzpatrick, to bury him under the full weight of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, they are attempting to reconfigure the narrative of institutional corruption that helped to make the long-running Bulger fiasco such a depraved and murderous reality.
Wyshak and Hafer got the conviction they wanted in the Bulger case, and they are to be congratulated for that. They helped to put away one of the most vile mob bosses in U.S. history. But the prosecution of Whitey Bulger also involved one of the most egregious whitewashes in the history of the criminal justice system.
The latest act in this ongoing whitewash is the attempt to destroy Bob Fitzpatrick, a man who served the FBI admirably for more than twenty years and now faces a prison sentence on charges that are beneath the dignity of federal prosecutors throughout the United States.
Consider this: the city of Boston is now going to have an expensive federal trial to determine who first found the gun at the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, and whether or not an aging, long-ago-retired FBI agent will be made to serve time in prison for allegedly misstating his involvement in that.
Is this for real? Doesn’t the criminal justice system in Boston have better things to do with its time and energy? Haven’t the people of Boston had enough of prosecutors using the system to settle personal beefs, to sometimes convict innocent people, or to exact revenge on those who they feel have defied their wishes?
It’s hard to believe, but the case against Fitzpatrick is actually going to trial on June 17. In the upcoming weeks and months I will be posting dispatches on this case as events develop. Please tune in to this blog page – Skull Fragments – for the latest updates.