The first season of Skull Fragments is in the can, as they say, all episodes currently available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Libsyn, etc. It was pure joy for me doing these six intimate, in-depth, in-studio interviews. Entertaining, educational, fascinating. The episodes present diverse points of … Continue reading The Nitty Gritty on Crime & Punishment in America
Category: Criminal justice
BOOK REVIEW: No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder
Nobody wants to talk about domestic violence. Men don’t want to talk about it. Women don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to. I don’t want to. Author Rachel Louise Snyder is well aware of this fact, and in No Visible Bruises, her … Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder
BOOK REVIEW: The Torture Machine by Flint Taylor
Ask the average Caucasian on the street if U.S. law enforcement engages in torture of its citizens as a matter of policy and you are likely to get an emphatic ‘no’. Ask a Caucasian in Chicago and you may detect a slight hesitation, as the … Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: The Torture Machine by Flint Taylor
LETTER FROM MADRID: T.J. English
El Hijo Pródigo (the Prodigal Son) * This article originally appeared online at Konch Magazine (ishmaelreedpub.com) This is the story of a notorious Cuban American gangster named Jose Miguel Battle. In Cuba, his last name was spelled Batlle and pronounced Bat-ye, but once in the … Continue reading LETTER FROM MADRID: T.J. English
Death of a Mad Dog
Mad Dog Sullivan has passed away in prison after a long bout with cancer. Some will not be sorry to see him go. He was a professional contract killer for the Mob who may have whacked over 20 people, mostly other gangsters. He is also … Continue reading Death of a Mad Dog
BULLSHIT IN BOSTON #2
Let’s Make a Deal 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 In November 2015, six months after former FBI agent Robert … Continue reading BULLSHIT IN BOSTON #2
ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES
Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption
A few years ago, a friend of mine informed me that a young activist and writer had struck up a relationship with James McElroy, a feared hit man for the Westies. Having devoted a number of years to researching and writing a book about the Westies, I was curious.
McElroy was one of the most notorious members of that violent crew. He was not known for his brains; he was the gang’s muscle. Jimmy Mac, as he was known to his friends and criminal associates, probably had administered more beatings and killed more people than he could remember. In the universe of would-be, could-be and wanna-be gangsters, McElroy was OG through and through.
For those who might not know, the Westies were a hyper-violent Irish American gang that existed in Hell’s Kitchen, on the West Side of Manhattan, from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s, until they were put out of business in a big federal racketeering trial. While writing the book The Westies, which was published in 1990, I had attempted to interview Jimmy Mac. I knew it was highly unlikely that he or his lawyer would give their consent. McElroy was incarcerated at the time and in the midst of the Westies trial, which lasted six months from September 1988 and into 1989. Eventually, McElroy, along with eight other defendants, was convicted. He was given a sentence of 75 years to life in prison, with no opportunity of parole.
Much of what I knew about Jimmy Mac came from courtroom testimony (gang member Billy Beattie, in particular, had a lot to say about McElroy on the witness stand, as did an old-time neighborhood loanshark turned witness named Tony Lucich). But most of what I knew came from extensive interviews with Mickey Featherstone, the No. 2 man in the gang, who admired Jimmy Mac but also realized that he was a very dangerous and capable killer.
Most of what I knew about McElroy was second hand, which is why I was so intrigued to hear that a writer had spent time visiting him in prison and was planning to write about it. And there were a couple other things that added to the intrigue – the writer in question was a woman, and she was African American.
From what I knew of McElroy, he was likely an old school misogynist and possibly a racist as well.
Walidah Imarisha is the writer’s name, and the project she was working on is now a book called Angels With Dirty Faces, published last month by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies (the title of the book comes from the iconic Jimmy Cagney movie, first released in 1938).
I met Walidah about a year and a half before the book was officially published. In October 2014, we were both invited to speak at the Howard Zinn Book Fair held in San Francisco and organized by the esteemed activist and author James Tracy.
When Walidah first walked into the bookstore where the Zinn event organizers were holding an opening-day reception, I did a double take. She had a prodigious Angela Davis-style Afro and a big warm smile, and she was wearing a dress patterned with Star Wars characters. The idea of this woman sitting down with McElroy of the Westies was causing the synapses in the brain to snap, crackle and pop.
That night, Walidah gave me a copy of her collected poems, published as a book entitled Scars/Stars. I read the poems. They were very good, filled with pain, passion and insight.
A few months later, Walidah sent me a rough copy of her unfinished manuscript for Angels With Dirty Faces. I read about her relationship with McElroy, someone I thought I knew a fair amount about. But there was so much more about the man that Walidah was able to get not only by spending time with Jimmy Mac, but also by placing his life of crime in a larger context of incarceration, the street, and the vicious cycle at the heart of criminal justice in the U.S.A.
Over numerous prison visits, Walidah was able to get things out of this hardened criminal that I likely never would have. Her being a woman and African American no doubt cast their encounters in a particular light. I’m not saying this gave Walidah any particular advantage or disadvantage, but it would have altered McElroy’s need to size up his inquisitor according to the dictates of male competitiveness, or male insecurity, and perhaps let down his guard. Walidah was able to get beneath the hitman’s misogyny and racial tribalism. After all, it was Sundiata Acoli, a former member of The Black Liberation Army, who first introduced Walidah to Jimmy Mac in the prison visiting room. While incarcerated, the veteran black liberationist and the Irish American gangster had become close friends.
Anyone who has read The Westies, or taken an interest in the crazy, self-destructive trajectory of the gang’s legend needs to pick up a copy of Angels With Dirty Faces. Walidah’s portrait of McElroy fills in a lot of blanks and fleshes out aspects of the gang’s psychosis in ways that will deepen your general understanding of crime and punishment in America.
The sections of Walidah’s book that deal with Jimmy Mac are fascinating, but I would be doing the book a disservice if I left it there. Angels With Dirty Faces actually intertwines three separate narratives that all relate to the subject of incarceration and criminal justice. There is the story of Walidah’s own adopted brother, Kakamia, who is serving an extended sentence on murder charges. And then there’s Walidah’s own highly personal story of her experiences with sexual assault by someone she knew and trusted. In various ways, all three of these narratives reflect aspects of compulsive criminality, personal responsibility, societal accountability, and the concept of redemption.
- To learn more about the remarkable career of Walidah Imarisha and her tireless efforts as an educator, activist, poet, author, Afro-futurist, and all-around badass, visit her website at: www.walidah.com
- For an account of the death and Hell’s Kitchen funeral service for Jimmy McElroy, who passed away before Angels With Dirty Faces was published, read this evocative New York Times piece by the great Jim Dwyer: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/nyregion/a-farewell-to-jimmy-mcelroy-gangster-of-a-lost-era.html
BULLSHIT IN BOSTON #1
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.