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'Whitey' Bulger wants FBI leaks stopped

From the CNN Wire Staff
Law enforcement officials announce reputed Irish mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's arrest last week after 16 years on the run.
Law enforcement officials announce reputed Irish mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's arrest last week after 16 years on the run.
  • NEW: Bulger argues leaks endanger a fair trial
  • The 81-year-old reputed mobster was a fugitive for 16 years
  • His case inspired the Oscar-winning film "The Departed"
  • He was back in court Tuesday and wants a public defender

Boston (CNN) -- Reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger wants a judge to clamp down on leaks from federal agents about his case, arguing Tuesday they endanger the former fugitive's right to a fair trial on murder charges.

"If it is now possible -- and Mr. Bulger seriously questions whether it will be possible -- for Mr. Bulger to receive a fair trial, law enforcement leaks of non-public information must end, with disclosures of information limited to the judicial process," his interim attorney, Peter Krupp, wrote.

Prosecutors say the 81-year-old Bulger was the boss of South Boston's Irish mob before he fled an impending racketeering indictment in 1995. At the same time, he was an FBI informant whose handler tipped him off about the charges -- a tale that became the basis for the Oscar-winning crime drama "The Departed."

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf issued no rulings during Tuesday's brief hearing, which is scheduled to reconvene Thursday afternoon. But he told prosecutors to submit a plan for stopping any leaks by Wednesday.

'Whitey' Bulger arrives in court
James 'Whitey' Bulger arrested
1998: Bulger's FBI contact in court

Bulger was arrested last week in California, along with his longtime girlfriend, 60-year-old Catherine Elizabeth Greig. He now faces 19 counts of murder, while she has been charged with harboring a fugitive.

Bulger appeared in court in orange jail coveralls Tuesday. He has asked for a public defender, but prosecutors -- who said FBI agents seized more than $822,000 in cash from Bulger's Santa Monica apartment -- say he should pick up his own legal tab.

"He has every incentive to lie and stick the taxpayers with the bill for his defense," prosecutors wrote in court papers filed Tuesday. They said Bulger has admitted to stashing more money away with "people he trusted" but would not name, and suggested that Bulger's brother William could pay for a lawyer.

William Bulger is a former president of the University of Massachusetts and state Senate leader. He was forced to step down from his university job after then-Gov. Mitt Romney, now a Republican presidential candidate, accused him of being evasive during congressional testimony about "Whitey's" whereabouts.

Prosecutors asked Wolf to require both William Bulger and a third Bulger brother, John Bulger, to submit affidavits before a decision is made.

Bulger also asked the judge to order federal agents to turn over notes of their interviews with him following his capture, arguing the documents are needed to defend himself against charges that he has hidden assets and will assist his defense.

Bulger lived "a relatively comfortable lifestyle" for the 16 years he was a fugitive, taking numerous gambling trips to Las Vegas, according to a government document filed in his case. Prosecutors say Bulger waived his Miranda rights after his arrest and told agents who were taking him back to Boston that he had been "a frequent traveler as a fugitive," according to the government.

"Bulger acknowledged visiting Las Vegas on numerous occasions to play the slots and claimed he won more than he lost," the filing said. "Bulger also admitted traveling to San Diego and then crossing over into Tijuana to purchase medicines."

Bulger also told the feds that he traveled back to Boston "on several occasions while 'armed to the teeth' because he 'had to take care of some unfinished business,'" the document said. Bulger refused to tell the agents any details of his Boston visits, it said.

Ahead of Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss Bulger from the earlier racketeering indictment. Those counts included allegations that Bulger and his associates engaged in loan sharking, shaking down bookies and drug dealers, and attempting to fix horse races.

The murder case against him "not only carries higher penalties, but is stronger both factually and legally than this matter," prosecutors wrote. Meanwhile, two key witnesses have died, and Bulger's status as an informant has complicated the case, they wrote.

But Krupp called the move "troubling," suggesting the government was "forum-shopping" by trying to drop the earlier case.

Wolf told Krupp he would be handling the issue for Bulger until a decision was made on his request for a court-appointed lawyer.

CNN's Sheila Steffen contributed to this report.