‘Rifleman’: Agent Rico and Stevie like blood brothers
FBI always had a place for the thug
he final excerpt from Howie Carr’s new book, “Rifleman: The Untold Story of Stevie Flemmi, Whitey Bulger’s Partner.”
Gangster Stevie “the Rifleman” Flemmi is due in Boston in June to testify in his longtime underworld partner Whitey Bulger’s federal murder trial. In today’s excerpt from my new book, “Rifleman,” based on Flemmi’s 2003 confession, he details some of his dealings with corrupt FBI agent H. Paul Rico:
When they first met in 1958, Rico was a young FBI agent and Flemmi was an up-and-coming hoodlum. Pretty soon they were, you might say, thick as thieves.
Rico is best-known for the congressional testimony he gave in 1997 about the FBI’s 1968 framing of four Boston underworld figures for a murder they did not commit. All four served more than 30 years in prison. Two died there.
“Whaddaya want from me, tears?” Rico told a congressman.
But that was just one facet of his incredibly corrupt career, much of which involved Flemmi.
Rico hated the McLaughlin gang of Charlestown. In the early 1960s, the FBI had tapped their phones, and picked up disparaging comments about the alleged sexual practices of Rico and his bosses, J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson. Edward “Punchy” McLaughlin had also threatened the brother of Dennis Condon, Rico’s partner in the FBI.
George McLaughlin in 1965 was a fugitive, on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for the murder of a Roxbury bank teller. Flemmi picks up the story:
“Just prior to George MCLAUGHLIN’s arrest … RICO asked FLEMMI for a throwdown handgun. Rico explained that the agents were about to arrest MCLAUGHLIN (and were) planning on shooting MCLAUGHLIN as they took him into custody. The agents were going to plant the gun on a dresser next to MCLAUGHLIN and claim that he had reached for the weapon (and they had fired back) in self-defense.”
Flemmi gave Rico an untraceable .38 caliber revolver. The next day, McLaughlin was arrested, without any fanfare. Flemmi was puzzled.
“RICO explained to FLEMMI that there were five agents involved in the arrest, but that while four were in agreement to kill MCLAUGHLIN, the group was uncertain about a fifth agent … and the plan was dropped. FLEMMI added that RICO never returned the firearm to him.”
Another time, Rico gave the Dorchester address of two McLaughlin hoodlums to Buddy McLean’s Winter Hill gang.
“FLEMMI noted that this information was of a particular interest to the MCLEAN group because the Dorchester neighborhood was unknown territory for the (Somerville) gang, which would have made surveillance on these two MCLAUGHLIN associates very difficult.”
Armed with Rico’s information, the Hill quickly rubbed out the two McLaughlin gunsels.
Perhaps Rico’s greatest assistance came in Flemmi’s 1965 murder of Punchy McLaughlin, the leader of the Charlestown crew. He had already been shot several times, and one of his hands had been amputated after an ambush in Canton. He could no longer drive, but his girlfriend took him every morning to the Spring Street MBTA station in West Roxbury, to catch a bus to his brother George’s murder trial downtown.
Rico passed this on to Flemmi. “RICO then said that he wouldn’t be working the following day, and was going golfing. FLEMMI recalled that RICO then took a make-believe golf swing.” Flemmi murdered Punchy the next day as he boarded the bus.
“FLEMMI added that when next he saw RICO, the FBI agent made the comment, ‘Good shooting’ or ‘Nice shooting.’”
Thirty-two years later, Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) asked Rico about Flemmi.
Burton: “Did you know he was a killer?”
Rico retired and went to work for World Jai Alai in Miami. Soon he was conspiring to kill his boss, Roger Wheeler. He recruited Flemmi and Whitey Bulger, as well as Johnny Martorano and Joe McDonald, two Winter Hill fugitives also living in Florida.
McDonald agreed to participate, because 20 years earlier, Rico had helped his late partner, Buddy McLean, set up yet another gangster who had been trying to kill McLean. After the murder, Rico had allowed McLean to hide in his home in Belmont for several days. Now Rico, the FBI agent, was calling in the 20-year-old chit.
After Wheeler’s murder, Tulsa Police Detective Mike Huff flew to Miami to interview Rico.
“I went down there expecting to sit down with a fellow law-enforcement professional,” he recalled later. “I find myself sitting across the table from The Godfather.”
A few months after Rico orchestrated the World Jai Alai murders, the FBI had a job for him. They needed an agent who could pass himself off as a gangster. Rico was their guy. As a result, a federal judge in Florida was impeached in the House and convicted in the U.S. Senate. Rico received a citation.
But by 2003, both Martorano and Flemmi had pleaded guilty to Wheeler’s murder, and testified against Rico. Huff had the honor of making the arrest. When the police first appeared at his posh lakefront condo, Rico was dressed in madras pants and a cardigan World Jai Alai sweater. When Huff produced the handcuffs, Rico’s jaw dropped and he soiled his pants in terror. He was dead a few weeks later in a prison hospital in Tulsa, under guard, alone. He was 78.