Union leaders and a former federal corrections official are questioning the timing of Whitey Bulger’s transfer last month from a Florida prison to the US Penitentiary Hazelton, where he was returned to the general inmate population.
Bulger was brutally beaten to death in the West Virginia prison, according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. Investigators believe Bulger was attacked by more than one person. At least one inmate involved in the beating has ties to organized crime in Massachusetts, the official said.
Joe Rojas, president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 506 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida — where Bulger was previously housed — said prison officials “dropped the ball” by transferring him to the notoriously violent Hazelton facility and mixing him with the general population.
At the end of his violent life, feared former mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger was an 89-year-old lifer confined to a wheelchair and suffering from a heart condition and other ailments, according to US Bureau of Prisons records.
BOP records obtained by CNN state that Bulger suffered from high blood pressure, aortic stenosis and prostate and bladder problems.
A previous request made by officials at Coleman to transfer Bulger was denied in April because he wouldn’t be transferred to another medical facility.
However, in October, a transfer request was approved and coded to indicate he no longer needed to be in a medical facility.
Records show he was to be returned to the general population under a lower medical classification.
“It’s like sending somebody to death row,” Rojas, who was not involved in the decision to transfer Bulger, told CNN. “We all know that you can’t put somebody like that — high profile — there. … It’s like throwing meat to a bunch of sharks.”
Rojas said the Coleman facility is better prepared to care for inmates with medical needs. The Coleman facility is what’s known as a “closed yard,” considered a safer type of prison, and houses higher-profile prisoners such as Bulger, informants and former gang members.
Apart from its reputation for violence, he said, Hazelton houses current gang members and mafia figures.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden at five Bureau of Prisons facilities who said he had no direct knowledge of the case also questioned the timing of Bulger’s transfer.
“The BOP intentionally designated and transferred Bulger with the belief in mind that he could walk the line at Hazelton, meaning he could be placed in the general population there,” he told CNN.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to CNN’s questions about the medical records and transfer. The agency has declined comment due to the pending investigation into the killing.
“This is astounding given the fact that Bulger is a super high publicity case, as he’s one of America’s most infamous criminals.”
“It was really odd that he was general population given his notoriety and who he was. I was pretty surprised,” said Richard Heldreth, President of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420, which represents staff at Hazelton.
Rojas said he does not believe it was anyone’s intent at the BOP to get Bulger killed, but the transfer had the effect of “sending him to die at Hazelton.”
“There’s no conspiracy to try to get him killed,” Rojas said. “Nobody wants to get another inmate killed.”
Lindsay, who said he had no direct knowledge of the case, agreed.
“I don’t think that any nefarious plot was afoot,” he said. “That would be terribly inconsistent with what I know about the Bureau of Prisons. I think it’s more — I’m going to guess it’s an issue of complacency. Somebody was asleep at the switch.”
“Their intent was to get rid of him, probably because he was a crusty old man and a pain in the ass,” Rojas said.
Two other prisoners were stabbed to death in fights with fellow inmates this year at US Penitentiary Hazelton — one in April, and one on September 17, according to a letter sent by members of Congress to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The deaths prompted members of Congress to write to Sessions in October — days before Bulger even arrived at Hazelton — raising concerns about conditions at the facility and whether federal prisons like it were properly or adequately staffed.
With Bulger’s death, three Hazelton inmates have now been killed there in seven months. Few details have been released and prison officials have not disclosed whether they believe factors such as increased staffing would have made a difference.
The Bureau of Prisons records obtained by CNN show the former South Boston mobster was less than a stellar prisoner.
In March, Bulger was found guilty of “conduct which disrupts — most like threatening staff,” according to the records.
Rojas said Bulger was sentenced to 30 days in a special housing unit in March after threatening a nurse with the warning, “Your day of reckoning is coming.” The records also show that a request to transfer Bulger in April was denied.
Bulger had been found guilty in 2015 of masturbating in front of male staff, the records show.
Bulger was housed at Coleman since 2014 and accumulated just the two infractions, Rojas said. The ex-mobster was generally “harmless at Coleman.”
Rojas said transfers to tougher prisons generally follow repeated infractions such as stabbings or fighting.
Bulger, who eluded federal authorities for more than 16 years before his arrest in June 2011, was serving the rest of his life in prison for a litany of crimes that included his role in 11 murders.
He was sentenced in November 2013 to two life terms plus five years as architect of a criminal enterprise that, in the words of a federal judge, committed “unfathomable” acts that terrorized a city.
The US Penitentiary Hazelton is a high-security facility housing 1,270 male offenders at Federal Correctional Complex Hazelton.
One of the two suspects in the brutal beating was identified as Fotios “Freddy” Geas, a Mafia hit man from Massachusetts, The New York Times has reported, citing unnamed sources. It said Geas was moved to solitary confinement after the killing.
Geas, 51, is serving a life sentence at the same prison for the 2003 murder of a crime boss and another man he believed was an FBI informant.