Mobster Frank "Whitey" Bulgar's ties to Las Vegas


By George Knapp , Matt Adams | madams@8newsnow.com

Actor Johnny Depp plays notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger in the movie "Black Mass" which opens this weekend.
The movie tells the story of his rise to power and his downfall, including his intimate ties to the FBI.
During all of those years when Whitey Bulger was on the FBI's most wanted list, he almost certainly slipped in and out of Las Vegas, but his ties to our community run deeper than that.
They go all the way back to the late 60s when two of his bloodiest henchmen lured another Boston mob figure out to the desert. It proved to be a one way trip.
The pantheon of notorious hoodlums at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas made a point of saving space for one of the craftiest organized crime figures of all time -- James "Whitey" Bulger -- the leader of Boston's infamous Winter Hill gang.
Elsewhere in the museum are photos of some of the 60 or more murder victims of Bulger and his gang, but with one glaring omission -- Peter Poulos, a small-time Boston hood who knew too much about Bulger and his top assassin Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
The ruthless Jack Nicholson character in the hit film "The Departed" is largely based on Bulger. His right-hand man Mr. French was inspired by Flemmi who, as a witness in several recent trials, has admitted involvement in 20 slayings.
Flemmi is one of a string of killers and crooks who've spilled what they know during Bulger's trial, including information about a cold-case murder near Las Vegas.
If you're going to kill someone and dump the body, the desert gulley just off of gravel-lined State Route 16 is as good a place as any.
"Both Jimmy and I thought it might be a mob hit because of how well he was dressed," said former homicide detective Chuck Lee, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
It was October 1969 and homicide detective Chuck Lee, along with his partner Jimmy Dugan, had found an unidentified body in the desert, a man who did not die of natural causes.
"The cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the back and one to the back of the head," Lee said.
But the dead man had a mouth filled with gold teeth, which were removed, placed into a mold, and photographed. The photos were then sent to other law enforcement agencies around the country. Soon enough, Lee got a call from a police sergeant in the Boston.
"He said, 'I'm gonna tell you who your body belonged to, and I'm gonna tell you who killed him' which was really a bonus," Lee said.
The teeth were those of mob associate Pete Poulos who had fled Boston in the company of Whitey Bulger's two most vicious killers, Steve Flemmi and Frank "Cadillac Frank" Salemme.
Boston police told Las Vegas homicide that Bulger had been tipped off that Pete Poulos was ready to roll over and help the FBI - ironic since both Bulger and Steve Flemmi were secretly working with the FBI as well.
"So Bulger ordered them to assassinate him, take him out before they got back to Boston," Lee said.
In Los Angeles, evidence was found that put Flemmi, Salemme, and Poulos in the same apartment. Flemmi and Poulos decided to head for Las Vegas to party, but Poulos only made it to the outskirts of town off Route 16.
Lee secured a murder warrant and went to ask District Attorney George Frankling for the okay to arrest and extradite the suspects.
"He said, 'I've got bad news for you fellas. I'm not going to permit you to go back there.' And I said I didn't understand, what are you talking about? And he said, 'I've got information that they are working with the authorities back there.'"
Lee soon learned from Boston police that the real life situation was as complicated as the movie. Whitey Bulger was giving the feds information about rival mobsters but was also paying FBI agents and police for protection for his own rackets. Lee's boss, Sheriff Ralph Lamb, also tried to help but their case was stymied at every step.
"We could not get cooperation," Lee said. "Everything came to a stop."
Lee's suspicions about the Boston FBI were confirmed to a degree when Bulger received a heads up he was about to be arrested and went on the run.
It is likely Bulger's path led to Las Vegas. He stayed on the lam for 16 years, though he was listed as one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives. When he was finally caught in Long Beach, agents found an arsenal of guns in his condo, including a few that had been purchased at Las Vegas gun shows.
The pantheon of notorious hoodlums at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas made a point of saving space for one of the craftiest organized crime figures of all time -- James "Whitey" Bulger, leader of Boston's infamous Winter Hill gang.
Elsewhere in the museum are photos of some of the 60 or more murder victims of Bulger and his gang, but with one glaring omission, Peter Poulos, a small-time Boston hood who knew too much about Bulger and his top assassin, Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
The real irony in this story is that during that same time period, the FBI looked at Las Vegas as being totally corrupt and local law enforcement as being untrustworthy. As it turned out, it was the FBI that was in bed with the mob, at least with Whitey Bulger.
There is no such thing as a closed murder case, so if someone wanted to go after the two hit men involved in the killing of Pete Poulos, there is still a solid case to be made against them. Flemmi is in prison. Salemme is believed to be living in the Witness Protection program somewhere.