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LOS ANGELES — James "Whitey" Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster on the FBI’s "Ten Most Wanted" list for his alleged role in 19 murders, has been captured near Los Angeles after living on the run for 16 years, authorities said Wednesday.
Santa Monica Police Sgt. Rudy Flores said his agency was informed of the arrest by the FBI.
Bulger, 81, was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang when he fled in January 1995 after being tipped by a former Boston FBI agent that he was about to be indicted. Bulger was a top-echelon FBI informant.
Over the years, the FBI battled a public perception that it had not tried very hard to find Bulger, who became a huge source of embarrassment for the agency after the extent of his crimes and the FBI’s role in overlooking them became public.
Prosecutors said he went on the run after being warned by John Connolly Jr., an FBI agent who had made Bulger an FBI informant 20 years earlier. Connolly was convicted of racketeering in May 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, also an FBI informant.
Bulger provided the Boston FBI with information on his gang’s main rival, the New England Mob, in an era when bringing down the Mafia was one of the FBI’s top national priorities.
But the Boston FBI office was sharply criticized when the extent of Bulger’s alleged crimes and his cozy relationship with the FBI became public in the late 1990s.
During his years on the run, the FBI received reported sightings of Bulger and his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, from all over the United States and parts of Europe. In many of those sightings, investigators could not confirm whether it was actually Bulger who was spotted or simply a lookalike.
Flores said the FBI had been conducting a surveillance operation in the area where the arrest was made. He gave no details of the arrest.
The FBI in Los Angeles didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.