Black Mass: Understanding the Background of the Tale

(`) Black MassThis week since I am informed the movie Black Mass will be shown in theatres across the nation I thought it appropriate to discuss some of the fictions in the book. First, keep in mind the authors were never involved in law enforcement. They spent their careers as reporters learning things second-hand.

It is difficult to understand how things operate when you are not part of it. For instance, I could talk to lots of people in the newspaper business but not being an insider there is much I would not know. I would have to rely on the words of others without any way to test their credibility.

A simple example is the authors write, “One factor plaguing earlier efforts against bookies and organized crime had been the fragmented jurisdiction of county district attorneys. It made it hard to chase bookies with phone taps across county lines.”  In the notes and from the text it seems they got that information from Charlie Henderson or Tom Foley from the Massachusetts State Police.

Henderson would have known that it was false since he worked with me in doing wiretaps in Suffolk, Middlesex, Worcester, and well as my own county Norfolk. In fact, there was a home in Newton in Middlesex County that Henderson used to do one of my Norfolk wiretaps against a Newton bookie in the days when you had to set up an office near the target. Foley might be the source for the wrong information since he would not have known it that county lines were no bar to wiretap investigations.

The jurisdiction of a district attorney’s office was not fragmented when it came to wiretaps. They were done pursuant to orders from superior court judges who had state-wide jurisdiction. The DAs could go anywhere they wanted in the state. That is a small example of the many mistakes that permeate the book when it comes to discussing law enforcement details.

A bigger fault with the authors is they pick and choose the pieces they want to believe of the talk, to use the patois of the street, of a bullshitter. During this man’s trial one of the persons close to him testified it was impossible to have a two-minute conversation with him; he said look at the records the conversations usually ran over twenty minutes. The person he was talking about was known to be quite verbose and never let the facts get into the way of a good story.

We knew guys like that growing up. They liked to hear themselves talk and would go on and on. We knew their ability to create stories or tales. We’d listen in amazement when they’d tell us stories of happenings when we knew they were not there. They sometimes put themselves in the place of another person, start believing the story themselves, and then tell it to the other person who actually did what they were claiming they did.

The bullshitter behind Black Mass is FBI Agent John Connolly. He is the one who probably told the author’s the story of how he recruited Whitey Bulger which as I will  explain in another post makes no sense. The author’s accept it as gospel although other things that he told them that run up against their theme they refuse to accept and make a point to note that.

It is not that the authors did not know Connolly was a bullshitter. They write: “[The reporters] were not about to complain about Connolly’s propensity for chatter.” They tell about Connolly meeting one of them on the street, about whom they write “Crime was not Lehr’s beat,” and tell how Connolly told Lehr about an FBI investigation of the Mafia at Vanessa’s. They noted that Lehr “was also taken aback by Connolly’s loose manner.”  Later they noted that they did a story based on what Connolly told them writing: “FBI officials and federal prosecutors, particularly Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, of the Organized Crime Strike Force, were incensed. Their investigation . . . was still ongoing . . . .”

As I said they only wanted to believe so much of Connolly’s blather as fit their preconceived notions. They write: “But as they so often did, Connolly’s claims upon closer scrutiny proved to be overstated.” Unfortunately, they did not give his claim of a nighttime meeting at Wollaston Beach the scrutiny it deserved. Had they, they would have seen it was just so much braggadocio with little connection to reality.

The biggest fault was the book for them was a get-back. When you go into a project with a set goal then anything you discover is used and twisted in a way to meet that goal. They wanted to smear Billy Bulger. Their book is based in part on help from one particular FBI Assistant in Charge Robert Fitzpatrick, who wrote after a courtesy meeting with Bulger that, “Billy couldn’t have been warmer or more gregarious.” Then he makes this incredible statement that walking back to his office after the meeting he thought, “Billy Bulger was a bully using power in place of his fists. And he wanted me to know I was alone, helpless against powerful forces I could neither control nor fully comprehend.” Figure that out!

Fitzpatrick who is a source for the book seems to have had an inexplicable, inveterate hatred of Connolly and Bulger. It fit perfectly with the mindset of the authors.

23 thoughts on “Black Mass: Understanding the Background of the Tale

  1. Matt- How do you feel now since it has been sometime about the Todashev case? The Fbi claimed he had a sword and they put a bunch of bullets in him and bizarre interviewing techniques that occurred in a living room? Sorry for the topic switch just figured since we were discussing the FBI. You had covered that also in the archives.

    1. Doubting:

      I’d like to hear the tapes that were recorded by the Mass State Police which showed he confessed to the three murders up here. The worst part of that case was it took a year to get the story straight and the FBI agent refused to be interviewed by outside people (the Florida DA). It is a bizarre story that runs up against common sense that at guy would take a broom and attack guys with guns; didn’t he ever see Raiders of the Lost Ark. What makes it bizzarro is you don’t want to kill guys who confessed to murders. The State Police say they were on the phone talking with the DA about what to do? Are they lame brains that they have to be told when a guy supposedly ups and confesses. That’s why I’d like to hear the tapes.

      1. Matt- I am right there with you. Much thanks for the accessibility and speed of questions answered. Learning more from you everyday.

    1. Doubting:

      I just remembered Buckley from having something to do with the old days. It really doesn’t matter who is the handler, it is just that the program is ongoin.

  2. Tommy – Scheniderhan was a person i had never even heard of until i came to this blog. That is a GREAT point you bring up. In the archives Matt breaks down that whole angle and backstory. They also love to say Whitey is the most notorious gangster, Greg Scarpa in my opinion put Bulger in the minor leagues. If anyone knows about Greg Scarpa and his corrupt agent handler Lin Delvecchio, Mark Rossetti and his corrupt agent handler Michael T. Buckley, it goes on and on.

    1. Doubting:

      I didn’t know it was Mike Buckley who handled Rossetti. That is a direct connection back to Connolly so it showed nothing changed in the Boston FBI office. I have to write to Stevie Lynch who demanded an explanation from the FBI three years ago and ask him if he ever got one. I read in the Globe that Lehr said of Whitey he is “the most evil man on the planet.” So the Globe beat goes on; Whitey was in the minor leagues when it came to total wickedness; he was even there when it came to the people who testified against him nevermind the others you mentioned.

      1. Matt- Michael F. Buckley not T. My fault. I have also learned Nick Gianturco is allegedly a shady agent. Steve Lynch never seems to follow through with his outrage. I have been reading (heavy) about John’s colleagues and other agents who have tap danced on the dark side. I feel if you get heavy into the Rossetti case it will reflect the same type of activity that was going on with Connolly’s dealings. If you can give anymore input on the continued horror going on with Rossetti and why Steve Lynch just seemed to quit being interested in the continued shadiness.

        1. Doubting:

          Nick was part of the group with Connolly. Was he shady? It depends on what the FBI wanted him to do. He might have been doing his job according to the terms of his bosses and only when it was discovered did they try to protect themselves by putting him out there. In you readings keep in mind that America closed its eyes to the FBI operating on the dark side which it did for almost all of its existence. The FBI never felt obliged to follow the law because it considered itself a law unto itself. It is still of the same mind since there is no one to call it to account.

          Keep in mind there are no outlier offices in the FBI. Hoover always insured they operated in accordance with his wishes. We have only had a brief look into one of the 56 offices in the US. You have to assume that under the strict control the FBI headquarters exercises over its offices that what happened in Boston was happening in every other office. No one seems to want to go there but plays along with the idea that Boston was bad and the others were all good.

          There are Rossettis in every FBI office in the nation in which the dealings mirror those of John Connolly. That is what is so bad is that Connolly rots in prison while what he is supposed to have done is an ongoing event in the FBI.

  3. I think the largest omission from the movie will likely be the absence of Richard Schneiderhan as a character. No matter how much evidence and testimony seems to compile on the decorated State Police officer and ex Chief Intelligence Officer in the Attorney Generals office, he remains a quiet byline of the story. As opposed to John Connolly, who was a kid from Southie who fell into darkness upon his return to Boston in 1975, Schneiderhan’s ties to the Flemmi’s and the Winter Hill Gang run deep back to his childhood in the Orchard Park Projects of Roxbury. Both son’s of 1st generation immigrants and Marine veterans of the Korean War, Steve Flemmi and Richard Schneiderhan were thick as thieves and lifetime friends. Schneiderhan’s close relationship with John Mortorano is also well documented. Kevin Week’s is quoted in his book Brutal as stating that Schneiderhan was “100 times more important than John Connolly” in keeping the gang out of trouble by alerting them to stings and wire taps (lancaster st.) When Flemmi went to jail, he used Schneiderhan to communicate with Whitey via Kevin Weeks.

    1. Thomas:

      When I read comments like the one you wrote I get upset. Not at you but at myself. It is not only the movie that will fail to put Schneiderham into the proper perspective in the ongoing saga, but it is also people like me who know of his evilness but do not emphasize it enough.

      As much as Flemmi and Whitey needed Connolly to protect them, they also had someone more important and that was State Police Officer Richard Schneiderhan. Thank you for reminding me of my omission.

      When I first started out doing wiretaps we were starting from zero. I had the capability to do the paperwork for the warrant and the cops to do the investigative work once I got it but I did not have the equipment to do the intercepts with. The one that had it was the attorney general’s office. We had to borrow it from them. The person who was in charge of that was Schneiderhan who would demand that before we could do our wiretaps he had to see the paperwork. It was a strange request I thought but being new to the game I didn’t question it. He was in the position to know everything I did early on. I never liked the idea of someone else sticking their nose into what I was doing so I quickly ended up buying my own equipment and cutting him out of the loop. I know the state police could not do that so if they worked outside my county with another DA they went to him.

      But it was worse than the fact he controlled the equipment, he was in tight with a lot of the investigators for the state police so it is really not known how much information he was privy to that he passed on. It is true he loved Stevie Flemmi; in fact he idolized him. He thought at one point he was going to die and wanted to make sure Stevie sat in the first row at his funeral. I’m not so sure how much relationship Martorano would have had with him; I think he made up the story about his connection to him because why would he need to have it when Flemmi already had it. Flemmi and his friends were were already being taken care of by Schneiderhan.

      Plus, Martorano left town in 1979 so from then on it was Flemmi who used him. Martorano was a beneficiary of his information when he was grabbed on a wiretap in Plymouth County under Bill O’Malley in the middle of the 70s, The Plymouth DA had to go light on the sentences since Schneiderhan learned that during the tap the monitoring officers did not properly follow the minimization requirements and he passed that on to Martorano’s lawyers.

      Week’s information on Lancaster Street is wrong. That did not come from Schneiderhan since the state cops doing it kept him out of the loop. That leak came from O’Sullivan to Morris to Whitey and Flemmi. But that does not diminish his importance to Whitey and Stevie.

      What made Schneiderhan even more dangerous was that after he left the state police he went to work for NESPIN. They had a system in there where they could take the toll numbers received from the telephone company and connect them up with targets or other people. We would bring our toll records of the people we were looking at to him and he would process the numbers for us. That told him who we were intending to target and of course he passed it on to Flemmi.

      Yes, he was a true destructive force but his role has often been minimized. The way he was handled by the state police after Weeks disclosed his identity was disgraceful. They had the man who had undermined many investigations but they treated him like some sort of big deal. They told him what they had, did not do a search of his house, and gave him 24 hours before they would come back. Because they were state cops and he was a state cop they all but gave him a pass. Of course, he wasn’t pressured either by the federal prosecutors because they did not want to show that he was the big leak and not Connolly.

      Schneiderhan benefited from the federal indifference, the state police wanting to cover-up his role, and although prosecuted was given a minimum sentence. I don’t agree with much Weeks’s has said but I agree he was many times more important than Connolly; he was also a good complement to him. Thanks for reminding me.

      1. Out of curiosity I googled Schniederhan when I saw your comment and found his obituary. He died on the 16th of September.

        1. Bob:

          Thanks for the information. He was a man that was truly evil using his position to undermine many investigations. I remember one in particular where I was working with the state police and we raided over a dozen places and came up with nothing. Just to be sure we were hitting the right places, the day before the raid we sent a list of the 16 target places to the telephone company where Schneiderhan also had a hook and probably to NESPIN where he worked to double check the locales of the telephones. At one place we hit the bookie had in his pocket a copy of our list – but nothing else. I immunized him and he said he got the list from another guy I already had under indictment. I did not want to immunize that guy so I could not follow the trail. That is just one example of how someone on the take like Schneiderhan could destroy months of effort.
          Schneiderhan was Flemmi’s state police source; Flemmi said before Judge Wolf it was John Naimovich; Naimovich was chased after and indicted by John Connolly’s FBI group as being a leak; he would be acquitted at trial where I testified on his behalf; I always believed as things went on that Naimovich was indicted by Connolly’s group for the purpose of covering up for Schneiderhan and had he been a source for Flemmi then he never would have been charged..

  4. I get the feeling this will be more of a Goodfella’s type of film. If anyone knows the story of Henry Hill, he was a habitual liar who made alot of things up and it got potrayed as truth. Only difference now is O’neil and Lehr are doing it. Howie Carr must be pissed and rushing to start holding casting calls for the Benji Ditchman and Murderano films. The Fact is Stevie was giving up the Italians and no amount of proof will convince the people otherwise that it was not Whitey. It will be even more difficult to decipher the accurate story after young people see this ficticious film. This Blog has taught me so much about the truth of this horror story.

    1. Doubting:

      Henry Hill was a bad dude. No one writing about these stories seems to want to accept they are dealing with liars and depending on what any of these hoodlums say is a recipe for getting things wrong. Howie is not pissed but he is desperately trying to pitch Dirty John’s story. It is a lot more interesting than Whitey’s because he was a real stone killer however Howie cut off his own chances by making Whitey into a heavy. Can’t feel too sorry for him.

      Whitey had no relationship with the Italians in the North End other than handing them over bags of dough to keep operating. No one seems to understand the depth of the distrust the Italians had for the Southie Irish. It was mutual. They hated each other more than the Sunnis and Shias. Of course it was Flemmi who gave the dirt on the Italians – that is beyond doubt.

      How does Whitey fit into the picture?

      The movie will not do as much damage as the book and the all-in-together girls (and boys) of the local media who have come together to take the book as gospel and tell their stories based on the outlines of the book. Sadly the feds did the same thing – you remember how Salemme said they gave him the book and told him that is what happened.

  5. I don’t expect anything even close to realistic.
    Just from the trailers you can tell that this film doesn’t even attempt accuracy or realism.
    The scene at the dinner table (not the Secret Steak Marinade) when he is telling the little kid (his son?) basically you can get away with anything because “if nobody sees you,…it never happened”
    By all accounts Whitey was good to his mother, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, the impressionable of S.B., …and was a father figure, and disciplinarian to Teresa Stanley’s kids who fancied himself a good role model. His personal philosophy undoubtedly was “Do as I say,…not as I do.”

    I just can’t picture him saying that to a little kid.

    I am sure this movie will be entertaining, but will be a huge let-down for anyone seeking any further insight of substance.

    In my opinion the most realistic South Boston crime movie to date is…
    “What Doesn’t Kill You”………not as well known, but definitely worth checking out.

    1. Rather:

      I know nothing about the movie. I have not seen any trailers. The words you quote never came from Whitey’s mouth. He would not be into making kids into criminals. But those words do remind me of the FBI’s saying, “If it isn’t in writing it does not exist.” Perhaps the writers of the movie got confused thinking the FBI was a little kid. I’ll have to check the movie you mention out.

        1. Dave:

          Weeks was a criminal. No one made him into a criminal. He was a tough guy who liked to break heads. He also was controlled avoiding drugs and booze. He and Whitey just hit it off; Weeks knew enough to let Whitey be boss and lived the good life doing what they wanted him to do. He very likely was more involved in the murders than he let on. Weeks would have wanted to impress Whitey and mad Stevie with his own bit of brutality. Of course, when he got jammed in he gladly offered up Whitey.

  6. Matt:
    Accuracy and realism are obviously important in a story like this, but as we know (with much thanks to you) many of the details within the book the movie is based off have been feigned, influenced, distorted and/or compromised by its authors and sources, either out of ignorance or self interest- so we shouldn’t expect much “realism” in that regard. It is very rare that a widely released movie “based on real events” gets all the details right (or even marginally right), anyhow- given the medium (telling a story that runs several decades in a two to three hour time span is problematic to begin with). Personally, what I am looking forward to seeing is the character portrayals. How will the actors, actresses and director interpret and capture each character? Will the story be accurate in that sense?

    1. John:

      Great post. It is nice to start the day off with such a thoughtful one. What I most liked about it was it caused me to reflect on what you had to say. I must keep in mind the book and the movie are two different creatures. I should keep in mind that it is the book with which I have so much trouble because of its falseness that created a new reality. I should watch the movie not in the way that I approach the book but to see how the roles are played. Thanks, I appreciated it.

Comments are closed.