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Prison system mistakes led to murder of Whitey Bulger, DOJ watchdog says

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Inmates at a West Virginia prison were betting on how long mob boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger would survive after he was transferred there, but top federal prison officials were unaware of the threat. weighed on his life, according to a Justice Department monitoring report released Wednesday. identified a shocking cascade of failures leading to Bulger’s murder in 2018.

The Department of Justice Inspector General’s report did not establish that Bureau of Prisons employees acted with malicious intent or an improper motive, but the investigation found that a USP official Hazelton had specifically requested that Bulger be transferred to his unit even though he knew there was at least one other former organized crime figure housed there.

The warden told investigators he was not aware of any concerns or threats against Bulger, while inmates later told prison officials that “everyone knew” Bulger would be killed because he was a “rat,” the report says.

A longtime Boston organized crime figure who lived as a fugitive from 1994 until his capture in 2011, Bulger was found beaten to death in his cell on the morning of Oct. 30, 2018.

Three inmates, including a former Mafia hitman, have been charged with the murder. But questions have persisted for years about why Bulger, 89 and sick, was transferred to one of the most violent prisons in the country and placed in a general population unit that housed other gangsters. It was widely known that Bulger for years was an FBI informant.

James “Whitey” Bulger in 2011.US Marshals Service via AP file

The Inspector General’s report does not fully answer this question, but indicates that prison officials moved to Hazelton because it was closer to Bulger’s family in Boston, because it had good medical facilities and because she “took good care of the inmates”.

The facility was actually known as “Misery Mountain” and had been the scene of two inmate murders in the previous six months.

After his capture in California, the Boston crime boss was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for 11 murders and other crimes committed primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, including during his time as a FBI informant. His FBI manager was convicted of racketeering and murder and sentenced to a decade in prison.

Bulger was killed less than 12 hours after arriving in Hazelton. One of the suspects, Sean McKinnon, told NBC News in September that the inmates were notified before Bulger arrived – a claim backed by federal prosecutors.

The inspector general’s report offers even more detail, saying that more than 100 Federal Bureau of Prisons employees knew about the impending transfer and that it was widely known to inmates at the prison. The inspector general found that prison officers openly talked about Bulger’s planned arrival around inmates, in violation of policy.

Bulger was previously held in a Florida jail known as a safe haven for government informants and other marked men in the federal prison system. The report says Bulger’s transfer was triggered when he allegedly threatened a nurse.

But at that time, he was using a wheelchair to get around and dealing with heart problems and other health issues. Elderly and sick prisoners are often transferred to a medical center in the prison.

Bulger suffered from heart disease and should have been sent to a prison with special medical facilities, the inspector general found. But Florida prison officials, backed by the Bureau of Prisons medical director, downgraded his health assessment, clearing the way for the transfer to Hazelton.

“Our investigation revealed serious shortcomings of BOP staff and management at multiple levels; bureaucratic incompetence; and flawed, confusing, and insufficient BOP policies and procedures,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a video statement.

Horowitz’s investigation was not criminal. The FBI is conducting a separate criminal investigation into the murder, but it’s unclear if the bureau is investigating any prison employees. The Inspector General’s report cites six prison employees as having committed potential misconduct.

The Bureau of Prisons accepted all 11 recommendations made by Horowitz’s office.

“Following the events described in the OIG report, BOP has initiated several improvements to its medical handover system, including better communication between employees involved in the process, multiple staff trainings, and technological advancements” , a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement. “The BOP appreciates the important work of the OIG and will work closely with the office on future actions and implementation efforts.”

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