With all the uproar surrounding Rolling Stone's rock-star treatment of the younger Tsarnaev brother on the front cover of their latest edition, the Bulger trial got second billing in Boston until an odd and disturbing development on Thursday.
One of the witnesses who was scheduled to testify against Bulger was found dead on Wednesday along the Mill Street area of Lincoln, MA. Authorities still have to determine a cause of death.
Given the advanced age of some of the participants in the Bulger trial, I'd say this death looks 95% fishy, as opposed to 99.9% fishy. However, Federal Prosecutors claim they had not plans to call Stephen Rakes to the witness stand.
Far from being a reluctant eyewitness, Rakes appeared eager to testify how he was victimized by Bulger and his accomplices.
Rakes, 59, was one of the most determined of Bulger’s alleged victims, still furious at the notorious South Boston gangster and his allies, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi and Kevin Weeks, for allegedly extorting his South Boston liquor store from him at gunpoint in 1984 — while Rakes’s daughters were in the same room.In a 2001 interview with the Boston Globe, Rakes said that Bulger and his right-hand man Steve 'The Rifleman' Flemmi accosted him at his South Boston liquor store one night in 1984. Rakes claimed the two introduced themselves and said they had been hired to kill him, but wouldn't go through with their contract if he sold the store to them. As the conversation moved into the kitchen, Rakes claimed Flemmi pulled a gun and put it on the table before putting Rakes' infant daughter on his lap while Bulger pulled a switchblade, asking what it would be like for Rakes' daughter to grow up without a father.
Threatened with death if he reported the shakedown, Rakes insisted the sale was voluntary when he testified before federal grand juries targeting Bulger in 1991 and 1995. A jury convicted Rakes of perjury and obstruction of justice in June 1998, but he escaped prison after agreeing to cooperate with authorities.
After losing the store, Rakes said he went to Disney World with his family, only to be ordered back by Bulger, who forced him to stand on a South Boston corner for two days to quell rumors that Bulger had killed him.
Rakes's wife sought help from her uncle, Boston Police Detective Joseph Lundbohm, who reported the takeover of the store to FBI Agent John J. Connolly Jr., unaware that Bulger and Flemmi were informants and Connolly was their handler.
In a 1998 Globe interview, Connolly confirmed that Lundbohm had told him that Bulger and Flemmi had seized the store, but Connolly said he didn't take action because the Rakeses "did not want to get wired up and they did not want to be witnesses. How do you make a case like that?"
A day after Connolly was warned about the shakedown, Rakes said Bulger paid him a visit and warned him that he'd better tell Lundbohm to "back off."
"I was more scared then than I ever was," said Rakes. "I figured he had a pipeline right to the FBI."
After Rakes lied to the grand jury in 1991, Bulger confronted him on his way home from the courthouse and revealed that he knew everything that had happened in the secret, closed-door proceeding, Rakes said.
"He had a piece of paper in front of him and he had all of the questions that the prosecutor had asked me," said Rakes. "I said, `Thank God I went in there and lied like crazy or I'd be dead by now.' "
Bulger fled Boston after a January 1995 racketeering indictment. By that time, Rakes was a track inspector with the MBTA. A few months after Whitey became a wanted fugitive, Rakes said he panicked and fled when he saw Bulger protégé Kevin Weeks standing at a platform at the Red Line's Broadway station, accidently brushing up against the third rail as he fled. Rakes was hospitalized for several days afterwards.
Associates of Bulger claim that Rakes had approached them through an intermediary about selling the store, but threatened him after they said he kept raising the asking price for the liquor store.