The Boston Illegal Drug Trade
Both state and federal authorities were aware of Bulger’s control of most of the drug trade in Boston, but were unable to obtain sufficient evidence to make an arrest or build a case against him. Bulger controlled the drug market by threatening dealers with being killed if they did not co-operate with him, and his shakedown tactics brought most of the dealers to heel. Bulger at first did not involve himself in drug dealing beyond obtaining protection money and tribute. As the 1980s wore on he began to become more actively involved in the illegal drug trade.
Through the drug trade Bulger enhanced his mythical reputation of protecting the south Boston neighborhoods by refusing to allow heroin into the area. He also let it be known that his dealers were not to sell drugs to children. In truth, heroin was available in South Boston and Bulger was aware of it, he simply had his dealers concentrate on the sale of cocaine and marijuana.
When a major raid initiated by the Drug Enforcement Agency severely crippled South Boston’s cocaine market by taking most of the dealers off the streets, none of the arrested dealers would provide information to the authorities regarding Bulger’s involvement, out of fear of the retaliation the gang would launch. Fear of Bulger and his vengeance outweighed the sentences handed out by a court, and dealers were well aware that Bulger could reach them even in custody if he learned that they were making a deal with the authorities.
Efforts by investigators to develop evidence of Bulger’s involvement with the drug trade through surveillance using wiretaps was ineffective due to information received from the FBI via John Connolly and through the Massachusetts State Police. Bulger and Flemmi were aware of the dangers of being compromised by recorded phone conversations and avoided them as much as possible, preferring to discuss business face to face in open and ever changing locations.
Not until Bulger was on the run and both Weeks and Flemmi were providing information to the FBI and state officials was the level of Bulger’s involvement in the drug trade made evident. According to Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s profits from the sale of drugs and the shakedowns of drug dealers exceeded $30 million over the course of his involvement. Weeks also claimed that Bulger was finished with the drug business in 1990, following the DEA raid which crippled the cocaine market in the Boston area by sweeping up most of the major dealers.