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Accused lookout in James 'Whitey' Bulger prison killing pleads guilty, gets no additional time

This June 23, 2011, file booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows notorious Boston ganger James 'Whitey' Bulger. (U.S. Marshals Service) This June 23, 2011, file booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows notorious Boston ganger James 'Whitey' Bulger. (U.S. Marshals Service)
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CLARKSBURG, W.Va. -

The man accused of acting as lookout during the prison killing of notorious Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger won't serve additional prison time after pleading guilty Monday to a charge of lying to federal agents.

Sean McKinnon, wearing shackles, was hugged by both of his attorneys after U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh agreed with prosecutors' recommendation that he be given credit for serving 22 months in custody after his indictment.

McKinnon was accused along with two other inmates in the 2018 killing at a troubled West Virginia prison. Fotios "Freddy" Geas and Paul J. DeCologero, are accused of repeatedly hitting Bulger in the head within hours of Bulger being transferred to the prison.

Plea deals for the three were disclosed May 13. Plea hearings and sentencings are set for Aug. 1 for DeCologero and Sept. 6 for Geas.

McKinnon was released from USP Hazelton in 2022 after completing a sentence for stealing guns from a firearms dealer. He was on federal supervised release when the indictment was handed down just weeks later in August 2022.

McKinnon was set to be flown back to Florida later Monday.

"We're delighted that he's being released," defence attorney Katie Cimono said.

A charge against McKinnon of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder was dismissed.

McKinnon could have faced up to five years in prison and a US$250,000 fine on the false statement charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Flower said Geas and DeCologero spent about seven minutes in Bulger's cell while McKinnon went to a common area of the prison before returning. McKinnon later told FBI special agents "he was not aware of what happened to Mr. Bulger," Flower said. "He in fact did know."

Cimino argued that McKinnon's lie "did not harm Mr. Bulger."

No one stepped forward when the judge asked if any family members wanted to speak prior to sentencing McKinnon.

According to prosecutors, DeCologero, a Massachusetts gangster, told an inmate witness that Bulger was a "snitch" and that as soon as he came into their unit, they planned to kill him. DeCologero, a onetime Mafia hitman, also told an inmate he and Geas used a belt with a lock attached to it to bludgeon him to death.

Geas and DeCologero were identified as suspects shortly after Bulger's death, but they remained uncharged for years as the investigation dragged on.

Last year, the Justice Department said it would would not seek the death sentence for Geas and DeCologero, who were charged with murder, along with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, which carries up to a life sentence. 

Bulger, who ran the largely Irish mob in Boston in the 1970s and '80s, was also an FBI informant who provided the bureau with information on the main rival to his gang.

He became one of the nation's most wanted fugitives after fleeing Boston in 1994 thanks to a tip from his FBI handler that he was about to be indicted. He was captured at age 81 after more than 16 years on the run.

Bulger was convicted in 2013 in a string of 11 killings and dozens of other gangland crimes, many of them committed while he was said to be an FBI informant.

Bulger was killed just hours after he was transferred from a Florida lockup to USP Hazelton in West Virginia. After the killing, experts criticized his transfer to Hazelton, where workers had already been sounding the alarm about violence and understaffing, and his placement in the general population instead of more protective housing.

A Justice Department inspector general investigation found in 2022 that his killing was the result of multiple layers of management failures, widespread incompetence and flawed policies at the Bureau of Prisons. The inspector general found no evidence of "malicious intent" by any bureau employees but said a series of bureaucratic blunders left Bulger at the mercy of rival gangsters.

DeCologero, who was in a gang led by his uncle, was convicted of buying heroin that was used to try to kill a teenage girl his uncle wanted dead because he feared she would betray the crew to police. After the heroin did not kill her, another man broke her neck, dismembered her body and buried her remains in the woods, court records say.

Geas was a close associate of the Mafia and acted as an enforcer but was not an official "made" member because he is Greek, not Italian. He and his brother were sentenced to life in 2011 for their roles in several violent crimes, including the 2003 killing of Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno, a Genovese crime family boss in Springfield, Massachusetts. Another mobster ordered Bruno's killing because he was upset that he had talked to the FBI, prosecutors said.

Correction

An earlier version of this report incorrectly said Geas and DeCologero were scheduled to appear in court Monday. Their hearings are set for later this summer.

 

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