BOSTON (Reuters) - Attorneys for accused Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger and prosecutors square off in court on Wednesday over Bulger's claim that he cannot be tried for 19 killings because former prosecutors gave him immunity in exchange for tips.
Bulger, who fled Boston in 1995 after receiving a tip from a corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent, has argued that a former top federal prosecutor, now deceased, promised not to prosecute him for crimes committed by the "Winter Hill" gang he is accused of leading because he provided information on rival crime organizations.
Bulger, now 83, spent 16 years in hiding after fleeing the city. His name was prominent on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list until his arrest in California in June 2011.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, Bulger faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors argued in court papers that Bulger's decision to go into hiding undercuts his claim that a deal with former U.S. Attorney Jeremiah O'Sullivan, who died in 2009, protected him from prosecution.
"Someone who thought he had immunity would not become a fugitive for sixteen years, alter his physical appearance, assume numerous alternate identities, and stash over twenty weapons and approximately $800,000 in cash in a secret hide (hiding place) in his apartment," prosecutors argued in court papers filed ahead of the hearing.
O'Sullivan denied granting immunity to Bulger or any other members of his Winter Hill gang in 2003 congressional testimony, according to court papers.
His trial is scheduled to begin in June.
Bulger's case, which inspired Martin Scorsese's 2006 Academy Award-winning film "The Departed," stands as a black mark on the record of Boston law enforcement, with police of Irish descent collaborating with criminals who shared their ethnic background to undercut non-Irish gangs.
(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Leslie Gevirtz)
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