OPINION | Chris McCarthy: Woody Harrelson and the Boston Mob
Woody Harrelson, featured in the latest Star Wars blockbuster hitting theaters today, became famous as a lovable bartender on the Boston-based sitcom Cheers. But nobody knew his dark connections to Boston at the time, including him.
Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi will once again take the stand in a courthouse as a witness for the government. His latest testimony will be against Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme. Flemmi is a serial killer, a child molester and a racketeer who was secretly protected by the government until they had to formalize the relationship. He is living today under the protection of the federal government in a secret location. He is also an accomplished liar.
One of the acts he committed when building his reputation as a professional informant was to inform on the murderers of a federal judge. He didn't prevent the murder of the judge, he simply told the FBI what he knew after the judge had been assassinated.
According to government documents: "In 1980, Flemmi provided Connolly with information concerning the assassination of Judge James Wood by a group of major drug dealers."
FBI agent John Connolly is in prison for murder today due to his dealings with Stephen Flemmi and other Boston mobsters. The government claims the FBI agent made false filings to bolster the reputations of his informants, who he has been convicted of working with to commit crimes. Did Connolly create the information on the murder of the judge to help Flemmi, and help solve the crime?
The assassin convicted in the murder of federal Judge Woods was Charles V. Harrelson, the estranged father of the actor Woody Harrelson.
According to contemporary reports on the case in The Washington Post:
"On Thursday a federal grand jury in San Antonio indicted five persons in the Wood case. Charged with murder were Jimmy Chagra, now in prison on a drug conviction, and Charles V. Harrelson, a once-convicted hitman also in prison on separate drug charges. The indictment alleges that Chagra paid Harrelson $250,000 to murder Judge Wood."
"To nail down the indictments, federal officials took risks. They secretly taped conversations between the two Chagra brothers and between Joe Chagra and Harrelson. Joe Chagra claims that the information obtained is not admissible in court because he was acting as an attorney to both men.
In addition, officials taped conversations between Jimmy Chagra and another prison inmate who had agreed to cooperate with the government."
The New York Times covered the case and reported:
"According to Mr. Ravkind, who said he had seen the transcript, Jamiel Chagra lamented having arranged for the judge's murder, saying, ''It was stupid, wasn't it?'' Joseph Chagra is said to have agreed. Jamiel Chagra is said to have responded, ''Well, you could have stopped me,'' and his brother reportedly answered, ''Yeah, but I thought you were going to use the Mafia.''
Did FBI agent Connolly use the Mafia connection to bring in Flemmi on the Texas case?
The New York Times also reported: "The verdicts concluded an 11-week trial that grew out of one of the most extensive Federal investigations in the nation's history, involving every one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 54 offices in the United States at varying times over more than three years."
Agent Connolly has a documented history of using his information to advance his career and of course, Stephen Flemmi knew the importance of assisting his FBI handlers in advancing their common goals. At the time, the murder of Judge Wood was the biggest case in the country and had a budget only surpassed by the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Judge William Sessions, who later headed the FBI, was a pallbearer at the funeral of Judge Wood and delivered a eulogy at the funeral.
The Texas-based San Antonio Express-News explains the climate at the time of the assassination:
"But Chagra and Harrelson weren’t immediate suspects, and it took thousands of man-hours before they were identified as such. By the time the first indictments came down in April 1982, the FBI had conducted more than 30,000 interviews and collected more than 500,000 pieces of information. The investigation cost more than $11 million, at the time the most extensive investigation in the bureau’s history.
“The pressure (to solve the murder) was on us,” Ray Jahn said. “There was a lot of internal pressure.”
Tips poured in. Bikers and other street toughs were dragged in on holdover charges.
“A lot of the early investigation went off on some tangents, and they rounded up some Bandidos,” lawyer Campion said. “They shook down everybody in South Texas.”
The FBI hauled in just about anyone if agents believed that they had information, and the agency threw the book at them to make them talk."
Charles V. Harrelson was a bad man and a convicted murderer. He may or may not have been involved in the assassination of Judge Wood. He made admissions that put him in the orbit of the conspiracy, according to press accounts of the trial.
The bigger question is if this is just another Stephen Flemmi fabrication to assist the corrupt FBI agents who allowed him to murder, rape and rob people as he assisted their careers and they assisted his career.
Woody Harrelson may want to ask the government what they know about his father, and the claims of Stephen Flemmi and disgraced FBI agent John Connolly.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.