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Whitey Bulger arrest: FBI denies it was slow to investigate tip

A courtroom sketch depicts James "Whitey" Bulger during his initial appearance Friday in a federal courtroom in Boston.

The FBI is strongly denying that it was slow to investigate a tip that Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bolger was living in Santa Monica.

Bulger and his longtime companion, Catherine Greig, were arrested Wednesday at their apartment after 16 years as fugitives. In a statement, the FBI said Bulger was arrested less than 24 hours after agent initially reviewed the tip.

PHOTOS: The hunt for James "Whitey" Bulger

"There have been news reports alleging that the tip that eventually led to the arrest of James J. 'Whitey' Bulger was initially given a low priority by the FBI. Those reports are false," the FBI said. "The FBI supervisory special agent responsible for the Bulger Task Force was the first to review the tip. He then consulted with other members of the task force. Together, they recognized that certain information appeared to be credible and promising."

The FBI has not revealed who provided the tip.

The host of "America's Most Wanted" told The Times on Friday that one of the scores of tips that followed a 2008 episode of the show about  Bulger included a claim that the notorious Boston mob boss was seen in Santa Monica -- three years before his arrest there.

John Walsh said in an interview that the tipster did not give specific information in the call to one of the show's operators other than to say a man who looked like Bulger was seen "playing chess on the beach," Walsh said. That information was passed on to the FBI. Walsh stressed that the Santa Monica tip was one of more than 200 that came in from 20 cities around the country the night of the broadcast.

"There was no specific tip," Walsh said. "It wasn't where or how, other than somebody thought they saw Whitey Bulger playing chess on Santa Monica Beach. It's not like the FBI had specific information that he [Bulger] was in Santa Monica."

The 81-year-old is allegedly responsible for numerous crimes, including 19 killings, and faces two separate federal indictments, one from 1995 and the other from 1999.

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-- Andrew Blankstein and Shelby Grad

Illustration: A courtroom sketch depicts James "Whitey" Bulger during his initial appearance Friday in a federal courtroom in Boston. Credit: Associated Press

 
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