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First Cir. Denies Rehearing in Stieg Larrson Trilogy-Worthy Case

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 07, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Does the U.S. government ever use mobster informants like Swedish government did in the Stieg Larsson Trilogy?

The answer is yes. And much like Larrson’s Zalachenko, those informants can be difficult to control.

In February, the First Circuit Court of Appeals struck an $8.4 million judgment against the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act after finding that the plaintiffs, survivors of a government informant’s victims, failed to timely file their complaint.

This week, the First Circuit denied an en banc rehearing in the case in a 3-3 vote. A majority is required to grant rehearing.

So how closely does life imitate the Millennium trilogy?

U.S. mobsters, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "the Rifleman" Flemmi were key figures in Boston organized crime. Unbeknownst to his counterparts in crime, Bulger served as a confidential informant for the FBI.

The FBI wanted to take down the Mafia, so it agreed to look away from Bulger's and Flemmi's felonious deeds in exchange for information. This alliance lasted from the late 1970s well into the 1990s.

In the bargain, Bulger's handlers ignored FBI guidelines and permitted Bulger and Flemmi to carry out criminal activities, ranging from loan-sharking to extortion to murder. Bulger's FBI handlers would tip the pair off to investigations into their misdeeds, and deflect police attention away from them.

In 1982, Edward "Brian" Halloran, a low-level hoodlum facing murder charges, tried to strike an immunity deal with the FBI by turning evidence against Bulger and Flemmi. Bulger's handlers caught wind of the deal, and told their peers that Halloran was untrustworthy. The FBI rejected Halloran's offer and denied his request for protection.

The FBI handlers told Bulger about the Halloran proposal, and Bulger and Flemmi decided to take Halloran out of the picture. In May 1982, Halloran and his neighbor, Michael Donahue, were gunned down by a "fusillade of shots" from Bulger's car. Bulger's FBI handlers, again, helped cover Bulger's trail.

The details of Bulger's FBI deal eventually came to light in 1997. In 2000, Halloran's estate filed an administrative claim with the FBI. In 2001, Donahue's estate and survivors filed their own claim. In 2009, a U.S. District Judge awarded the survivors a combined $8.4 million in damages.

A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned that judgment, finding that the survivors did not file within the statute of limitations. The court indicated that the plaintiffs' claims accrued no later than September 2, 1998, due to intense media scrutiny of the FBI's connection with the murders.

The court noted that, "statutes of limitation are designed to operate mechanically. They aspire to bring a sense of finality to events that occurred in the distant past and to afford defendants the comfort of knowing that stale claims cannot be pursued."

Did the First Circuit deny the victims justice in this case of life imitating a Stieg Larsson trilogy, or should the statute of limitations be uniformly enforced in Federal Tort Claims Act cases?

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