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Coursey: When the Boston mob came to Santa Rosa

  • This is a May 1972 AP file photo of Joseph 'The Animal' Barboza raising his hand to be sworn in before testifying on organized crime in New England during a House Crime Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (PD FILE)

Before there was James “Whitey” Bulger, there was Joseph “The Animal” Barboza.

Or, as he was known when he lived and murdered in Santa Rosa, “Joe Bentley.”

The conviction this week of mob boss Bulger completes an arc of more than 45 years of organized crime and law enforcement corruption in Boston, and reminds us of the short period when that city's woes were dumped into the bucolic lap of Sonoma County.

Barboza and Bulger were contemporaries, both earning their stripes as young thugs on the streets of Boston. Barboza worked for the Italian mob boss Raymond Patriarca. Bulger eventually ran the Irish mob that ruled South Boston – “Southie.”

Bulger, now 83, was convicted earlier this week of 11 murders, based largely on the testimony of one of his oldest gang associates, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Both also were exposed as informants for the Boston FBI. And Bulger has claimed he couldn't be guilty of murder, because the FBI gave him, essentially, a “license to kill.”

Barboza, who would be 80 now if he hadn't made so many enemies, pleaded guilty to the 1970 murder of Santa Rosan Clay Wilson. Barboza's plea deal, and brief stint of less than five years in prison, was aided and abetted by the agents of the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department, who came to Santa Rosa to testify for the man who was their long-time informant and star witness in a case that sent four New England men to prison for life. Essentially, that testimony gave him a “license to kill.”

The only problem was, Barboza the witness was a big a liar as Barboza the hoodlum. The four men convicted in the case had nothing to do with the murder of Edward “Teddy” Deegan. In fact, Barboza was a participant in that killing, along with Vincent “Jimmy the Bear” Flemmi, younger brother of The Rifleman and – surprise – another one of the Boston FBI's roster of mob informants.

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