“When you decide to be something, you can be it. That’s what they don’t tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”
-Frank Costello, The Departed
What is the difference? I mean really, does it matter which side of the law you’re on when the end result is dead people? It sometimes baffles me, the legitimacy society grants to one group of people who go out and kill people through environmental and labor abuses, while deeming another group “illegitimate” because they kill people while operating in black markets dealing in gambling and drugs.
Case in point, one of last week’s big news stories was the capture of reputed Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, who eluded federal authorities for 16 years. Last week, the 81-year-old Bulger was found living somewhat openly in a Santa Monica apartment complex with his long-time partner Catherine Greig. Bulger ran various nefarious rackets in Boston for decades, is linked personally to at least 19 murders, and was also the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character, Frank Costello, in Martin Scorcese’s 2006 crime drama, The Departed.
Then we turn to West Virginia, where this week’s news story has been the revelation that another criminal organization, Massey Energy, faked mining safety reports at the Upper Big Branch mine before the disaster. The company fabricated a set of reports to show mining inspectors while maintaining another set of reports showing actual hazards. The subsequent explosion that occurred on April 5, 2010 killed 29 miners (10 more people than Whitey Bulger is accused of killing.)
This revelation comes on top of the indictment a few months ago of Massey’s chief security officer, Hughie Elbert Stover, for obstructing federal investigators in the Upper Big Branch mining disaster. The FBI is also investigating Massey officials for criminal negligence and bribery of federal regulators.
The only different difference between Whitey’s Winter Hill Gang and Massey? Massey has a corporate charter and operated under full protection of the government, while Whitey had to hide all his business transactions from the FBI, the DEA, the IRS, etc., etc.
Massey’s former CEO and reputed mob boss Don Blankenship, an outspoken opponent of mining regulation and active GOP funder, did everything possible to avoid compliance and created a corporate culture to fight regulation at every turn. Blankenship flooded West Virginia’s political system with Massey dollars to manipulate state regulators. Blankenship owned West Virginia politicians like Joe Manchin. And he funded vacations to the French Riviera for himself and West Virginia State Supreme Court Justices to influence rulings on Massey related cases.
An independent investigation has revealed that West Virginia’s politicians were afraid of Massey’s strong arm-style tactics, and the company ignored safety regulations to increase profit.
Blankenship is an arch criminal responsible for the deaths of those 29 miners, the destruction of 500 mountains (plus many miles of forest and waterways) and harming local Appalachian communities with toxic waste, flyrock and refuse from mountaintop removal sites.
But what’s the difference between Blankenship and Whitey Bulger?
Society deems Bulger’s occupation as drug dealer, loanshark and contract killer as illegitimate while Blankenship’s status as a corporate CEO is legit regardless of how much misery he spread. As a result, Whitey Bulger is looking at life in prison and maybe even the death penalty, while Blankenship got a nice golden parachute.