Ex-FBI agent avoids prison for lying at Whitey Bulger murder trial

August 5, 2016 3:15 PM EDT

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By Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) - A former FBI agent was sentenced on Friday to two years of probation for lying repeatedly at the 2013 murder and racketeering trial of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger.

Robert Fitzpatrick, 76, received leniency because of his age and failing health, U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor said at the former FBI agent's sentencing hearing in Boston. He benefited from a plea agreement, without which he would have faced a maximum sentence of more than 7 years in prison, the judge said.

Fitzpatrick, who served in the FBI from 1965 to 1986, lied to help Bulger's defense and to inflate his own accomplishments while serving as a special agent, according to prosecutors.

Fitzpatrick's testimony included boasts that he had found the rifle that was used to assassinate civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and that he had later been sent to Boston on a special assignment to clean up "major problems" there.

In May, he pleaded guilty to 12 criminal counts of perjury and obstruction of justice during Bulger's high-profile trial in Boston. Prosecutors say Fitzpatrick had falsely presented himself as a whistleblower who tried to end the FBI's corrupt relationship with Bulger.

"(Fitzpatrick) had been peddling the same lies for nearly two decades," Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer told the judge.

Bulger's trial cast a harsh light on the relationship between the Irish-American gangster and FBI agents who shared Bulger's heritage and turned a blind eye to his gang's murder and mayhem in exchange for information they could use against the Italian-American Mafia.

Bulger is serving a life sentence after being convicted of committing or ordering 11 murders while head of the Winter Hill gang in the 1970s and 1980s.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz supported a sentence of two years probation for Fitzpatrick because he had no prior criminal history, accepted responsibility for his crimes and is in poor health, according to a memorandum filed Aug. 1 with the court.

Judge Saylor said he accepted the plea bargain in the case despite "reservations and misgivings." He described Fitzpatrick's behavior as "particularly egregious" given that the was a former law enforcement official who lied during a murder trial.

"I don't pretend to understand how he got himself to this point," Saylor said.

(This story has been refiled to remove the extraneous words "on Friday" in the first paragraph)

(Reporting by Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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