First of 3 men charged in prison killing of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger pleads guilty to false statement to a federal agent

One of three inmates charged in connection with the 2018 prison killing of notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger has pleaded guilty to falsifying statements to federal agents.

Sean McKinnon was sentenced Monday to time served, as “he’s been in custody since he was charged,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia told CNN. According to a plea agreement, McKinnon faced up to a five-year sentence for the charge.

Prosecutors have accused McKinnon of acting as a lookout on October 30, 2018, while fellow US Penitentiary Hazelton inmates Fotios Geas and Paul J. DeCologero bludgeoned Bulger to death less than 12 hours after the former crime boss was transferred to the facility in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia.

Bulger was the much-feared leader of Boston’s Irish mob who evaded capture for more than 16 years before his June 2011 arrest. He found unresponsive in his prison cell and died of blunt-force head injuries as a result of being “assaulted by others,” according to his death certificate. He was 89 at the time of his death.

Geas and DeCologero are accused of striking Bulger several times, resulting in his death, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia. They face first-degree murder and assault charges in relation to the killing, and Geas is also charged with murder by a federal inmate serving a life sentence, court filings show.

McKinnon, Geas and DeCologero each agreed to plead guilty, according to motions filed by prosecutors last month. Each man was charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

McKinnon was also charged with making false statements to a federal agent regarding his knowledge of Bulger’s killing. CNN asked the US attorney’s office Monday whether McKinnon’s conspiracy to commit murder charge had been dropped, since he was sentenced only for the charge of making false statements.

According to the plea agreement, McKinnon’s false statements included:

– Telling FBI agents he was not aware of what happened to Bulger the day Bulger died

– Saying he spoke with fellow inmates Geas and DeCologero the morning of October 30, 2018, but did not discuss Bulger

– Saying he knew nothing about an incident involving Bulger on that day

McKinnon was already in prison, serving a 96-month (8-year) sentence for firearms theft.

DeCologero is scheduled to appear in court on August 1 to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced and Geas is expected in court for the same reasons on September 6, according to court records.

Bulger’s criminal reign as head of south Boston’s Winter Hill gang from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s made him one of the most wanted men in the US, who avoided arrest from federal authorities on racketeering and murder charges for over a decade.

A judge later described Bulger’s terrorizing of Boston as involving “unfathomable” acts. Federal prosecutors say he led the gang through the mid-1990s.

Bulger, who inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, “The Departed,” was arrested in California in 2011 and sentenced to two life terms in prison in 2013 after a jury found he was responsible for 11 deaths among other crimes, CNN previously reported.

In a now-dismissed lawsuit, Bulger’s family in 2020 sued prison employees after he died, alleging they were “intentional or deliberately indifferent” to dangers the former crime boss faced in prison, and that it appeared Bulger was “deliberately sent to his death.”

Though a judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2022, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released a report in December of that year outlining a series of missteps by prison authorities that may have jeopardized Bulger’s safety during his prison transfer.

Bulger’s placement into the West Virginia facility’s general population after guards spoke of his impending arrival in front of inmates is mentioned in the report as one of the mistakes made.

The report said inmates’ prior knowledge of Bulger’s arrival at Hazelton on October 29, 2018, significantly increased the likelihood that he faced imminent harm at the facility.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

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