By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) - A former drug kingpin testified on Wednesday that accused Boston mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger forced him to play Russian roulette in a nightclub's back room in 1983 as a way to make him hand over $1 million cash.
"The conversation wasn't going too well... But I wasn't going to pay him $1 million. I just wasn't going to do it," William David Lindholm said in the murder and racketeering trial of one of Boston's most storied criminals.
He said Bulger, leader of the Winter Hill Gang which ruled the Boston underworld in the 1970s and '80s, pulled out a revolver with a silencer screwed onto the barrel and a bullet lodged in one of the chambers. "It was pointed at my head and the trigger was pulled," he said.
Bulger, 83, is on trial for charges that he killed or ordered the murders of 19 people. Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges but through his lawyer has admitted being an extortionist, drug dealer, loan shark and "organized criminal."
Lindholm said he eventually got Bulger to accept $250,000 instead of $1 million by convincing the mob boss that his marijuana smuggling operation was smaller than it actually was.
He also said that before he left the club, Bulger complimented him.
"He shook my hand, and told me that I handled myself well," Lindholm said. But he added Bulger left him with a stark warning not to sell marijuana behind his back again.
"Yeah, he'd cut my head off."
Bulger's trial has riveted Boston and given the jury a glimpse of an era when machine-gun toting mobsters shot associates who talked too much and buried bodies under bridges. It has also exposed a dark side of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
During his reign, corrupt FBI agents from the Boston office traded information with Bulger, who used the tips to elude arrest and murder "rats," associates who spoke to police.
Bulger, through his attorneys has repeatedly denied ever providing information to the FBI, saying he paid a corrupt agent for tips but offered none of his own.
Jurors in the Bulger trial also got a detailed description of how his gang used fishing boats and freighters in the 1980s to smuggle drugs into the United States and ship guns to the Irish Republican Army for its guerrilla campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.
Prosecutors focused on the events related to the murder of fisherman John McIntyre, who helped the Boston mob smuggle guns to the Irish Republican Army in the 1980s.
McIntyre, who had crewed several smuggling vessels, vanished in 1984 after helping investigators intercept 36 tons of marijuana stashed in a gravel cargo on a freighter in the Boston Harbor, former U.S. Customs officer Donald DeFago testified.
McIntyre's body was not found until 2000.
"He had instructions to call us ... every day and when he didn't call we got suspicious and started to go out and look for him," DeFago said.
Bulger associates Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and Kevin Weeks testified at previous hearings that Bulger shot the man in the head after being tipped off he was informing. Flemmi is expected to testify this week.
DeFago said McIntyre had named Bulger associate Patrick Nee as an organizer of drugs and weapons shipments to and from the Boston area, including seven tons of guns and weapons bound for the IRA that Irish authorities intercepted in 1984.
Those weapons and ammunition had left Massachusetts on a Gloucester swordfishing boat named the Valhalla. At the time, Irish authorities said it was the largest known weapons shipment headed to the IRA.
Bulger rose from his youth in a housing project to become the most feared criminal in Boston. After a 1994 tip from a corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent, Bulger fled.
He was finally captured in Santa Monico, California, in 2011 after 16 years on the lam.
His story inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning film "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson played a character loosely based on Bulger.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)