BOSTON — Mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger was captured near Los Angeles after 16 years on the run that embarrassed the FBI and exposed the bureau's corrupt relationship with its underworld informants.
After an international manhunt, the FBI finally caught the 81-year-old Bulger at an apartment in Santa Monica along with longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig on Wednesday, just days after the government launched a publicity campaign to locate the fugitive crime boss by circulating pictures of Greig on daytime TV and on billboards, the FBI said.
The arrest was based on a tip from the campaign, the FBI said.
The FBI deemed the tip promising and began surveillance on the apartment complex just after 4 p.m. on Wednesday, federal officials said. They said agents soon spotted Bulger and Greig, and using a ruse they wouldn't explain, lured Bulger out of his apartment. They then arrested him without incident, and then arrested Greig, officials said.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the pair were using the aliases Charles and Carol Gasko.
Bulger had a $2 million reward on his head and rose to No. 1 on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list after Osama bin Laden was killed.
Guns and cash were found in the apartment, according to a law enforcement official who declined to be named because the official was not authorized to discuss details of the arrest. The person had no further details on the guns and cash.
Federal investigators declined to say how Bulger got enough money to live on.
An inspiration for the ruthless gangland boss in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie "The Departed," Bulger was wanted for 19 murders. One victim was shot between the eyes in a parking lot at his country club in Oklahoma. Another was gunned down in broad daylight on a South Boston street to prevent him from talking about the killing in Oklahoma. Others were taken out for running afoul of Bulger's gambling enterprises.
"He left a trail of bodies," said Tom Duffy, a retired state police major in Massachusetts. "You did not double-cross him. If you did, you were dead."
At the same time he was boss of South Boston's murderous Winter Hill Gang, a mostly Irish mob, Bulger was an FBI informant, supplying information about the rival New England Mafia. But he fled in January 1995 when an agent tipped him off that he was about to be indicted.
That set off a major scandal at the FBI, which was found to have an overly cozy relationship with its underworld informants, protecting mob figures and allowing them to carry out their murderous business as long as they were supplying useful information.
A congressional committee, in a draft report issued in 2003, blasted the FBI for its use of Bulger and other criminals as informants, calling it "one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement."
Bulger lived on the third floor of the Princess Eugenia, a three-story, 28-unit building of one- and two-bedroom apartments three blocks from a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Neighbors said the couple did not stand out.
Barbara Gluck, who lived on the same floor as the couple, said she didn't know their names but recognized them from photos on the Internet after their arrest.
Gluck described Greig as "sweet and lovely" and said they would have "girl talk" when they ran into each other in the building. Bulger became angry whenever he saw the two of them talking, and would say, "Stop talking to her," Gluck said.
"He was nasty," she added. At one point, Greig said Bulger had a "rage issue," the neighbor said.
Bulger and Greig were scheduled to appear in Los Angeles federal court Thursday. He faces federal charges that include murder, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics distribution, extortion and money laundering. Greig, 60, is charged with harboring a fugitive.
The arrest brings an end to a manhunt in which the FBI received reported sightings of Bulger and Greig from all over the U.S. and parts of Europe. In many of those sightings, investigators could not confirm whether it was Bulger.
On Monday, the FBI announced a new publicity campaign that asked people, particularly women, to be on the lookout for Greig.