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September 3, 1999
Author: Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
Fred Ford was working as a federal probation officer when he allegedly learned from an underworld leader in 1990 that South Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger planned to kidnap a former drug dealer and hold him for ransom, sources have told the Globe.
Ford tipped off the intended target, James D. Carter, who got out of town in time. But Ford apparently was so impressed with the kidnap plot that he allegedly recycled it eight years later, after he had left the probation office to become a criminal defense lawyer. Ford, the Globe has learned, is suspected of orchestrating the 1998 kidnapping of Carter by Charlestown gangsters. And it is that alleged plot that has landed Ford in federal court, charged with a bizarre scheme to hire a hit man to kill two Charlestown men, both former clients, whom he feared might implicate him in the kidnapping.
Ford, 48, of North Andover, was arrested Aug. 17 after he allegedly paid $11,000 to an undercover federal agent to kill James J. McCormick, 60, a convicted bank robber from Charlestown, and James R. Dagle, 36, of Medford. The alleged kidnap plot was outlined in the affidavit filed when Ford was arrested, but neither McCormick, Dagle, nor Carter were identified. The Globe learned their names from sources. McCormick and Dagle are among a group of men under investigation for the spring 1998 kidnapping of Carter, 50, who was snatched at gunpoint from outside his suburban home and brutally beaten inside a Charlestown warehouse by masked men demanding money, according to sources. Carter, who was seriously injured, reported the attack to Massachusetts State Police, but nobody has been charged in the case. Carter’s abduction last year came years after he fled the area because of Ford’s tip that he was being targeted by Bulger and his longtime partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, according to sources.
In 1990, while working as a probation officer, Ford allegedly sent word to Carter that he had learned that Bulger and Flemmi were planning to kidnap him and demand ransom because of his role in a South Boston drug case, sources said. Ford allegedly claimed he had learned of the plot from Joseph P. Murray, the Charlestown underworld leader who was killed by his wife in 1992, sources said. Ford was Murray’s probation officer when Murray was released from prison in 1990 after serving three years of a 10-year sentence for running guns to the Irish Republican Army and marijuana smuggling. Bulger had allegedly extorted $60,000 to $90,000 from Murray for storing drugs in South Boston without his permission, according to testimony in an unrelated federal case involving Bulger.
Federal and state investigators raided a South Boston warehouse in April 1983, seized 10 tons of marijuana and arrested Carter, along with Murray’s brother, Michael, and a group of other men. Carter was convicted of drug charges and served a few months in jail. Carter, married with children, had been living a quiet life in suburbia when he was kidnapped by men who fired shots outside his home, sources said. “My client was convicted over 15 years ago and paid his price and has been a law-abiding and good and decent citizen ever since,” said attorney Brian J. McMenimen, who represents Carter. He declined to discuss the kidnapping.
Ford came under suspicion recently when Special Agent Joseph W. Desmond of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Special Agent Steven P. Mitchell of the racketeering division of the US Department of Labor began investigating the kidnapping, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. Ford represented McCormick and Dagle when they were called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the murders of two guards during an armored car robbery five years ago in Hudson, N.H., according to sources. Ford allegedly suggested the kidnapping and expected a share of the ransom, according to the affidavit.
Ford learned of the kidnap investigation two months ago and was allegedly plotting to kill McCormick and Dagle himself when an informant put him in touch with an undercover agent with the US Labor Department. “Just hearing from you will help me sleep well tonight,” Ford allegedly told the hitman while plotting the crime, according to the affidavit. US Magistrate Judge Joyce London Alexander has ordered Ford to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the request of his attorney, William A. Brown. Neither Brown nor Assistant US Attorneys Geoffrey Hobart, or Cherie Krigsman who is prosecuting the case, would comment.
The charges against Ford rocked the federal courthouse in Boston, where Ford worked as a federal probation officer for 17 years until 1991, when he opened a law practice, now on Chatham Street in downtown Boston. Married with three children, Ford appeared to be a successful father and husband. Raised in West Roxbury, Ford graduated from Catholic Memorial High School, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Suffolk Law School.
He has a master’s degree in public administration. He owns a $400,000 home in North Andover, a second home in Harwich Port, and is a Bruins season-ticket holder. He was a member of the Boston Harbor Health Club and often socialized after work with fellow lawyers at Bakey’s, a Water Street restaurant and bar. Federal authorities now say that Ford used the telephone at Bakey’s to arrange the murder contract with the undercover agent. “It’s totally out of character. It just doesn’t fit the man I know,” said Philip A. Tracy Jr., an attorney who occasionally saw Ford at legal conferences or vacationing on Cape Cod with his family. “He seemed to be professionally astute and just a decent fellow.”
While Ford sits in a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., his younger brother has dispatched a letter to the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, urging attorneys to contribute up to $1,000 each to cover legal expenses that could run up to $100,000.
“The lurid accounts in the media do not, of course, portray the loving husband known to Ellen and their three kids nor the jovial big guy beloved by a wide circle of friends and colleagues,” Ford’s brother wrote on behalf of the Fred Ford Legal Expense Fund. But some of Ford’s friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say there were signs going back to Ford’s days in the probation office that he was flirting with trouble. They say Ford developed an unhealthy fascination with Murray and other organized-crime figures he met as a probation officer. “He was mesmerized by the guy,” said a friend of Ford, describing him as a “wannabe” wise guy who liked to fraternize with Murray and other Charlestown gangsters. While Ford was a probation officer, the FBI investigated allegations that he received a car from Murray, but no charges were brought. A source close to Ford said Ford has been taking the prescription drugs Prozac and Valium for about a decade, since the loss of a close relative. “I guess he just snapped,” he said.
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company Record Number: 9909100003