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Post-Whitey Bulger Trial, William Camuti Charged with Murder

Case Background

While the trial of Irish mob boss Whitey Bulger ended in a conviction for extortion, money laundering, drug dealing and weapons possession, the ramifications of his crime ring have yet to cease. The grand jury recently charged William Camuti, an alleged ally of Whitey Bulger, with the murder of extortion victim Stephen Rakes.

Details of the Murder

According to the authorities, William Camuti arranged a business meeting at a Waltham McDonalds with Stephen Rakes on July 16. Therein, Camuti presented Rakes with a cup of McDonalds iced coffee, which he had laced with two teaspoons of potassium cyanide. The poison acts against the  body’s ability to process oxygen intakes. Accordingly, Rakes was soon to become unconscious. Camuti sent two emails inquiring about the price of  potassium cyanide in the days before Rakes’ death. Police investigation revealed that Rakes took a sip of the coffee and thought it tasted too bitter. Nevertheless, he remained in Camuti’s car and was driven around Waltham, Woburn, Burlington and Lincoln until he eventually died. A jogger found Rakes’ lifeless body in a wooded area in Lincoln the next day, and alerted authorities.

Connection to Whitey Bulger

Stephen Rakes attended Whitey Bulger’s trial on the same day as his meeting with William Camuti. Rakes is just one of the many victims of Bulger’s extortion schemes. Allegedly, Rakes hoped to be on the witness stand in the Bulger trial, but he was dropped from the witness list shortly before the trial. Surveillance videos at the courthouse show Rakes wearing the same clothes he was found in by authorities the next day. Yet, authorities have not linked Rakes’ death to the murder trial. Prosecutors state that Camuti acted alone, not on behalf of Whitey Bulger, in order to settle some debts with Rakes.

Camuti Tried to Take His Own Life

As police investigation progressed, William Camuti seemed to break under the pressure. On July 20th, before his indictment, Camuti cut his wrists in his Sudbury apartment. While Camuti’s lawyer Stanley Norkunas called the incident a “psychiatric episode,” Camuti was clearly impacted by the repercussions of his admission.

William Camuti’s Punishment Under Massachusetts Law

Massachusetts Law Chapter 265, Section 28 states that “whoever mingles poison with food, drink or medicine with intent to kill or injure another person” is liable to life in prison or any term of years.” This punishment, coupled with Camuti’s admission of intent, is thus left to the discretion of the court. Massachusetts Law Chapter 265 Section 2 punishes first degree murder (deliberate and premeditated) with life in prison. Coupled with the poisoning charge, Camuti’s murder charge will most likely result in life in prison for the Sudbury resident.

Extortion Laws in Massachusetts

Extortion is legally defined as “the obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force.” Though extortion can be committed by any member of the general public, it is often associated with the unlawful taking of money by a government official. Extortion frequently occurs when a government official, such as a police officer or member of a licensing authority, uses governmental power to obtain money or other property from someone, or to compel the victim to do anything against his or her will. Yet, organized crime syndicates are also notorious for committing extortion, threatening harm to a person or business should payment not be made.

Massachusetts Law

In Massachusetts, under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 265 sec. 25, both written and verbal threats to use official power to obtain property can qualify as extortion; In a case such as this, the threat must be considered to be malicious.   Extortion is a serious felony – it carries anywhere from 2 1/2 to 15 years in jail.

There is a fine line between extortion and blackmail. Though very similar in nature, extortion involves the threat of an illegal act (such as physically harming someone) when demanding money or property; blackmail typically involves a less serious threat (such as divulging personal information about someone).  The Massachusetts extortion law covers any and all threats made in demand for money or personal property. 

Organized Crime

Extortion is one way criminal organizations do business.  A member of a crime outfit might get orders to collect money from certain small business people in a particular neighborhood, and if they refuse to pay up, he could threaten to use violence or damage property.

In a more concrete example, just last year, one of the most prolific organized crime figures in Boston history was indicted on attempted extortion and conspiracy charges.  Howie Winter, former leader of the Winter Hill Gang and predecessor of James “Whitey” Bulger, allegedly tried to extort $35,000 from two men.  Prosecutors said that a man contacted the victims to obtain a $100,000 business loan, which they agreed to.  One month after the borrower stopped paying the victims for the loan, Winter arranged a meeting with the victims, during which Winter told them they each had to pay him $35,000 for loaning the money without his permission. 

In tape recordings, Winter told the victims they would “have some problems if [they didn’t] come up with the money.”  The victims noted that they felt their lives were in danger. This statement shows how a threat doesn’t have to be very explicit to support an extortion charge, but does have to imply malicious intent.

Government Corruption

Public officials have also been known to use their power extortionately.  In a high profile saga of government corruption, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is on trial for federal extortion and fraud charges for allegedly awarding high-dollar city contracts in exchange for nearly $1 million.  A local businessman testified that he contributed around $440,000 to Kilpatrick’s campaign, lifestyle, and to Kilpatrick’s father over a 2-year period, in the hopes that the mayor would support his plan for a riverfront casino. 

Federal prosecutors say that when a government official simply accepts anything knowing that something is expected in return, this constitutes extortion, no matter whether a threat was made or whether the official actually does anything in return. 

In a clearer example of extortion, Kilpatrick’s father allegedly threatened to terminate a $1.2 billion dollar deal with a waste management company if it did not pay him a certain amount of money.   

Extortion can occur in many forms, over a very vast scale. As described, extortion can involve billions of dollars, or very few. The criminal act can be committed by organized criminals, government officials, or everyday citizens. Extortion occurs more often than one might expect, yet the crime should never be taken lightly.

Kidnapping in Massachusetts

We all know what the crime of kidnapping is, and what it entails. Or at least we think we know from what we have seen on tv and in movies. But how does Massachusetts define and deal with the crime of kidnapping?

kidnappingUnlike the name implies, you do not have to kidnap children in order to be guilty of kidnapping. The crime of kidnapping occurs when a person forcibly confines or imprisons another against their will. In Massachusetts one can also be guilty of kidnapping by forcing another to leave the state itself. Usually, as shown in tv shows, when a person is kidnapped there is a demand for money, or a ransom to be paid, in order for the kidnapped person to be released. However, that is not an element of the crime. In other words, in Massachusetts one does not need to make any demand for money in order to be found guilty of kidnapping.

Many times during family disputes, one spouse packs up the children and drives to the grandparents house. Sometimes the grandparents live outside the state. In Massachusetts, young children are considered unable of consenting to such a forcible trip outside of the state. Therefore the spouse that forcibly removes the children from their home, and other parent, could be guilty of the crime of kidnapping. I know it sounds weird, that a parent can kidnap their own children, but it has happened a lot in Massachusetts. In reality this usually comes up when the parents are divorced, but it is important to know in case you and your spouse are having troubles and you take the children with you.

As mentioned earlier, most kidnappers use the person they kidnapped to extort money out of the victims loved ones. Extortion is very simple. Basically it is any form of communication (written,verbal) where it is conveyed that the kidnapper will hurt the person they kidnapped unless they receive a certain amount of money. Extortion in and of itself is a totally separate crime, one that will need to be dealt with in further detail in another post. Suffice it to say, if you kidnap someone and threaten to hurt them unless you get paid, you are committing 2 separate crimes (kidnapping and extortion).

In reality kidnapping is a straightforward crime and one that is very easy to understand as well as interesting. I hope this post was able to show you that.