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Witness in trial of mob boss 'Whitey' Bulger found dead


By Richard Valdmanis and Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - An extortion victim of James "Whitey" Bulger who had been slated to testify against the former mob boss was found dead in a suburb near Boston, authorities said on Thursday.

Stephen Rakes was found on Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln, Massachusetts, about 16 miles northwest of Boston, showing no obvious signs of trauma, according to the Middlesex County District Attorney's office.

The medical examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death, the district attorney's office said.

Rakes, 59, was on the lengthy list of victims of Bulger's feared "Winter Hill" gang who were due to take the witness stand in the longtime mob boss's trial on charges related to 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rakes once owned a South Boston liquor store that prosecutors charge Bulger's gang took over in a shakedown. He was on the government's list of witnesses but had not yet taken the stand.

He had attended Bulger's trial almost every day. His death came as the jury prepared to hear from one of Bulger's long-time associates, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for his role in many of the murders of which Bulger is accused.

Bulger, now 83, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of charges including racketeering and 19 murders that prosecutors say he committed or ordered in the 1970s and 1980s. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, though his lawyer admitted that Bulger was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark, essentially an "organized criminal."

His story inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning film "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson played a character loosely based on Bulger.

(Editing by David Gregorio)