By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday gave attorneys for alleged former crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger, charged with 19 murders, two more weeks to assess whether they can properly prepare for his trial.
Bulger's attorney repeated his complaint that he had been unable to sift through the hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence that date back to a 1999 indictment for crimes alleged to have been committed in the 1970s and 1980s.
"We continue to be overwhelmed by the amount of discovery that we have to go through," the attorney, J.W. Carney of Boston law firm Carney & Bassill, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler at federal court in Boston.
Prosecutors contended that Bulger, who fled Boston in late 1994 after a tip from a corrupt Federal Bureau of Investigation official that his arrest was imminent, was trying to avoid trial on the charges when he was arrested in Santa Monica, California, almost a year ago.
"He fled the district 16 years ago to avoid trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said in the status hearing on Tuesday. "It is no secret that he is trying to avoid being put in front of a jury."
Carney denied that Bulger was seeking to avoid trial.
Bulger, 82, did not attend the hearing. He has pled not guilty to charges linked to murders that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when federal prosecutors say he ran the Winter Hill Gang, a mostly Irish-American criminal organization. His trial is scheduled to begin November 5.
Carney also said that his efforts to defend Bulger have been hampered by prosecutors' request to keep much of their evidence under seal. Judge Bowler instructed the two sides to meet to go over what parts of the documents would be brought up at trial and what could be made public.
After the hearing, Bulger's attorney told reporters he believed prosecutors were trying to keep some evidence under seal to avoid exposing corruption in Boston's law enforcement community. Bulger had long served as an FBI informant.
"The government doesn't want to have everyone know about the depth of corruption that went on for decades in this city," Carney told reporters.
Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, were arrested at their apartment hideout a few blocks from the ocean on June 22, 2011, days after the FBI renewed its media campaign seeking tips on his whereabouts.
His story was the inspiration for Martin Scorsese's 2006 Oscar-winning film "The Departed."
The case is United States v. James J. Bulger, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, No. 99-10371.
(Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Simao)