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Whitey Bulger — alleged mobster and informant — finally goes on trial in Boston

U.S. Dept. of Justice via Reuters

Opening statements begin Wednesday in the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger, shown here in a booking photo from 2011.

It’s been more than 30 years, but former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick remembers well his first meeting with accused Boston mob kingpin and future fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger.

“When I interviewed him, he said he was not an informant and I found that odd because my whole reason for going out there was to assess him as an informant,” Fitzpatrick said on the eve of opening statements in Bulger’s federal racketeering trial.

Three decades later, Bulger, 83, is still singing the same tune: He’s no stool pigeon.

His lawyer has told reporters Bulger wants the world to know that he was never a snitch, even as he unsuccessfully tried to put forth a defense that claimed he had immunity from the feds.

The fearsome head of the Winter Hill Gang reportedly preferred to be labeled a “strategist” in his dealings with the FBI.

One of the most anticipated trials in recent memory begins in Boston today, where alleged mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger stands accused of running an elaborate criminal enterprise and murdering 19 people during the '70s and '80s. NBC's Ron Allen reports.

“The worst thing for an Irish guy in Boston is to be a tout,” Fitzpatrick said, using a slang term for informant.

“He said he would never testify.”

That was 1981, after the FBI sent Fitzpatrick to Boston to figure out whether Bulger should stay on the books as an informant. He said he quickly decided to “close” — or remove — him.

Others in the Boston office had different ideas, including Bulger’s FBI handler, John Connolly, who was convicted 20 years later of plotting the murder of a potential witness against the Winter Hill crew.

Fitzpatrick, who wrote a memoir titled “Betrayal” and is penning a book about the trial, said he spent six years trying to end the agency’s corrupt relationship with Bulger and put him in prison before he quit the FBI in disgust in 1987.

Seven years later, tipped off by Connolly that he was about to be indicted, Bulger skipped Beantown. He spent the next 16 years on the lam until being nabbed with longtime girlfriend Catherine Grieg in Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011.

Bulger’s lawyers have said he will tell his story to the 12 jurors who were seated Monday. Fitzpatrick, his old nemesis, might wind up on the witness stand, too — as a defense expert witness.

Fitzpatrick, who is now a private investigator, said he would expect to be asked about Bulger’s relationship with the Boston FBI office. That’s familiar ground for Fitzpatrick, given his testimony in civil wrongful-death suits against the feds by the families of people murdered during his Bulger’s alleged stint as an informant.

Between them, the prosecution and defense have listed more than 150 potential witnesses. Anchoring the government’s case are three former Bulger cronies — two of them admitted cold-blooded killers — who cut deals while he was on the run.

One witness, former hitman John Martorano, was the focus of courtroom fireworks on Monday after the defense claimed that he has committed crimes since being released from prison in 2007 — and that state police and prosecutors turned a blind eye.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak and defense lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. began shouting at each other over the coverup claims, and Judge Denise Casper had to intervene, the Associated Press reported.

Despite a defense motion asking for a delay to further investigate, Casper ordered everyone, including the 12 jurors and six alternates, to report to court on Wednesday for opening statements.

Bulger, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of participating in 19 murders and a range of other crimes involving money-laundering, extortion, drugs and weapons. If he’s convicted of just two counts, he could go to prison for life.

Fitzpatrick said, if he’s called to testify, he will tell what he knows — regardless of which side it helps.

“I have no say in what happens to this guy anymore. I’m not the jury. I’m not the judge,” he said. “I’m kind of disgusted with the way things turned out.”