FOIA Update
May 1, 2024

WASHINGTON – Empower Oversight is pressing the FBI to go back to the drawing board after what it says was an inadequate search of the FBI’s records in the whistleblower organization’s inquiry about a tip to the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office in the Whitey Bulger case.

Empower Oversight received an allegation two years ago that while Whitey Bulger was one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, the Bureau ignored a lead based on physical evidence reported by a local homicide detective in the area where Bulger was hiding and was eventually arrested.

“This has the potential to be another black eye for the FBI, so it makes perfect sense that they would refuse to look for records they don’t want to find. This is about transparency and accountability at the top law enforcement agency in the country on a case of historic importance,” Empower Oversight president Tristan Leavitt said.

The complaint, filed with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJOIG) in 2011, said that Sergeant Gary M. Steiner of the City of Santa Monica Police Department witnessed the attempted sale of a firearm with the serial numbers removed and allegedly related to Bulger at Oaktree Gun Club in Los Angeles, California. As Steiner’s complaint to the DOJ-OIG and Empower Oversight’s related FOIA requests explain in detail, Steiner ensured that this potential lead related to an FBI most wanted fugitive was reported to the FBI. However, the FBI refused to follow up to obtain and examine the firearm.

Following Bulger’s arrest in that area, the FBI denied to Steiner that it had any record of his contacts with the agency, failed to retrieve an audio recording of a 2008 contact from Steiner, and refused to obtain or examine the firearm. In an unsigned letter, DOJ-OIG refused to open an inquiry into the issues that Steiner raised.

Empower Oversight filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, one request with the FBI and a second request with the DOJ OIG seeking records related to the homicide detective’s tip to the FBI about a firearm that was allegedly connected to infamous crime boss James Joseph Bulger Jr., also known as Whitey Bulger.

According to the FBI, the agency performed a search of the Central Records System and found no records relevant to Empower Oversight’s request. However, the tip was made when the FBI primarily relied on paper documents that would not necessarily be electronically searchable. Empower is asking that the Justice Department Office of Information Policy compel the FBI to conduct a limited manual search for the records.

For the full request, click here.