G. Jeffrey MacDonald, USA TODAY
WOBURN, Mass. - A potential witness in the racketeering trial of James "Whitey" Bulger was poisoned shortly before he turned up dead in mid-July, but the man who wanted him killed apparently had motives unrelated to Bulger's case.
That's according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who announced Friday afternoon that 69-year-old William Camuti of Sudbury was arrested Friday in Boston and charged in the death of Stephen "Stippo" Rakes.
Ryan said Camuti owed Rakes a "significant" amount of money as a result of their having done several business deals together over many years. She declined to say exactly how much he owed.
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Camuti allegedly lured Rakes on July 16 to a McDonald's in Waltham with a ruse: he purported to have a real estate investment opportunity to discuss with Rakes. Camuti then dropped enough potassium cyanide in Rakes' iced coffee to kill him while they drove around together in Camuti's car.
"Our evidence indicates that Mr. Camuti acted alone," Ryan said at a Friday afternoon press conference in Woburn. "Our investigation indicates it was a business transaction that was the basis" for poisoning Rakes.
Rakes' death raised more than a few eyebrows this summer at Boston's federal court, where Rakes had been a daily presence at Bulger's trial. He had been looking forward to testifying against Bulger, according to his friend Steve Davis, who said Rakes believed he had a "bombshell" to share that would significantly impact the trial.
Bulger is charged with participating in 19 murders, including several murders of former gang associates whom Bulger viewed as potential threats to testify against him. Hence when Rakes turned up dead, speculation was rife.
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"I'm thinking somebody slipped something in his drink, poisoned him or something," Davis said on July 18, the day after Rakes' body was found in a wooded area of Lincoln, about 30 miles from his Quincy home. "I don't know how many enemies he had."
Rakes had contended that Bulger and others in his Winter Hill gang extorted his South Boston Liquor Mart from him. Prosecutors allege Bulger's gang extorted the store and used it for money laundering operations. Rakes' name had come up several times during testimony in the seven-week trial.
Rakes was on the prosecution witness list, but according to Davis, he learned the week of his death that the government wasn't going to call him to testify. Rakes was disappointed to hear he wouldn't get to testify, Davis said, but he would not have committed suicide in Davis' view.
Camuti was scheduled to be arraigned late Friday in Concord District Court on charges of attempted murder, misleading police and unlawful disposition of human remains. Camuti is not charged with murder, Ryan said, because the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has not yet completed its toxicology analysis.