By Keith Kelly
Three new books about James “Whitey” Bulger and his Boston-based Irish mobsters have ignited a turf war among publishers.
Today, “Rat Bastards” by John “Red” Shea is slated to hit book shelves from William Morrow. It’s the third Beantown Irish mob book to hit in as many weeks.
Shea claims he was a right-hand man to Bulger, current No. 2 fugitive to Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
“It’s better that they are using words than guns,” said Doug Grad, the editor at Regan Media for mob turncoat Kevin Weeks, whose book, “Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob,” which was co-written with Phyllis Karas, ignited a wave of controversy after it was featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
First out of the gate was Boston Globe reporter Howie Carr’s book, “The Brothers Bulger.” It landed at No. 10 on the New York Times best-seller list last week, only to drop off the current list. It should bubble back to No. 10 next week.
“We had to get more copies out,” said a spokeswoman for publisher Warner Books. She said supply didn’t keep up with demand, which explains the slippage. Warner now has 100,000 copies in print, she said.
The war of words is intense. In his book, Weeks claims he had at one point waited in a graveyard outside Carr’s home with the intent of whacking the journalist because Whitey Bulger was unhappy with the articles he was writing in the Globe.
Weeks said he called off the hit because Carr came out of his house holding his young daughter’s hand, and Weeks didn’t want to injure her.
“I believe Whitey wanted to kill me; I’ve heard it on wiretaps,” Carr said, “but I don’t believe this guy [Weeks] . . . He was a grave digger, a coat holder.”
John Shea, a drug-dealing ex-con turned author, is also joining the chorus, claiming Weeks was a weak link in the Bulger mob.
“My take on him [Weeks] is he claimed to be Whitey’s partner, but he was basically Whitey’s driver. He got stuff for him. I guess you could say he was Whitey’s umbrella boy,” Shea said.
Counters Judith Regan, the editrix of Regan Media which published “Brutal” “Talk to three juries, one Federal Bureau and the state police. Everyone else is trying to throw mud to sell books.”
Weeks did five and a half years after accepting a plea deal to settle 29 counts that included at least five murders and charges of extortion. The sentence was reduced in return for testimony against other mobsters.
Shea claims he was the most profitable gangster, running Whitey’s cocaine and drug operation. In the end, he said he came to learn that Whitey had turned rat on him. That earned Shea a 12-year prison sentence.
“When you cross into that life, you could be killed or ratted out, even by your best friend,” said Shea, who admitted he led a life of crime but claims he never turned on an associate – even after being ratted out.
“Within the gangster world, I didn’t rat out anyone. I accepted my responsibility and did my time.”
Shea has about 60,000 copies in print.
As luck would have it, many of the people behind the books will be gathering at the Kelly Gang Benefit at Michael’s restaurant tonight.
Maureen O’Brien, the editor of Shea’s book, will be on hand, as will Shea’s collaborator, Michael Coffey from Publishers Weekly.
Judith Regan is also expected to pop in after she completes her radio show at Sirius Satellite Radio. And one-time Wall Street Journal reporter turned Sirius p.r. maestro Patrick Reilly is also expected.
Celeb mag divas Janice Min, editor of Us Weekly, American Media head editorial honcho Bonnie Fuller and Celebrity Living’s editor, Kelli Delaney, who just finalized a new contract, are expected, too.
Larry Hackett, the managing editor at People magazine, will be on hand, as well.
Jim Kelly, the CEO of Catholic Charities, is flying in to receive honors as the Gang’s Person of the Year.
The gang is looking to raise more than $50,000 for Operation Helping Hands, which helps the volunteers who are trying to restore some of the housing in the city, and for Crescent House, which provides a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse. A donation will also be made to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
This year, a record-shattering number of media companies signed on as sponsors and Media Ink would like to personally thank them, because without them the evening would not be possible. They are: American Express Publishing; American Media; AOL Networks; Atlantic Media; Condé Nast Publications; Dennis Publishing; Disney Publishing; Forbes Inc.; Hachette Filipacchi Media; Hearst Corp.; International Data Group; Meredith Corp.; National Geographic Magazine; News Corp.; Rodale; Time Inc.; Wenner Media.
A special thanks to Rubenstein Inc., Manhattan Beer Distributors and Sidney Frank Importing.
Special guest Jack Frost of the NYPD mounted division will be on “19” hand.