By delivering a bag containing $5,000 in cash to a drop site in an Arlington park, Mikhail Semenko fell into an elaborate trap set by the FBI. Photograph by Matthew Worden
It’s been a long time since I last saw my landlord, Mikhail Semenko. He was an affable twentysomething whose tiny Arlington one-bedroom apartment I rented for a short period during the summer of 2010. He worked what seemed like a low-impact job at a local travel agency, and spoke with a thick but understandable Russian accent. Our discussions never got too deep—whenever I saw him we talked mostly of rent checks and gas bills, spare keys and parking passes—but I liked him. He undercharged on the lease.
It’s a bad time to be a fugitive in the FBI’s crosshairs: The arrest Wednesday of James “Whitey” Bulger capped a stunning seven-week period that has seen the Bureau make progress in three of its most vexing and seemingly coldest cases.
Talk to just about any cop in Boston long enough and even today you’ll hear complaints about Whitey Bulger and the FBI’s corruption. I began my journalism career covering the cops beat in Boston, so over the years I’ve spent many hours speculating with them in Dunkin’ Donuts and squad cars about Whitey’s fate. Most cops I knew believed one of two scenarios: Either Whitey and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, have been dead since days after they fled in December 1994—probably buried under a parking lot or a building foundation somewhere in suburban Boston—or that the FBI would never find them because Whitey had too much dirt on the Bureau.
Both scenarios were proven untrue with a dramatic late-night announcement that James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious leader of the Winter Hill gang in South Boston, in 1999 the 458th person added to the Bureau’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, and perhaps the darkest stain on the FBI’s recent history, was caught after a tip from the public. Evidently, a member of the public responded to a recent high-profile push by the FBI to air information and pictures of Greig, concentrating on her rather than the fugitive boyfriend.
The arrest, coming just seven weeks after the killing of Osama bin Laden, removes from the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list its two highest-profile fugitives—and two of the longest-listed fugitives. (Both bin Laden and Bulger were added in the summer of 1999, the al-Qaeda leader in June, the Boston mobster in August.) Only two current fugitives have spent more time on the list: Victor Manuel Gerena, a Puerto Rican robber, and escaped murderer Glen Stewart Godwin.