WOBURN, Mass. (AP) — Cyanide-laced iced coffee led to the death of a man who’d just found out he wouldn’t get to testify against reputed Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, authorities said Friday, but linked the man’s death to a business associate who owed him money, not to Bulger.
The body of 59-year-old Stephen Rakes of Quincy was found in the woods July 17, just a day after he learned he wouldn’t take the witness stand against Bulger — a man he’d openly despised and blamed for seizing control of his business to use as headquarters for Boston’s Irish mob decades ago.
Bulger ran the city’s feared Winter Hill Gang before fleeing in 1994 after a corrupt FBI agent tipped him off he was about to be arrested. He was captured in California two years ago and is on trial, accused of participating in 19 murders.
But authorities believe the suspect in Rakes’ death, 69-year-old William Camuti, acted alone on the afternoon of July 16 when he lured Rakes to his death by arranging a meeting at a McDonald’s in Waltham to pitch him a fake real estate deal, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said.
Camuti, of Sudbury, pleaded not guilty Friday after his arrest on charges including attempted murder. Authorities said the medical examiner still is awaiting toxicology test results to determine Rakes’ exact cause of death, and prosecutors could file a murder charge later.
Authorities say Camuti bought two iced coffees and added two teaspoons of potassium cyanide to the one he gave to Rakes to drink. Investigators found out later that Camuti had made inquiries online about buying cyanide, Ryan said.
She said Rakes drank the poisoned drink and Camuti drove him around for hours before dumping his body in Lincoln, outside Boston between Lexington and Concord.
The prosecutor said Camuti and Rakes were business associates who had known each other for years and had done multiple deals. She said Camuti also owed Rakes a significant amount of money.
Camuti also faces charges of misleading police and unlawfully disposing of human remains. A judge ordered him held without bail until a Tuesday hearing, and his attorney didn’t return a message.
Surveillance video from the federal courthouse where Bulger is being tried showed Rakes leaving July 16 after attending the trial, Ryan said. Rakes had been attending the trial every day. The prosecutor said Rakes was wearing the same clothing when found dead the next day without a wallet, identification, keys or a cellphone.
There was no sign of trauma to his body and authorities said following his autopsy that they’d have to await test results before they could say more about how he died.
Federal authorities have said Bulger forced Rakes and his former wife to sell him their South Boston liquor store in 1984.
Steve Davis, the brother of one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims, called Rakes’ death a sad situation. They became good friends and sat through many court hearings together after the FBI caught Bulger in California and crossed him off the agency’s most-wanted list.
“The guy was full of life,” Davis said of Rakes. “He was happy. He had two grandchildren who he always talked about.”
AP writers Rodrique Ngowi and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.