May 27, 1981 was a beautiful spring day at the exclusive Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A respected successful Tulsa businessman named Roger Wheeler finished his regular golf date with friends. He showered, dressed, had one drink with his golf buddies and walked to his car. This day seemed normal in every aspect except for a late model brown nondescript sedan occupied by two men parked in the lot. Mr. Wheeler entered his car and as he prepared to start the engine, a heavyset, black-bearded man with dark sunglasses walked up to him, raised a revolver and fired one round into Roger Wheeler’s face, killing him instantly. The shooter returned to the waiting driver of the brown car they quietly drive away.
Among other successful business ventures, Roger Wheeler owned World Jai Alai, Inc., a sports/gaming organization based in Florida. At that time, World Jai Alai Inc. employed retired F.B.I. agent Paul Rico as a vice president of security. The Tulsa Police investigation was intense but failed to identify any suspects. The detectives would immediately focus on Wheeler’s connection to the Jai Alai business because of the gambling associated with this obscure sport. Mike Huff, one of the original officers responding to the crime scene, would become the detective assigned to pursue the case. Over the next two decades Detective Huff learned that the trail led to Boston gangsters John Martorano, Whitey Bulger, Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi and their South Boston Winter Hill Gang.
On October 2, 2003, 22 years later, retired agent Paul Rico is indicted and arrested for the murder of his former employer, Roger Wheeler. By this time 78 year old Paul Rico was in poor health
when he was arrested, placed into the general population of the Miami jail where is subjected to insults and assaults by the inmates. He is held without bond for several months during the extradition process and transported to Tulsa Oklahoma. He never regain his freedom or even have a chance to clear his name at a preliminary hearing before he would die because of improper health care by the jail staff while handcuffed to a hospital bed on January 18, 2004. What happened in between to culminate in this tragic end is the subject of an investigation by two retired F.B.I. agents, Chris Kerr and Joe Wolfinger. They learned that Paul Rico was a well respected agent with the reputation as a fearless, flamboyant gang-busting agent who earned this reputation while assigned to the Boston office. Agents Kerr and Wolfinger complied their evidence in a book titled, Rico: How Politicians, Prosecutors and the Mob Destroyed one of the F.B.I.’s Finest Special Agents.
We do a conference call with these agents and learn that the actual shooter of Roger Wheeler was a Boston gangster named John V. Martorano and his wheel man was a member of the Boston Winter Hill gang named Joe McDonald, who will later die of natural caused in 1997. The agents lead us down a twisted path that reveals how James Whitey Bulger, Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi were paid by a former employee of World Jai Alai named John Callahan to arrange the murder of Roger Wheeler. Bulger later orders Martarano to kill John Callahan because they fear he will testify. Martarano and Flemmi will make deals to avoid the death penalty and admit to this murder conspiracy and claim that Paul Rico provided them with a piece of paper that contained the automobile and license number and the address of the Southern Hills country club as part of the conspiracy.
My own conclusion after this interview is that a police investigator and prosecutor led a grand jury to indict Paul Rico on the flimsiest of evidence and their hunger for headlines resulted in the besmirching of the reputation of a honest and dedicated F.B.I. agent. The tragic and unfortunate result was that Paul Rico was then killed while in the care of the Tulsa authorities.
Don’t forget to listen to Aaron on the Big Dumb Fun Show, live on Monday nights.
To go to the store click here
To rent Gangland Wire, the documentary, click here
To subscribe on iTunes click here, give me a review and I will send you a link to see the film for free.