James "Whitey" Bulger Flees Boston after Tip-Off from Handler

On a gray day of sleet in Chelsea nearly a decade ago, the mob's banker had some financial advice for the region's biggest bookie -- change horses and start paying the Italian mob for protection instead of the Irish gang.

Switch sides, was the message, and get more bang for your buck.

"The FBI won't look good in this," a federal prosecutor reflected nearly two years ago. The probe under way against Whitey Bulger, he said, will expose once and for all the bureau's tangled ties to the powerful gangster.

More than a decade after federal authorities decimated the hierarchy of the New England Mafia, officials last night were poised to take out those in the Irish and Italian underworld who have filled the void.