'No One Ever Knew Who I Was'

For years this Woods College faculty member lived a double life

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

In the world of higher education, a faculty member with a second job is nothing new, whether serving as a paid consultant in industry, working on editorial boards, or publishing books for popular consumption in addition to academic writing.

William McArdle
Photo by Suzanne Camerata
But one long-time Boston College faculty member's moonlighting activities have included strapping on a pistol, assuming a fake identity and risking his life to uncover crime and corruption.

"No one ever knew who I was and that's exactly how I liked it," said William McArdle, an adjunct lecturer in the Woods College of Advancing Studies who served as a special investigator for the Internal Revenue Service for nearly 30 years. "I can be very unassuming - and that paid off for all those years."

For the better part of three decades, McArdle spent his days shuttling between two worlds: the cloistered corridors of Fulton Hall and the seedy underworld of organized crime ruled by the mob and corrupt government officials.

An investigator armed with accounting skills and Boston street smarts, and hardened in the jungles of Vietnam, McArdle investigated all types of criminals, from malfeasant produce importers to the notorious Boston Irish Mob kingpin James "Whitey" Bulger and his corrupt FBI cohorts.

"I have been able to see behind the scenes where other faculty maybe haven't," said McArdle.

A Dorchester native and graduate of Boston Technical High School, McArdle joined the army at age 17 after turning down a scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"My family was dirt poor and we couldn't afford it," recalled McArdle. "So the army was the best option."

McArdle was assigned to a special forces outfit that would eventually become known as the Green Berets.

"The army needed people who could do things," said McArdle, keeping his recollections purposely vague. "We went a lot of places and did a lot of things in those days."

One of those places was Vietnam, where McArdle was assigned in the late 1950s - well before the Southeast Asian nation became a full-fledged battleground. Typically, he said, the US sends only its most highly skilled special operators in to a region to gather intelligence prior to any large scale operation.

"There were only a few hundred of us in-country at that time," he said. "No one knew what was going to happen there."

Following his military service, McArdle worked as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service, among other jobs, and enrolled in the MBA program at BC. Upon earning his degree in 1973, McArdle was invited to teach at BC as an adjunct faculty member.

Shortly thereafter, McArdle took a job with the Internal Revenue Service as a special agent. McArdle says he often posed as a regular IRS auditor who was conducting a routine audit and asked managers suspected of tax fraud or other crimes if he could review their books and accounting records. The suspects usually thought little of the request, not realizing they were handing evidence to a federal agent who was actually there to conduct a criminal investigation - not just an audit.

"No one ever expected anything," said McArdle. While the media never interviewed him about his duties, McArdle often saw the results of his work in newspapers, after arrests were made and the suspects were indicted and sent to jail.

Even before he worked in law enforcement, McArdle had a taste of the kind of corruption made possible with an accountant's ledger. While finishing his undergraduate work at Bentley College he took a job with a Boston produce importer, and soon afterwards realized that the company's managers were illegally misreporting financial information, although he wasn't sure why.

"Growing up in Dorchester you learn pretty quickly how to tell when things aren't on the level," said McArdle. "Years later when I was working for the IRS the case came up and I was approached by agents I worked with who asked me if I knew anything about it.

"You bet I did."

An investigation revealed that the company's managers were bribing Colombian officials with whom they were doing business. Thanks in part to McArdle's knowledge of the situation, the importers were soon brought to justice.

McArdle was later assigned to the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, a special law enforcement unit composed of agents from multiple federal agencies as well as US attorneys. The unit dealt primarily with organized crime, and some notorious individuals.

While McArdle's tasks were similar to those he performed as an IRS agent, the stakes were higher and the cases more challenging. For an insight into his work and the people he encountered, McArdle recommends the book Black Mass by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, which recounts the story of the illicit relationship between mobster "Whitey" Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly.

In the mid-1970s, Connolly recruited Bulger as an informant, so the FBI could dismantle the Irish mob's chief rivals, the Italian Mafia. In exchange for the tips Bulger provided, as recounted in Black Mass, Connolly and his fellow agents allegedly helped the gangster elude the law by tipping him off to sting operations and cutting deals to save him from prosecution. Under this protection, Bulger built a drug and racketeering empire.

Connolly was one of the agents with whom McArdle served on the task force.

"I never did get a chance to meet Whitey, though," recalled McArdle.

Connolly did once invite McArdle to meet with the mob boss' top lieutenant, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, nicknamed for the expert marksmanship he developed as a paratrooper. McArdle was concerned that Flemmi and he might have mutual acquaintances from their military service, which could possibly jeopardize McArdle's undercover status. He declined Connolly's invitation.

"I didn't want to get too close."

While McArdle says he always harbored suspicions about some of the agents he served with, the revelation that Connolly was working with Bulger came as a surprise. Last September Connolly was sentenced to 10 years in prison for racketeering, obstruction of justice and lying to a federal agent. Bulger remains at large and joins Osama bin Laden atop the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.

"No one had any idea of what was really happening," said McArdle. "You can't be surprised by it, though. There's corruption everywhere."

Later, McArdle was recruited by the Department of Defense to perform audit and investigative work on some Central Intelligence Agency projects. Accounting work for the CIA is a challenging endeavor, he says, because facts have to be reported honestly, without giving away any classified information.

"Not all of this stuff is going to appear in the Congressional Record, and only a few key members of Congress get to see what's really going on," said McArdle.

His final assignment for the government put McArdle back on active status in the military to carry out investigative work for the Department of Defense. In 2000, at the age of 60, he became one of the oldest paratroopers to ever jump out of an airplane.

"Most guys are all done by the time they're in their late 50s," he said with a laugh, recalling the training mission. "But I'm from Dorchester, I can take a little more."

Throughout his three decades of service to the government, McArdle, a Quincy resident, says his best decision was to remain at Boston College.

"This is a special place, there's no doubt about that" he said. "It's like a big family."

Woods College of Advancing Studies Dean James Woods, SJ, commended McArdle for his service to Boston College over the years.

"He's had an interesting career and has been a good teacher," said Fr. Woods. "Besides, he's got a great sense of humor. How often do you find a funny accountant?"

McArdle says the stressful and dangerous nature of his other jobs never conflicted with his responsibilities to Boston College.

"It really wasn't that difficult to do it all," he said.

McArdle says the beneficiaries of his government service are the Boston College students in his basic accounting courses.

"I always bring something from the outside into each lecture," said McArdle, adding with a wink: "You have to, this stuff is so boring without a few good stories thrown in."  

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