Two media firms in Greater Portland produced the public service announcement that led to Wednesday’s capture in California of James “Whitey” Bulger, who was wanted in 19 murders and had been on the run for 16 years.

The FBI hired Northeast Media Associates, based in South Portland, and Black Fly Media of Portland to produce the 30-second television announcement. The spot included photographs of Bulger, 81, and Catherine Greig, 60, who was wanted for harboring Bulger, her boyfriend. The message urged the public to contact authorities with information about their whereabouts.

“I was shocked and surprised that it happened, and that it happened so quickly,” Charlie Berg, president of Black Fly Media, said of Bulger’s arrest.

Black Fly, which specializes in creating high-definition videos, edited and distributed the announcement.

“Sixteen years they have been looking for this guy. It’s pretty cool that we played some part,” Berg said.

Angie Helton, president and principal of Northeast Media Associates, said she heard the news of Bulger’s arrest first thing Thursday morning.

“I woke up this morning and my husband was screaming, ‘Angie, look at this … headline,’” said Helton, whose public relations and video production firm helped edit the script and produce the public service announcement. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’“

Bulger helped lead the violent Winter Hill Gang, a largely Irish mob that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets in the Boston area. U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern said in 2000 that Bulger and an associate were “responsible for a reign of intimidation and murder that spanned 25 years.”

Earlier this year, Mollie Halpern, a former Maine resident who is an FBI staffer in Washington, D.C., called Helton to ask if she was interested in producing a video for the bureau.

Halpern, who now anchors the FBI’s radio program, spent seven years working at television stations in Maine and anchored the weekend news program of Fox 51, which was affiliated with WPXT-TV.

While in Maine, Halpern met Helton, who has worked at WCSH-TV in Portland and WLBZ-TV in Bangor, and Berg, who now works at WCSH.

Halpern said the FBI chose Helton and Berg for the job because of their media experience and knowledge of the Bulger case.

“They had the professional qualifications to do it. … Being from New England, they are familiar with the case,” Halpern said.

Helton said Halpern told her that the FBI was launching a “huge media campaign.” Only later did she realize that the subject was Bulger.

She said the FBI sent documents to her through the U.S. mail, which they considered more secure than email.

Four FBI agents came to Maine, where they worked with Helton and Berg in Berg’s home studio in Saco. Helton helped edit the script, and both firms produced it.

“There were four FBI agents sitting in my dining room, choosing the pictures and graphics. There was a lot of time spent editing,” Berg said.

Instead of focusing on Bulger, the announcement included photographs of, and information about, Bulger’s longtime girlfriend, Greig, who the agents suspected was helping Bulger lay low.

“We were going through photos and picking out the best to use, (trying) to show many different angles of her. They believed that if they could find her, it would lead them to him.”

Helton said the announcement was produced over the course of weeks and during two 14-hour editing sessions.

Halpern said the work was a “team effort” between the firms and the FBI. “We were co-producers in this,” she said.

The announcements aired Tuesday on television stations in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Tucson, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Mobile-Pensacola, Tampa, New Orleans, Biloxi, Miami and Fort Myers.

“We chose to air the commercials with a strategy, because we knew that Bulger and Greig have ties to those areas,” Halpern said. “It was no accident.”

She said a great deal of strategy went into the production of the videos, to maximize the effectiveness, but she did not provide details.

Late Wednesday, the FBI announced that agents had arrested Bulger and Greig near Los Angeles without incident.

“Recent publicity produced a tip which led agents to Santa Monica, Calif., where they located both Bulger and Greig at a residence,” the FBI said in a news release.

Nicknamed “Whitey” for his platinum hair, Bulger grew up in a South Boston housing project and became the city’s most notorious gangster. He fled in January 1995 and became one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives, making the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

He was wanted for extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking and 19 counts of murder, among other crimes.

The government offered a $2 million reward for information leading to Bulger’s capture and $100,000 for information about Greig’s location.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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