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September 23, 2015 04:30 PM

Former gun and drug runner Eric Schneider remembers the day he met infamous New England mobster James ”Whitey” Bulger like it happened last week. He was 18, fresh out of high school and had a growing reputation with police patrolling Boston’s suburbs as a petty thug with higher criminal aspirations.

A 25-year veteran of witness protection, Schneider tells PEOPLE he can’t forget that first fateful encounter with Bulger, as it’s a day he wishes had never happened.

“I got to see things during those five years that I continue to struggle with – things that haunt me daily,” confides Schneider, who further claims he was one of Boston’s most notorious cocaine and weapons dealers during the late 1980s and early ’90s.

A late-night boat excursion with Bulger torments his dreams, Schneider says. “I had this 28-ft. boat and Whitey asked me to take him out to dump this body,” he recalls. “I sat there and watched them chop it into pieces that they just chucked over the side into the water.”

Bulger – with established connections to drug smugglers and the Irish Republican Army – was Schneider’s main supplier for years, he claims. The two also committed several heinous crimes Schneider won’t detail, given that the statute of limitations has yet to expire.

“It was not the most pleasant time of my life and I regret ever having met the man,” says Schneider, telling PEOPLE he’s receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from both his years as a Bulger gang associate and the sexual abuse he allegedly endured as a child.

“He was a complex guy but he was as evil as the face of evil could be and as sociopathic as a man could be,” Schneider says. “He was just the essence of pure evil.”

A Troubled Past

A member of the federal government’s witness protection program, Schneider claims he will receive his sixth new identity next week, once he has been relocated to a different state. A spokeswoman for the United States Marshal’s Service, which administers and manages the country’s witness protection program, said she could neither confirm nor deny Schneider’s participation.

Nearly 30 years ago, Schneider says he was tapped as the fourth and final member of what he called an “armed robbery cell” that was financed by Bulger and routinely knocked off banks, businesses, restaurants and armored trucks.

“He got 10 percent from each job, because he’d provide the equipment and guns we needed for each heist,” Schneider says. “I was a troubled youth; from 12 on, I was involved in everything from drugs to burglaries – you name it. Because I had gained a reputation as a tough guy, a friend of mine asked me to meet with this group of guys that worked directly under Whitey.”

Years before his felonious pursuits, Schneider – who was adopted – says he suffered repeated sexual abuse as a child over a four-year period that ended before his eleventh birthday. Schneider claims the mental anguish he suffered sparked a distrust of all adults as well as a general loathing for society that propelled him towards a life of crime and violence.

“Whitey would recruit people who were almost broken to work for him because he knew he could manipulate and control them, and that they would be loyal to him,” Schneider explains. “In the long run, I was. When things went down, they wanted me to give up Whitey so bad, but I wouldn’t.”

Whitey Bulger's mugshot from 2011
U.S. Marshals Service/AP

‘They Tried Anything They Could to Get Me to Turn on Whitey’

Between 1986 and 1991, Schneider was a member of Bulger’s organized crime syndicate, and a big earner. That all changed when a bullet from a bank security guard’s gun nicked him during a holdup. Police arrested him days later after linking him with blood recovered from his crew’s ditched getaway car.

Facing the prospect of life behind bars and a burial plot behind the prison, Schneider says he agreed to testify for the prosecution after giving up his three cohorts. He was immediately whisked off into a life of obscurity, he says.

“But I was questioned daily for two years, either by the FBI or the local police, the state police, the IRS, the DEA, the Secret Service – every government agency under the sun, basically,” Schneider says. “They tried anything they could to get me to turn on Whitey.”

But Schneider – who tells PEOPLE he was one of the earliest “pioneers of identity theft” while working for Bulger – never gave up the mob boss. He knew that was a guaranteed death sentence.

“I wasn’t going to survive that,” says Schneider, who has since written a book – The Choir Boy – that chronicles the years of sexual abuse he survived and his life as one of Whitey’s crooks. Proceeds from the book’s sales benefit Childhelp, a national non-profit dedicated to assisting at-risk children.

Bulger managed to evade arrest for years before he was convicted in 2013 of 11 homicides he either committed or ordered during the 1970s and ’80s. Black Mass, a biographical film starring Johnny Depp as Bulger, hit theaters earlier this month.

Schneider says he doesn’t look back on his days in Boston with any sense of pride or fondness, but rather he uses the shame that persists to try to inspire positivity.

“I’m trying to live a better second half of my life,” he admits. “Looking back, I’ve got to say that Whitey was the most paranoid man that I have ever met on the face of this Earth. He was sketchy about everybody, and if he thought you were a problem, whether there was a problem or there wasn’t, you were disposed of. Sadly, I know a lot of innocent people that died for no other reason than Whitey was paranoid and he thought they may or may not talk.”

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