No Bull In Bull Durham–Meet State’s New Top Federal Prosecutor

John Durham

John “Bull” Durham has a nose for BS like few others. A career prosecutor, the Republican was nominated Wednesday by Donald Trump to serve as U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, replacing outgoing Deirdre Daly. His confirmation should be a no-brainer. He’s not warm and fuzzy but he excels as a professional.

To know Durham is to know a man of easy authority, and in his younger days facially reminiscent of the nerdy actor Wally Cox, the voice of the cartoon character Underdog. Remember that “humble and lovable” Shoeshine Boy with his secret identity? When the criminals in this world appear he transformed into Underdog.

Durham is no nerdy shoeshine boy. The wheels are always turning. He’s a relentless, probing, pain in the neck to anyone he’s looking at. Durham is the guy criminal defense attorneys don’t like to face. He investigates cases, he makes cases and he wins cases: mobsters, Hells Angels, labor racketeers, crooked FBI agents, government scoundrels. And he doesn’t cook up stuff when the evidence is not there. As the state’s top federal prosecutor he now oversees 66 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 46 staff members at offices in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.

I’ve known Durham for 35 years. He was part of a federal prosecutorial team that took down a lot of Bridgeport guys with the word reputed in front of their names. He spent a lot of time in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.

In the early 1980s Connecticut Post Reporter Michael Mayko, a skilled news gatherer, and I were brothers in arms, young journalists probing the guys and dolls of the city. We were the scribes holding reporter’s notebooks in federal courtrooms, lurking outside the secrecy of federal grand jury rooms noting the comings and goings of witnesses and wiseguys, and the federals trying to put them away. The government loved assigning targets nicknames in indictment language. Handles such as Cigars, Fat Frannie and Toke found their way into indictment language. And of course, what’s a gangster story without a moniker?

One day Mayko and I were kicking around the various nicknames assigned to the reputed. Part of the fun of covering these kinds of cases was the interaction between enterprising federal prosecutors and savvy defense attorneys and the zeal with which they performed their duties. When Durham went toe to toe with accomplished defense attorneys such as Andrew Bowman, Hugh Keefe, David Golub and Jack Zeldes the exchanges were priceless. Many of the defense attorneys had themselves been federal prosecutors. (The pay is better in the private sector.) Zeldes, in particular, used to rail about the nicknames, the screaming headlines and the prejudicial publicity that he said soiled the reputation of his clients.

Mayko and I figured if nicknames were good enough for wiseguys why wouldn’t they be good enough for prosecutors. Durham’s name and unrelenting investigative style lent itself to a fitting moniker. From then on every first reference to Durham in our stories was John “Bull” Durham. (This was long before the movie with Kevin Costner, but as baseball fans how could we not remember the Bull Durham tobacco billboards at ballparks?) Durham was good-natured about the nickname. We’d call him Bull and he’d shoot back a mischievous smile.

Thirty years ago, I published The Bridgeport Light, a community weekly newspaper that featured a team of eager reporters whose work didn’t always make subjects happy. We published a story about a wiseguy with a reputation for violence that didn’t go over too big. He was overheard saying he was going to bomb the newspaper. I wasn’t taking any chances. I called Durham. He took care of it. We all slept better.

Turns out the cases Durham would go on to supervise became larger in scope than the ones we covered. When word spread that decorated FBI agent John Connolly Jr. was a puppet for James “Whitey” Bulger’s New England crime operation and innocent men went to jail for the acts of mobsters, Durham prosecuted the case. Connelly received a 10-year federal sentence.

For those of us who worked for Trump and have been disappointed in his presidency this appointment is a good one.



  1. FYI,

    John Connelly was sentenced to ten years on federal racketeering charges. He was convicted of murder in Florida for the murder of John B. Callahan and sentenced to 40 years in state prison. Prosecutors alleged that Callahan was killed on the orders of Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi after Connolly told them that the FBI was investigating Callahan’s ties to the Winter Hill Gang in their ongoing investigation into Roger Wheeler’s death. (Wheeler, owner of a jai alai fronton in Miami, Florida, that Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemme had been skimming, was killed  in Tulsa, Oklahoma in May 1981. Both murders were depicted in the Johnny Depp film “Black Mass.”)

    1. Thanks, Kid. Did you notice how after 30 years Lennie is still scared to say the names of wiseguys or “subjects?” The “bull” couldn’t have taken care of it if after 30 years you still live in fear. “Thirty years ago, I published The Bridgeport Light, a community weekly newspaper that featured a team of eager reporters whose work didn’t always make subjects happy. We published a story about a wiseguy, with a reputation for violence, that didn’t go over too big. He was overheard saying he was going to bomb the newspaper. I wasn’t taking any chances. I called Durham. He took care of it. We all slept better.”

  2. From Wikipedia:

    “John Durham graduated with honors from Colgate University in 1972. Durham received a law degree in 1975 from University of Connecticut School of Law. After graduation, he was a VISTA volunteer for two years on an Indian reservation in Montana, after which he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut.

    “Amid allegations that FBI informants James Bulger and Stephen Flemme had corrupted their handlers, US Attorney General Janet Reno named Durham special prosecutor in 1999. He oversaw a task force of FBI agents brought in from other offices to investigate the Boston office’s handling of informants.

    “In December 2000, Durham revealed secret FBI documents that convinced a judge to vacate the 1968 murder convictions of Enrico Tameleo, Joseph Salvati, Peter J. Limone and Louis Greco because they had been framed by the agency. In 2007, the documents helped Salvati, Limone, and the families of the two other men – who died in prison – win a US$101.7 million civil judgment against the government.

    “In 2002, Durham helped secure the conviction of retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering charges for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning Bulger to flee just before the gangster’s 1995 indictment.

    “Durham’s task force also gathered evidence against retired FBI agent H. Paul Rico who was indicted in Oklahoma on state charges that he helped Bulger and Flemmi kill a Tulsa businessman in 1981. Rico died in 2004 before the case went to trial.

    “Durham also led a series of high-profile prosecutions in Connecticut against the New England Mafia and corrupt politicians, including former governor John G. Rowland.

    “In 2008, John Durham was appointed by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the destruction of CIA videotapes of detainee interrogations. On November 8, 2010, Durham closed the investigation without recommending any criminal charges be filed.

    “In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Durham to lead the Justice Department’s investigation of the legality of CIA’s use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’

    “In September 2009 University of Toledo law professor Benjamin G. Davis attended a conference where former officials of the Bush administration had told conferences participants shocking stories, and accounts of illegality on the part of more senior Bush officials. Davis wrote an appeal to former Bush officials to take their accounts of illegality directly to Durham. In November 2011, Durham was included on The New Republic’s list of Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.”

    1. Mr. Durham is a good choice for Connecticut. He goes after corrupt politicians. After John Rowland, Joseph P. Ganim and several Waterbury mayors we could use a man like him. From Wikipedia:

      “In 2005, FBI Agent John Connolly was indicted on murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges in the 1982 slaying of John B. Callahan, and the 1981 murder of Roger Wheeler, owner of the World Jai Alai sporting corporation. Connolly stood trial in 2008 in Miami, Florida. Callahan was murdered by John Martorano who left the corpse in the trunk of a Cadillac in a parking lot at Miami International Airport…

      “During the trial, Bulger associates Flemmi, Martorano, and Kevin Weeks testified for the prosecution detailing Connolly’s ties to Bulger and Flemmi. Bulger’s former girlfriend, Theresa Stanley, testified for the defense about her travels with Bulger. Flemmi testified that Connolly warned them that the FBI wanted to question Callahan in the death of Wheeler and that Callahan “wouldn’t hold up” and would probably implicate them. Also testifying against Connolly was his former FBI superior, John Morris, who admitted that he accepted $7,000 in bribes from Bulger and Flemmi. Morris stated that he began leaking information to them after Connolly delivered a case of wine and an envelope stuffed with $1000 cash from the pair.”

      He knows how to find the weak links.


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