The Martyrdom of John Connolly


At the time he was assigned the case,
Durham, a slightly built career prosecutor, looked like the late comedian Wally Cox with a comb-over. At a press conference in October 2000, I asked Durham if he would pursue other compromised FBI agents. Durham said he would, but cautioned that the statute of limitations for some crimes might prevent him from bringing charges.

Whatever he found, though, he would account for in an official report. Another journalist asked when this report would be turned in. Durham said three to four months. In the spring of 2001, I asked Durham where the report was. He just smiled in response. In May 2002, after Connolly’s conviction, Durham held another press conference. "Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise," he said. I asked what happened to his report, his promised full accounting. No answer.

Eight years later, Durham has yet to make good on his vow. From 2000 onward I have tried to secure an answer from Durham by phone or letter. He has never responded. (And efforts to reach him for this piece were unsuccessful.)

Four state and local cops, and ex-agent Bob Fitzpatrick, have told me they were each interviewed by Durham’s team. Each laid out evidence of wrongdoing by FBI agents in the Boston office, along with names of those who could corroborate their statements. But in every case, the cops say, the account of the interview submitted to Durham’s office (which the cops got to see) routinely failed to note their most serious allegations.

After Connolly, Durham never prosecuted another FBI agent. The state police–DEA team had developed all but one of the major witnesses Durham used to convict Connolly; its members were convinced they had enough evidence to nail other wayward agents. They expected Durham to push forward. "Don’t tell me some other FBI supervisors couldn’t be held accountable," says retired state police Colonel Tom Foley, who led the team. "There were a number of areas where [Durham and his investigators] could have gone farther than they did." Foley’s team and the prosecutors they worked with say Durham is a company man who knew his assignment: Convict Connolly and contain the damage.

During Connolly’s 2002 trial, Durham relied heavily on a witness the state police and DEA had warned him against: Frank Salemme, the don of the New England Mafia. Durham had first turned to Salemme in late 1999, as the statute of limitations for Connolly’s alleged crimes was running out. Salemme, who’d been arrested in 1995 in the same racketeering case targeting Flemmi and Bulger, agreed to testify that Connolly tipped off the three of them about their impending indictments, so they could skip town.

But the state police–DEA team believed Salemme had lied about murders he’d committed, and therefore shouldn’t be trusted as any sort of witness. Tom Foley says he and federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak told Durham of Salemme’s falsehoods and strongly advised him against using Salemme at Connolly’s trial.

Durham went ahead anyway. During courtroom testimony, Salemme denied his role in several murders. After Connolly’s conviction, during Salemme’s request for an early prison release, Durham praised Salemme, saying he had been as good as his word. Just under two years later, with Wyshak serving as prosecutor, Salemme was indicted for perjury. He later pleaded guilty to making a false statement.

Durham’s career has only climbed since he secured Connolly’s conviction. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey tapped him to lead a criminal investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes involving Al Qaeda suspects. Newspapers across the country cited Durham’s tenacious efforts in the Connolly case as proof of his moral compass.

To understand the current murder charge against Connolly, it’s best to reexamine the murders that preceded it, and the men who carried them out. John Martorano, a.k.a. "the Basin Street Butcher," killed 20 people in his career, the last few for Bulger and Flemmi. His 19th victim, an Oklahoma man named Roger Wheeler, was the legitimate owner of a pari-mutuel betting franchise in Miami called World Jai Alai that Martorano and the Bulger mob wanted to subvert. One afternoon in May 1981, Wheeler left his country club in Tulsa. Martorano followed him on foot. He wore a fake beard and held a paper bag and a white towel over a revolver. As Wheeler got in his car, Martorano shot him from 3 inches away.

If Martorano ever got queasy about killing someone, though, it was victim number 20. Number 20 was a good friend, John Callahan, a Boston accountant who lived a dichotomous life: working in the Financial District by day, hanging out with gangsters by night. Callahan was the one who had wanted Roger Wheeler out so he could run World Jai Alai himself. Callahan first tried to enlist his friend Brian Halloran, a Boston gangster, as the killer, but Halloran refused. So Callahan approached Martorano and offered him, Flemmi, and Bulger part of the business after he took over.

Some months after Wheeler’s murder, the gangster Halloran, trying to escape his own jam with the law in Boston, began dishing details of the World Jai Alai killing to the feds. FBI boss Bob Fitzpatrick wanted Halloran in the witness protection program. But John Connolly entered the picture, attacking Halloran’s credibility, saying Bulger and Flemmi called Halloran a drugged-out liar. The decision was left to Jeremiah O’Sullivan, the same federal prosecutor who, in 1978, protected Bulger and Flemmi from the race-fixing indictment. Halloran was dumped back onto the streets in May 1982. That same month Bulger and a second gunman ambushed him on Northern Avenue and killed him.

By July 1982, more than a year after Wheeler’s murder, and two months after Halloran’s, detectives from Florida and Oklahoma suspected Callahan was linked to both cases and raced to find him, fearing he could be the next victim. Back in Boston, Bob Fitzpatrick now thought he had a major leak within his FBI ranks and quickly set up an interview with Callahan for the first week of August. But Bulger, Flemmi, and Martorano got to him first.

Martorano says he received the order to kill Callahan because Connolly allegedly told Bulger, "We’re all going to jail for the rest of our lives if they catch up with Callahan [and he sings]." And so when Callahan flew down to the Fort Lauderdale Airport on July 30, Martorano was waiting for him curbside. Martorano got out of the van he was driving, greeted Callahan, and put his luggage in the back. As Callahan sat down in the passenger seat, Martorano reached around and shot him in the back of the head. He probably died before he noticed that the car floor was covered in plastic to catch the blood. Afterward, John Connolly filed a report attributing Callahan’s murder to Cuban or Libyan drug dealers.

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  • Bruce

    Your article, for once, depicts a fairly candid discussion of the federal criminal prosecution business in Boston. Fred Wyshak and his office do not walk on water and are in the business of selling "faction" (a little fact surrounded by fiction) to further their careers. As someone who was prosecuted in the 3rd series of Bulger related indictments, when they did not have a crime within the five-year statute of limitations, those blowjobs framed me with perjury to make a case. Now they are fighting to keep secret their cover-up of highly exculpatory evidence that includes federal Customs/DOJ investigations into the lead agents and Wyshak for obstruction and suborning perjury from informants to frame targets of Weeks/Murray/Teamsters case. (See US v. Cashman, 02-10015-DPW, sealed docket nos. 49-50, 55-63, 75-77, 83-91, 100-108.) It should be noted that some of the federal judges in Boston assigned to these cases were former federal prosecutors who are part of the same government club.

  • charlene

    Great article. Can you tell me what prison John Connolly is in? He has been transferred out of Miami and back to Mass., but to what prison?

    If you have the answer please let me know.

    Thank You

  • William

    this guy should be in jail for what he did fuck his family throw them into the street and take all his familys property sellit and gtive it to the victims of John Morris sociopath. This will put on notice ALL other FBI thyinking of going crooked

  • THOMAS

    What makes the nauseatingly righteous tone of this 2011 article possible in a semi serious mainstream magazine is that the Clinton/ Cheney legacies of “truthiness” masking criminal breaches of ethics have enured us to just how far down we’ve allowed public figures to rut about. Martyr my Ass!

  • Mike

    Despite his self-righteous and self-serving preaching, John Connolly continues to refuse to acknowledge his utter disregard for following the laws he swore to uphold. John Morris and Connolly deserve our collective disdain and the maximum punishment provided by the courts. But other feds should occupy the cells down the corridor from Connolly.

  • whitey b

    what a douche bag connolley is.

  • Robin Clements

    He’s like my God father and you know nothing of the truth. As a very young girl I believe he saved my life many times.

    • Sic Semper Proditores

      As a very young child, I believed in Santa Claus. When I grew up, I stopped believing in fantasies.

      Of course, my imaginary Santa Claus never shot an innocent man to death and then stuffed his body in the trunk of a car and left it to rot in an airport parking lot, in order to save his wretched criminal skin from justice.

      • Robin Clements

        Until you know the entire story, the truthful one, you should zip it. I would be dead, I was a very young child & he looked after me due to parents that held no regard for me. Why would an evil man care for such a young girl and make sure she is safe? I love John like a father, most will never know the man I did.

        • rigobertosanchez

          You’re full of shit. There are scumbags and there are scumbags and then there is John Connolly.

    • Derek K

      To Robin. No one on this Earth is truly good or evil. We make choices and live our lives and sometimes they can be viewed one way or another. That said, I have family that are viewed with the highest regard. One is dead and people still mourn him. I remember him as a bully, lair, and cheat. His wife is unfortunately still polluting the air with her breath and she too is highly regarded in the community. I see her as utterly despicable. I have to live with the fact that despite how they interacted with my life, others around me would have a completely different opinion. It hurts actually but it’s given me a new perspective on things.
      I understand your pain that a man that is vilified in the public has been a positive force in your life. I have no doubt of that. I am happy for you that he was good in your life. I do believe he is guilty of the crimes he is accused of, or at the very least, corrupting his post and the trust of the public which comes with it. People are strange things.

  • Sic Semper Proditores

    No mercy or pity for a crooked cop, and John Connolly is as dirty as they come.

    He betrayed his oath, he betrayed his comrades and he betrayed the people of the United States. Justice would have been hanging him by the neck until dead, but the next best thing is spending the rest of his miserable vile life locked in a small metal cage, knowing that he will never take another breath of air as a free man.

    Rot in Hell, John Connolly.