Professor Donovan’s Magnificent Entanglements

Excerpts: Professor Donovan’s Magnificent Entanglements

  • When the news began to circulate in early May that prosecutors had accused John Donovan Sr., the brilliant, fantastically wealthy entrepreneur and one-time MIT professor, of orchestrating his own shooting and then falsely reporting the episode as an attempted murder, the wonder, to the cluster of academics and executives stuck in Donovan’s unhappy orbit these past few decades, was that he might bother at all with such elaborate choreography when so many people would have cheerily pulled the trigger for him.
  • The man who boasted to friends of laying a foundation for the glory of future Donovan generations had been sued by four of his five children, and at the center of the dispute was the claim that John Donovan Sr. had molested one of his daughters when she was a child.
  • “In the first half hour,” Madnick said, “John would look 200 people in the eye and say, ‘I feel your pain.’ And they believed him.” They believed other things he told them, too. “It’s hard to separate out what John says versus what John creates an image of,” [Stuart] Madnick said. “He would say, ‘Welcome to the Cambridge/MIT/AT&T conference.’ Now this was in the general area of MIT, very close to it, in fact, but certainly not affiliated in any way with it. Of course, he’d never actually say it was. But you can understand how some might get that impression.”
  • Donovan and his first wife, Marilyn, split in 1980. They arrived at a divorce settlement and Marilyn and the kids, then ages nine through fourteen, moved to Danvers. The settlement was soon reopened, however, because of what would be described in subsequent court transcripts as “allegations of fraud and misrepresentation and concealment of assets.” Donovan denied doing anything wrong, but agreed to pay Marilyn another $250,000. It would not be the last time he would face these kinds of accusations.
  • But by 1990, Donovan’s personal life was again in turmoil. Mary Jo claimed Donovan had demanded she sign a “post-nuptial” agreement. “My husband’s conduct has become increasingly volatile and unpredictable,” she wrote in divorce papers alleging cruel and abusive treatment. In a counterclaim, Donovan insisted that he’d merely suggested his wife sign the agreement for her own benefit. And anyway, he wrote, she was the one guilty of abuse.
  • Then there’s John Jr., who had worked for his father for years—even joining him as a defendant in lawsuits brought by unhappy Donovan alumni—by the time he loaned him $4.8 million. When John Jr. took legal action to force repayment, Donovan claimed he owed him nothing. An arbitrator in the case, a former federal judge, ordered Donovan to repay the loan. “I find that John Jr. was a truthful and credible witness,” he wrote, “and I find the testimony of Professor Donovan to be unworthy of belief and false in all material respects.”
  • Beset by lawsuits and now twice-divorced, Donovan shifted an enormous amount of his personal fortune into two Bermuda-based trust funds in 1992 and 1996, naming his children as the sole beneficiaries. These funds were to be run by independent trustees who, consistent with trust and estate law, had final say over how to invest the cash and securities.
  • Donovan liked to brag that his progeny were destined for the kind of limitless success enjoyed by another distinguished Massachusetts family. “He believes he’s Joe Kennedy,” said an acquaintance. “That is what he thinks. He’s expressed it to us—that he was creating this empire.”
  • John Jr. and Rebecca told their father that they had learned of Maureen’s sex abuse allegations. They informed Donovan that they wanted nothing more to do with him. They ordered the professor out of the home in Hamilton, declaring that he was no longer the owner of the property, nor any of the others purchased by their trust funds. They also demanded he give up his membership at the Hunt Club.
  • Donovan has, however, remained convinced that James is out to get him. Since the children filed their lawsuit, John and Linda Donovan have, between them, taken out two restraining orders and filed a harassment suit against James.
  • When Donovan called 9-1-1 on the night of December 16, 2005, to report that he’d been shot in the parking lot of his Cambridge business, he spent 11 minutes on the line with the dispatcher. Two men had opened fire on him, he told the operator during the rambling conversation, and his son James was surely behind the attack. The police needed to get to his home in Hamilton immediately to protect his wife. “Tell Linda I love her,” he said. His wife was in danger because she knew James had stolen $180 million from a Donovan trust and laundered the money through Goldman Sachs, he later explained to an officer. His attackers had gotten close enough to put a rifle to his abdomen and let off two rounds, he told the cop, but his belt buckle had, thankfully, deflected the bullets.
  • “John Donovan repeatedly set out to ‘frame’ his son,” Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Lynch alleged in her court filing, an effort “to take revenge on his son, James, and attempt to gain an advantage in ongoing litigation…”

Source: Boston Magazine