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Disgraced former MIT professor John Donovan Sr. was taken into custody inside a Salem, Massachusetts courtroom last week, after a jury found him guilty of forgery and fraud in a scheme to steal from his dead son’s estate. The conviction is the latest chapter in a decades-long saga of criminality, fraud, and family conflict.
John Donovan Sr., 80, of Hamilton, was convicted of seven forgery charges on 25 documents, including mortgages, deeds, land transfers, and even his late son’s will codicil. Donovan Sr.’s son John Donovan III died of cancer in April 2015 at 43 years old.
Donovan Sr. was also found guilty of making false statements, filing false statements, false statements under penalty of perjury, obtaining a signature by false pretense, and attempting to commit larceny.
During the trial, prosecutor Jack Dawley proved that in December 2016, Donovan Sr. filed numerous forged documents at the South Essex Registry of Deeds in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Essex District Attorney’s office explained that “[t]he forged documents would have absolved the defendant of a Superior Court judgment against him, released the defendant from a mortgage, given the defendant land worth $5 million from his late son’s estate intended for a conservation group, and allowed the defendant to play a role in his grandchildren’s lives. The defendant and his children are estranged and witness testimony indicated that the deceased son [Donovan III] did not want his father to have anything to do with his family.”
In court documents reviewed by CrimeOnline from 2017, former judge John S. Martin, who was an arbitrator in the disputes between Donovan Sr. and his children for nearly 12 years, revealed that Donovan Sr. had also been secretly recording his son, John Donovan III, then altering the recordings to fit his agenda.
As he was battling cancer in his early forties, Donovan III had amassed a fortune in businesses and real estate, according to the court documents. In 2015, he passed away and left “a very sizeable estate, many millions of dollars,” to his family, Dawley told the court.
In September 2016, a title examiner found that 25 of the late Donovan III’s legal documents had been filed on the same day, and every document filed the same day listed his father as a beneficiary.
Some documents were comprised of deeds that transferred property to Donovan Sr. Another document forgave a $4.8 million judgment that Donovan III had against him.
Had he succeeded, Donovan Sr. would have gotten all of the proceeds from his son’s land and property, including ownership of the home where his son’s wife and children lived.
Judge Martin wrote, “While Professor Donovan is obviously a highly intelligent man who has substantial business and academic success, he apparently thinks the rest of us are devoid of intelligence or common sense. It was obviously with that in mind that he conceived a fraud that had him representing that all he wanted to do was fulfill John’s dying wishes, when in fact he was doctoring videotapes, audiotapes and legal documents in a manner that was so childish that even the least intelligent of us would never believe that what he was proposing was anything that John would have wanted.”
“It is shocking that Professor Donovan would record his dying son, who was stricken with terminal cancer, for months without his knowledge or consent, and then alter the recordings to attempt to steal money and property for his son’s widow, Megan Donovan, and children and to harm his other four children and their families,” Martin continued.
Dawley told the jury that Donovan Sr. had been in a two-decade litigation battle with his four estranged children, which caused growing resentment between the defendant and his family.
The rift began in 2002 when Donovan Sr.’s daughter revealed to her siblings that her father sexually molested her when she was a child.
In 2007, Donovan Sr. was convicted after a court found he shot himself in an elaborate hoax to frame his own son for attempted murder.
Donovan Sr.’s attorney, Robert Strasnick, claimed the former professor was the victim of a vast conspiracy and that the Donovan children and “disgruntled employees” set Donovan Sr. up and that others committed the many forgeries.
A person familiar with the family history and recent trial said, “John Donovan Sr.’s recent conviction on 12 felonies is just the latest chapter in a 20-year battle that began when his daughter disclosed that he sexually molested her when she was a child. For Donovan, Sr. all of this is about getting revenge on his children for having the courage to confront him in 2002 about molesting their sister. He has stopped at nothing to try and ruin his children’s lives with endless lawsuits, despicably false smears and deranged conspiracy theories in which he is always portrayed as the victim. Accountability for his actions is long overdue.”
CrimeOnline has reached out to Donovan Sr.’s attorney Robert Strasnick for comment on the conviction and is awaiting a reply.
Amidst all of the ongoing legal battles, Donovan Sr., who served as an MIT professor until 2009 , used his affiliation with the prestigious school to help himself and his businesses. As recently as September 2020, Donovan Sr.’s personal website described him as a Tenured MIT Professor and highlighted his MIT email address at the top of his resume.
Donovan Sr. used his MIT email address to conduct business for one of his companies. And MIT still has an active webpage for Professor John J. Donovan Sr.
Donovan Sr.’s attorney reportedly told the judge during the trial that an unnamed friend of Donovan Sr.’s was paying the costs for his defense.
CrimeOnline has reached out to MIT for comment on the school’s current relationship with Donovan Sr. and will update this story if and when we receive a response.
Alleged Sexual Abuse
Donovan Sr.’s conviction last week is just the latest in a years-long conflict between Donovan Sr. and his children that seems to have begun in the Fall of 2002 when the disgraced professor’s daughter revealed allegations of sexual abuse to her siblings and mother.
In a 2003 affidavit reviewed by CrimeOnline, John Donovan Sr.’s daughter said, “My father, Donovan Sr., abused me sexually when I was a child. The sexual abuse by my father has caused me tremendous pain, psychological trauma, and anguish, which continues to this day.”
After the allegations were revealed, the Donovan children became estranged from their father.
According to the Boston Globe, court documents filed at the Suffolk Superior Court in 2002 indicate that after the sexual abuse allegations were brought up, the Donovan children filed for separation of assets. Donovan Sr.’s son, James, sided with his sister and acknowledged the pain Donovan brought to the family.
“Based on her statements, my perception, and other information available to me, I believe my sister,” James Donovan said in an affidavit. “From this point, as soon as I knew what our father had done . . . and understood how much suffering our father had inflicted on his own child, I knew that I would never have a relationship with my father.”
Donovan Sr. called the accusations “absolutely false” and denied any involvement.
“They demanded that I abandon all my rights to my home, Devon Glen, and that I move from and never return to the North Shore, my lifetime home. They also demanded that I resign from the Myopia Hunt Club and that I never visit the club again,” Donovan said at the time.
Although Donovan Sr. is reportedly expected to seek probation or a suspended jail sentence in the current case, court records indicate that he was already placed on probation in 2007, after he staged his own shooting at his office in Cambridge, in an attempt to set his son James up for murder.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fishman, who sentenced Donovan Sr. to two years’ probation, called the defendant’s actions nothing “short of bizarre and premeditated.”
Donovan Sr. denied involvement in the shooting and claimed he was targeted by Russian hitmen, who set out to kill him. The court, however, found that Donovan Sr. shot himself in the stomach and shot up his own vehicle, and manipulated a security camera so that he wouldn’t be caught.
During his probation sentence, Donovan Sr. complained he was physically incapable of doing community service, yet he reportedly spent time participating in Myopia Hunt Club events, which required physical stamina.
Prior to his latest conviction, in 2017, the Hamilton state appeals court sided with a woman who invested in one of Donovan’s failed businesses, known as “SendItLater.” The plaintiff, Jennifer Brining, was awarded $1.5 million after she invested in the company without seeing any returns.
It was revealed in court that Donovan Sr. used much of the investment money on his own personal expenses, including a $28,000 membership to Hair Club For Men.
Furthermore, Donovan Sr. induced SendItLater’s treasurer to issue 770,000 shares of company stock to his wife Linda in order to take control of the company.
The court was also persuaded that Donovan Sr.’s “misconduct as managing director of [SendItLater] included manipulating the transfer of [SendItLater] stock in late 2016 and 2017 to certain investors, including his wife, Linda Donovan, Mr. [Will] Graylin, and Mr. [Navin] Fabiani, so as to unfairly benefit these investors.”
Judge Brian A. Davis awarded Brining $1.57 million in damages, and ruled in Brining’s favor for motions to reward attorney’s fees and “unwind fraudulently granted shares in the company.”
This lawsuit eventually led to Donovan Sr.’s current criminal trial, and it was revealed that Donovan Sr. used SendItLater employees to create many of the fraudulent documents Donovan Sr. used in his scheme to steal from his late son’s estate.
His sentencing is scheduled for Monday, May 16.
Salem News reports that Donovan Sr.’s attorney will ask the judge for probation or a suspended term.
Prosecutors, however, plan to ask for two years in prison. The sentencing memorandum reportedly cited Donovan Sr.’s 2007 staged murder-for-hire scheme and the failure of his probation sentence in that case to deter him from future criminal behavior.
Check back for updates.
[Feature Photo: John Donovan Sr./Jjdmit/Wikimedia Commons]