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DA Says Former Professor Staged Attack On Himself

By Brian Macquarrie


Former MIT professor John J. Donovan Sr., who amassed a $100 million fortune as a businessman, executive mentor, and consultant, once proclaimed of his talents: “I tell the future.” ThursdayMiddlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said Donovan told a lie to Cambridge police and charged him with filing a false police report after he allegedly staged his own shooting.

Donovan is accused of falsely claiming that two men attacked him on the night of Dec. 16 as he left his Cambridge company and then telling investigators that he believed his son James orchestrated the shooting. Instead, law enforcement officials say, Donovan, 64, of Hamilton, carefully composed the crime scene - in which a car window was shattered by a bullet and spent .22-caliber cartridges were scattered in the parking lot - to make it appear that he had been targeted for murder by his family.

The indictment on the single misdemeanor charge has a maximum penalty of one year in jail, Coakley said. But the indictment seems likely to further damage Donovan’s controversial reputation.

Donovan - who has had a long, successful career, first in academia and then in business - has been embroiled in a bitter family feud in which he has argued that his children have tried to force him out of his 68-acre Hamilton estate and other family properties. His children have contended that he sexually abused one of his daughters, an allegation he denies, and that he has continued to harass others in the family with frivolous restraining orders. Both sides remain engaged in litigation.

“We are saddened, but not surprised, by the actions of our estranged father referenced in the DA’s indictment,” said a statement by James Donovan and three of his siblings. “We hope this prosecution will bring him and any others who may be involved to justice.” The four children would not speak further, representatives said.

The elder Donovan adamantly denies that he lied to authorities, said his lawyer, Barry Klickstein.

“From the facts that I’m aware of, it’s impossible that he shot himself, and I’m confident that the evidence will show he did not shoot himself or enlist anyone to shoot him,” Klickstein said. “Shocked and stunned would both be good words to use to describe his reaction” to the indictment.

But as police investigated whether the shooting could have occurred as Donovan reported, Coakley said, the evidence did not support him.

Donovan told police he had been shot in the Vassar Street parking lot of his company, Cambridge Executive Enterprises, about 8:30 p.m. as he prepared to drive home to Hamilton. Coakley said Donovan told authorities that he was approached by two men speaking in heavily accented English and that he thought they were Russian. Some of the four or five shots that were fired deflected off a large belt buckle he was wearing, Donovan told police, and one passed through his left side without striking any organs.

Donovan called 911 on his cell phone to report the shooting, during which, he told authorities, one of his alleged assailants said, “He’s not dead yet,” Coakley said. Police responded to the scene, and Donovan was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was released the next day.

Coakley said the surveillance camera that is trained on the parking lot area where the alleged shooting occurred was not functioning that night.

“Authorities believe that some of the staging of that incident … were off-site, but that the shooting itself, of his person, occurred at Vassar Street,” said Coakley.

Coakley added that authorities do not know whether Donovan, an experienced shooter who had a weapons permit, had help in allegedly staging the shooting. During the months-long investigation by Cambridge police, State Police, and MIT police, no weapon was recovered.

Donovan has often been described in the business world as a genius. A former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its Sloan School of Management, Donovan started more than a dozen companies. One, a computer-services firm called Cambridge Technology Partners, was valued at more than $1 billion at one time.

Donovan’s business successes have become overshadowed in the last several years by his vitriolic relations with his five children. He filed for a restraining order against James in 2003 after telling authorities that a bullet was fired into his home. In that year, he also accused John Jr. of breaking and entering the headquarters of Cambridge Executive Enterprises. Both actions were dropped.

In a statement separate from his siblings, John Donovan Jr. said “despite all that has happened, I love my family. This situation causes me tremendous pain every day. If I can help my father or my siblings through this I will.”

The legal acrimony has continued this year. In January, John Donovan Sr.’s third wife, Linda, sought a restraining order against James. In a hearing at Ipswich District Court, referring to the shooting of John Sr., she testified that “there is no question in my mind who caused that shooting, and it is James.”

A former business partner of the elder Donovan said he was “not shocked” by Thursday’s indictment.

“I learned over the years never to be surprised, particularly with him,” said Stuart Madnick, a Sloan professor. “That’s what makes him so interesting.”

Globe correspondent Catherine Elton contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.