Massachusetts white collar crimes, such as fraud,  come in many alleged colors.

And they can be prosecuted in both the civil and criminal arenas.

Let’s take the example of 75-year-old John Donovan, Sr. of Hamilton, Massachusetts (hereinafter, the “Defendant”. He was recently in Salem Superior Court…criminal department…pleading “not guilty” to fraud – type charges.

The Defendant, a former business professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is accused of trying to swindle his late son’s family out of millions of dollars according to

The criminal charges he presently faces include larceny, forgery and witness intimidation.

Prosecutors say that the Defendant forged his youngest son’s signature to gain title to at least four properties that his son left to his family after dying of cancer in 2015.

The Defendant has had earlier problems with the courts. In 2007, he was convicted of staging his own shooting in Cambridge, in an attempt to frame another of his sons to gain advantage in a family dispute. He has denied any role in the shooting.

The present case will next be heard at a pretrial conference on March 7th.

    Attorney Sam’s Take On Fraud, Associated Charges And Family Non-Values

While, once, a story like this might be found under the column of civil litigation (The Family vs. The Defendant), todays’ prosecutors have decided that it is worth punishing them as crimes as well.  This is why one hears about so many white collar crimes in the news these days.

In fact, the alleged behavior, if true, do fit the description of various criminal acts. Certainly, a theft is “larceny”. Falsifying someone’s signature is “forgery”. Deceit is “Fraud”.

The charge of “intimidating a witness” can mean a couple of different things. Either it means what most people assumes it means…intimidating someone…assumedly to not testify or report the crime…or a totally different fraudulent act. That fraudulent act would be misleading law enforcement in the course of their investigation.

Frankly, I have yet to figure that out. I have handled many cases where folks lie to the police. Particularly to get out of trouble. I have never seen this actually intimidate the investigators or make them fearful. Quite the opposite, really.

But I digress.

The overall behavior and intent here, allegedly, is Fraud.

“Sam, wouldn’t it be better if it was just handled by a civil lawsuit? That way the victim might get their money back.”

The assumption there is a common misnomer. Just because there is a criminal prosecution does not mean that there cannot be a civil lawsuit. There probably will be although bringing the action now becomes a bit more complicated.

“How so?”

Well, first of all, the Defendant is now going to have to pay lawyers for both the criminal and civil cases. Less money the Defendant has can translate into less money he can give the victim.

Second, there is a strategy decision to be made. Generally, it is best to hold off until the end of the prosecution to bring the civil action.

“Why is that?”

So that when the victims testify, they can minimize their stake in the verdict. It helps in arguing that the witnesses have no motive to lie…as the Defendant does.  The typical strategy from the defense is to argue that the witness is testifying against the defendant so that they can recover money from him in the upcoming lawsuit.

On the other hand, one has to be careful not to blow the Statute of Limitations in bringing the lawsuit.

In the court of public opinion, of course, this guy is likely to be convicted already. The allegations are quite ugly and he seems to already have a reserved seat on the “train to hell” with his prior conviction.

“You often have written that no case is hopeless. Isn’t this one?”

No. You would be surprised. A lot can happen. At this point, we only know the allegations as the Commonwealth is presenting them. While the Defendant has the prior conviction, because of its similarities to the current charges, it may not even be revealed to a jury.  The defense should argue that to let the jury know about the prior case would be to so unfairly prejudice that Defendant that he will not get a fair trial.

Another key defense is to attack the state of mind painted by the prosecution.  After all, the key in a  fraud cases is that the primary element is intent. Could there have been some mistake or misunderstanding here?  If there were, and that explains the alleged criminal acts, then there may not have been an actual crime.

Let’s see who he chooses for a lawyer…and how qualified he or she is.

As I have explained many times, that will make a big difference.  The man needs experienced counsel for this type of crime.

That can make a big difference.

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