Gods & Mobsters
Eight years ago, a former Whitey Bulger henchman joined a well-to-do Beacon Hill church, where he quickly ingratiated himself with a group of influential congregants. But as allegations about the ex-con piled up, some members began to wonder: Just how reformed was Eddie MacKenzie?
In any case, the church’s financial situation so alarmed its parent organization, the General Convention of the New Jerusalem, that in March 2004 it filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against MacKenzie and Thomas Kennedy, who was then president of the Bostonview real estate operation. The lawsuit charged both men with utilizing a “pattern of racketeering activity to wrongfully take control of a 185-year-old church to obtain dominion over its $30 million apartment house.” The suit said that MacKenzie and Kennedy attained their positions by coercion — that they “extorted the votes of numerous elderly members” by telling those members they would “lose church benefits if they did not vote as directed.” MacKenzie and Kennedy denied the allegations.
The suit asked the court to transfer the church’s assets to the national organization and void the membership of roughly three dozen people who had joined the congregation since 2002, many of whom were allegedly friends or associates of MacKenzie. Because the alleged racketeering operation lasted just 14 months, however — the span of time MacKenzie had been a church member — the case was dismissed. (A racketeering case requires that a pattern of criminal activity last two years.)
Still, the allegations attracted the attention of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, which in 2004 obtained a consent judgment giving it oversight of the church’s finances for three years. The judgment did not allege criminal activity, and noted that the settlement was agreed upon “to avoid the risks and expenses associated with further investigation.”
Not even the AG’s attention slowed MacKenzie’s rise in the church. Shortly before they agreed to the AG’s terms, church leaders named MacKenzie the director of operations. For a man who had previously worked as a construction worker, gym instructor, and bar manager, the job must have seemed like, well, a godsend.
EVEN AS HE MOVED INTO HIS NEW POSITION, MacKenzie continued to face questions about his role in the church. According to an affidavit filed by MacKenzie associate Mark Palluccio, MacKenzie hired a Quincy company to regularly change the carpet inside the church. He “would agree to grossly overpay for the carpeting” in exchange for “a kickback from the carpet company. I personally witnessed him getting a cash paymentfrom the company,” Palluccio stated. “MacKenzie hired people to pave the pastor’s driveway. MacKenzie told me that he received a big payoff from the contractor when the driveway was paved.” (In his own affidavit, MacKenzie denied these allegations.)
Despite the controversy, MacKenzie continues to have supporters inside the church. “To me, he is living testimony that the spirit of Jesus Christ is a transforming power,” says Reverend Tina Saxon, one of two pastors who minister to the congregation. “In my eyes, as far as character and good works, he makes this church come alive. I can just sing his praises.” Even some of his harshest critics give MacKenzie credit for the community work he’s done. His efforts to expand church programs — organizing blood drives, senior luncheons, kids’ movie nights — have won him numerous citations. He’s been honored by the Boston City Council, the Massachusetts state Senate and House, the U.S. Congress, and former Governor Mitt Romney. Curiously, all of these commendations were awarded over a single 17-day stretch in July 2006. Each is proudly displayed on the wall in MacKenzie’s church office.