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Judge sentences former MIT business prof John Donovan Sr. to two years in prison in forgery plot

Authorities said former MIT professor John J. Donovan, Sr. was sentenced to serve two years to two years and a day behind bars, followed by three years’ probation.Josh Reynolds

A former MIT business professor convicted of trying to pilfer millions from his late son’s estate was sentenced Monday to serve two years in state prison, according to prosecutors and legal filings.

Essex Superior Court Judge Salim Tabit sentenced the defendant, John Donovan Sr., 80, of Hamilton, to serve two years to two years and a day behind bars, followed by three years’ probation with the condition that he have no contact with his late son’s wife and minor children, authorities said.

The sentence came after a jury convicted Donovan of numerous crimes on May 3, including attempted larceny, perjury, and seven counts of forgery.

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Donovan’s lawyer, Robert Strasnick, said via email that he and his client were “obviously disappointed with the decisions of both the judge and the jury. Professor Donovan maintains his innocence and will be appealing.  State prison is no place for an eighty year old man with major health issues who was not convicted of any type of violent offense.”

The trial capped a decades-long family drama involving Donovan and several of his family members, including his son, the late John Donovan Jr., involving millions of dollars and valuable property on the North Shore.

Among those who delivered victim-impact statements Monday in court before sentencing was John Jr.’s widow, Megan Donovan, according to a written transcript of her remarks.

“The emotional impact and damage has been immense,” she said. “Learning of the Defendant’s actions immediately sent me into a deeper state of grief and depression. It caused me to have significant concern about my family’s financial security, safety and well-being. I worried that the Defendant would somehow be permitted to take or oversee our property — and that my family would be tied to this man who had wreaked havoc for nearly two decades.”

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Megan Donovan added that she “feared that he would be able to manipulate the legal system and get away with this fraud. I was completely overwhelmed because everything that John had worked so hard to provide and leave for our family was called into question by the Defendant’s actions.”

John Sr. was previously convicted of filing a false police report in 2007, after he shot himself in the stomach and claimed that his son had hired two Russian hit men to attack him. He was sentenced to two years of probation in that case. In 2020, a judge found he misused business funds for personal expenses and ordered him to repay nearly $3 million in damages, legal fees, and interest.

Donovan’s separate conviction earlier this month focused on the estate of John Jr., who died in 2015.

Staff at the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds in Salem suspected Donovan Sr. of submitting 25 forged documents, including wills, mortgages, deeds, and land transfers, prosecutors said.

Had the documents been accepted, the elder Donovan would’ve been awarded land valued at $5 million meant for a conservation organization, reversed a Superior Court judgment against him, released him from a mortgage, and granted him access to his grandchildren against the wishes of his late son, according to prosecutors.

In a sentencing memorandum last week, Donovan’s lawyer asked Tabit to spare his client prison time, recommending a sentence of two years’ probation with community service and conditions.

“Professor Donovan lived an esteemed life but he had a terrible fall from grace ... when he became embroiled in contentious litigation with his children,” said the defense filing. “This twenty-plus year entanglement has taken an incredible emotional toll on both him and his wife.”

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But Rebecca M. Brown, one of John Jr.’s surviving siblings, said in a blistering victim impact statement Monday that her father was to blame for the family’s torment since her brother’s death from cancer at the age of 43.

“My father ... has turned this catastrophic loss of our brother into an even more painful and exasperating episode in our lives,” Brown said, according to a transcript of her remarks. “My brother not only endured horrible suffering, fear and anxiety struggling for the last few years of his life facing and fighting the medical issues which eventually took his life, he had to deal with the compounded fears of what he dreaded my father might do to his family after he had left this world and he was unable to protect them anymore.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.