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Lakian’s self-portrait and what record shows

This article is from the Globe Archives. It originally ran on Aug. 18, 1982.

On paper and in person, John R. Lakian, one of three Republican candidates for governor, portrays himself as a modern Horatio Alger hero: catapulted by a successful business career from a Worcester three-decker to a Westwood estate.

“Horatio Alger’s tale was 19th century fiction,” one biography of the candidate starts. “John Lakian’s story is 20th century fact.”

But is it all fact? A Globe inquiry into Lakian’s background found what appears to be a pattern of discrepancies between what he says and what the records show about his upbringing, schooling, military service and business career.

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Items:

- Lakian asserts he has been a Republican since 1970. That is not supported by voting records in six communities where he’s lived. They show he first became a Republican in 1980. In 1978, he voted in the Democratic primary.

- Lakian’s campaign material claims he received a “battlefield promotion” for his combat role in Vietnam. He acknowledged last month that this claim is false, and the Army confirmed that there was no provision for such promotions during that war.

- Lakian has said several times that he took graduate history courses at Harvard. University records show he never attended there and Lakian this week came close to admitting as much.

- The candidate’s campaign biography says he completed a four-year undergraduate program at Boston University in 2 1/2 years. BU records show that Lakian graduated ahead of his class, but that it took him three full academic years plus at least one summer term.

- A month ago, Lakian told The Globe that his investment management firm generated annual fees of between $4 million and $5 million. Pressed on that point this week, he conceded that those fees last year may have been under $3 million.

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- Lakian has claimed to own the downtown Boston office building that houses his investment firm. He acknowledged this week that he only owns two office condominium units in the building.

- His campaign brochures say Lakian formed his own company after leaving the brokerage firm of Kidder Peabody in 1971. In between, however, Lakian worked briefly for another company, where his departure provoked charges that he tried to take the firm’s clients with him. He denied those charges this week.

Questioned about the discrepancies, Lakian offered The Globe some conflicting versions of the events in his life and insisted in interviews that the records are wrong in some instances, that in another he is guilty only of semantic errors and that still other instances are not important.

Lakian in an interview this week contended that embellishing one’s record is accepted practice in politics and the sales business in which he worked for years.

“I think there’s that degree of slight fluff that’s put into every candidate’s brochure, every candidate’s advertisements,” he said. “And as long as we’re not making gray black or white black or black white, it’s perfectly within the spectrum of normal discourse of human events.”

Lakian, who is 39, did not dispute statements by former colleagues that as a young stockbroker at Kidder Peabody in the late 1960s, he routinely embellished his business accomplishments. But such exaggeration, he said, is necessary to be a successful salesman.

“Sales people are like fishermen. They like to catch the fish and then it always becomes bigger than the one that they caught. Otherwise, you know what? You won’t catch any fish. That’s the difference in sales,” he explained.

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He continued, “It’s not that you take something that’s 50 cents and make it 100 cents, okay. It’s that you aggrandize a bit, okay. Every candidate does it. Everyone does it slightly. The key word there is slightly: You try and take something that’s 100 and make it 102. You make it 150 and you’re a liar.”

Asked whether making 100 appear to be 102 is honest, Lakian declared: “Yes, I think it’s honest . . . .”

Controversy over Lakian’s background first surfaced publicly when the

Lowell Sun reported that his father died in a 1945 truck-streetcar collision in Worcester and not from World War II injuries, as Lakian has claimed.

When The Globe first asked him about that discrepancy a month ago, Lakian said his mother had told him since he was a child that the accident occurred

because a war-related leg injury prevented his father from applying the brakes on the truck he was driving. That fact, he said then, enabled him to claim in his campaign literature that his father died of war injuries.

Lakian, however, subsequently changed his story. He said this week his mother had told him his father in fact died in the war. He said he only found out about the truck accident about 18 months ago.

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Asked why he told The Globe a different story last month, Lakian said: “I was covering up a little bit there . . . . I didn’t think it was such a big deal, and I still don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Reports of the accident carried in 1945 in Worcester newspapers say the elder Lakian had been stopped for speeding the day before the accident. The following morning, police said, he was driving at a high rate of speed when his truck rammed into a stopped streetcar.

Lakian, since he became a candidate and again this week, has asserted he became a Republican in 1970, when he lived in Boston.

In the Monday interview, the issue of his party affiliation produced this exchange:

Q. What have you been telling people when they ask how long you’ve been a Republican?

A. I told them I registered as a Republican in 1970, and I remember that (registering* distinctly.

Q. But you didn’t mean to imply from that that you’ve been a Republican every year since 1970?

A. Oh, no. People ask me, when did you first become a Republican, or register as a Republican, and I registered first as a Republican in 1970.

City of Boston election records, however, show that Lakian and his first wife, Carol, were registered as Independents from their 151 Tremont st. address when they lived in Boston.

Lakian does not dispute election records in five other communities where he has lived since he first registered to vote in 1964. They show he was an Independent while living in Worcester in the 1960s and while living during the the last decade in Manchester, Concord and Carlisle. On Feb. 1, 1980, he registered as a Republican after moving to Westwood.

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In Carlisle, where Lakian lived in 1978, Town Clerk Eleanor Cochran said her records show that Lakian took a Democratic ballot in the 1978 primary, when Edward J. King was battling Gov. Michael S. Dukakis for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and five Democrats sought the US Senate nomination.

In the interview Monday, Lakian initially said he voted Democratic in that September primary to vote for the weakest possible Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Edward W. Brooke. Lakian said his vote went to Kathleen Sullivan Alioto. She finished third, polling three times the number of votes cast for either the fourth or fifth place finishers.

Lakian said he did not vote for either King or Dukakis in that primary.

Later in the same interview, however, Lakian changed his story, saying he voted in that Democratic primary because a friend had asked him to vote for one of the Democratic primary opponents of now-congressman James Shannon.

Unlike his voting record, there is no dispute over the assertion in his campaign brochure: “After fighting during and through the Tet Offensive. . . John received a battlefield promotion . . . .”

“There is no such thing as a battlefield promotion,” Lakian conceded this week. “Anybody who knows anything about the modern service would know that I

went from second lieutenant to first lieutenant by existence in the Army. That’s obvious.” Army records show that Lakian was promoted to first lieutenant March 7, 1968, after spending the normal one year as a second lieutenant.

A month ago, Lakian blamed that error on Roger Woodworth, his principal political aide. This week, however, he said it was his own fault, but that it was something he overlooked when he approved the brochures.

“That’s something that should be taken out of the brochures. That’s wrong,” he declared.

Since he became a candidate, Lakian has told reporters that he took graduate courses in history at Harvard after finishing Boston University in 1964.

At the outset of the interview, he again insisted he had taken courses there starting in the autumn of 1964. Told that Harvard had no record that he ever attended, he said he was aware of that. Then he amended his previous assertion in this exchange:

Q. How many courses did you take?

A. Just one.

Q. What was it in?

A. History.

Q. History of what?

A. Middle European history.

Q. And did you complete it?

A. No. No.

Q. At three junctures, you have been quoted as saying that you took courses, plural, at Harvard. Can you explain that?

A. Oh, sure. Come on. I took courses at Harvard, I mean, I don’t know if I say plural or singular.

Q. If you took one course and didn’t finish it, why would you say you went there at all?

A. Because people would ask about my schooling and I would just relate my schooling, just like I went to BU or I went to Harvard or I went to Vietnam. . . . I just say it without any particular purpose in mind or any particular deception in mind.

James R. Ball, a spokesman for Harvard, says the school has no record that Lakian ever enrolled for a course there. And, Ball said, there was no Middle European history course offered in the fall of 1964.

Harvard is not the only university where the records contradict Lakian’s assertions. Lakian said his campaign brochures say he finished BU in 2 1/2 years because he did complete the program in under three calendar years.

BU records show that Lakian entered as a freshman in September 1961, and received his degree in August 1964 - 2 years and 11 months later, according to Robert O’Rourke, a BU spokesman.

Q. To say you completed college in 2 1/2years is inaccurate?

A. Yes. . . . Instead of saying I graduated in three years, or just under three years or in 2 years, 10 months, I would say I graduated in approximately 2 1/2 years. That’s the way it came out in the brochure. We didn’t think it was a big deal. . . .

Q. In academic terms, would you acknowledge that it was three full academic years plus at least one summer term?

A. There’s no question about that.

Former business associates of Lakian recall his propensity, not denied by Lakian, to embellish his sales record when he was a broker at Kidder Peabody. One former colleague said Lakian would tell them he had sold a 10,000 or 15,000-share block of stock when only 5000 shares changed hands. Lakian smiled and nodded in assent this week when told of that recollection.

And another former colleague, who like the others asked that his name not be used, said he was once shocked to discover that Lakian was telling prospective clients that the firm he then worked for had assets under management that were 6 to 10 times what they actually were.

According to a letter from Lakian’s law firm obtained by The Globe, a Fort Hill vice president, Ralph Cohen, made similar claims after he left the firm in 1974.

In the letter, James J. Marcellino of Gaston Snow & Ely Bartlett, the law firm, said he had been told that “Mr. Cohen might contact Fort Hill clients based on what he understood to be a fiduciary responsibility. Mr. Cohen is claiming that Fort Hill consistently overstated the volume of business they were handling when soliciting accounts.”

Just last month, Lakian told The Globe that his firm, Fort Hill Investors Management Corp., earned fees of $4 million to $5 million a year.

Lakian, pressed on that point this week after a Globe review of US Securities and Exchange Commission documents showed that his fee schedules were lower than he had stated, acknowledged that those figures were too high. He initially said a more correct range would be $2.5 million to $4 million. Later, he said that $2 million to $3.3 million “would be a better bet.”

Fort Hill, which Lakian started in 1972, was not his first stop after leaving Kidder Peabody, although Lakian campaign literature says it was. For six months or so, Lakian worked as a sales representative for Bounty Management Corp.

Lakian says he left Bounty because its founder, Raymond Bligh, wouldn’t give him or others, as he put it, “any of the action.”

Bligh, in an interview yesterday, said he asked for Lakian’s resignation, in effect firing him, after he discovered that Lakian was trying to arrange to take Bounty’s clients with him when he left. Both men now agree that no Bounty clients jumped to Fort Hill.

Fort Hill is ensconced in third floor offices in a restored, 125-year-old downtown office condominium building where, this week at least, Lakian acknowledged that he owns only two units.

Last month’s interview, however, produced this exchange:

Q. Does Fort Hill own the building here?

A. Yes, Fort Hill owns. . . . No, I’m sorry, Fort Hill does not own. I do.

Q. You own this building?

A. Yeah. I own it. In trust. Right.

This week, after first insisting he took courses at Harvard, then amending that to say he took only one course that he dropped, Lakian paused. Then he recalled that he and his present wife, Andrea Ogle, had taken an oceanography course at Harvard several years ago.

Emerging from his office after the interview to be greeted by his wife, Lakian said: “Andrea, remember that oceanography course we took together at Harvard in the mid-’70s.”

“No, John,” she replied. “We took that course at the Cambridge Adult Education Center.”