SALEM — He was once an MIT professor, and, his lawyer said, an adviser to presidents. 

Today, at 80, John Donovan Sr. is now heading to state prison, after a Salem Superior Court judge sentenced him Monday to two years in custody for forgery. 

The sentence is even more severe than sought by prosecutors in the case, who had asked for a two-year term in the house of correction for Donovan, of Hamilton. 

"Mr. Donovan is 80 years old and undoubtedly contributed much to society, but for 20 years he has left a trail of tears everywhere he has been," Judge Salim Tabit said as he imposed the sentence. "It is my sincere hope that trail ends today." 

Tabit noted that the house of correction term — which would have entitled Donovan Sr. to parole after serving one year — also would have made it possible for him to serve his time at home on a GPS bracelet or at a minimum security facility. 

The state prison term — two years to two years and one day — will require that he serve a full two years (minus any credit for good behavior). 

Donovan Sr. was found guilty earlier this month of a dozen counts, including forgery and uttering, and attempt to commit a crime — the theft of his late son's estate and an effort to get out from under multiple financial obligations and a civil judgment. 

His son, John III, the owner of the Manchester Athletic Club, died in 2015 of a rare form of adrenal cancer. As his estate was attempting to sell parcels of land to the Trust for Public Lands the following year, 25 documents — deeds, trust documents, and a will codicil — appeared at the Salem Registry of Deeds. 

Prosecutors contended — and jurors found — that Donovan Sr. had orchestrated the creation and filing of those forgeries. 

The verdict came following a nearly four-week trial, during which witness after witness — former employees, notaries, and members of his own family — recalled their interactions with Donovan Sr. and pointed out issue after issue with the documents. 

Donovan Sr.'s defense contended that the allegations were part of a conspiracy to frame him to hide what he contended was tax fraud. 

His lawyer argued for probation and community service in a sentencing memorandum, telling the judge that at 80 his client doesn't belong in jail. 

Defense lawyer Robert Strasnick said his client was beaten on Sunday at the jail, suffering a black eye, blaming an apparent update to Donovan's Wikipedia page over the weekend. 

While much of the hearing was given over to the impact of Donovan Sr.'s crimes on his children — and the first acknowledgement in a public forum that the family's shattering was due to allegations that Donovan Sr. had abused one of his daughters — Tabit said he was even more troubled by Donovan Sr.'s "frontal assault on the integrity of our entire system."

"Mr. Donovan believes that the rules do not apply to him," Tabit said as he sentenced him Monday. 

Tabit denied a request for a stay of the sentence pending an appeal, and Donovan, who has been in custody at the Middleton Jail since the verdict, was led back to a courtroom holding cell. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Trending Video

Recommended for you