HAMILTON — A one-time multimillionaire business guru and MIT professor is now so broke he qualifies for a public defender. 

As of last Wednesday, John Donovan Sr. of Hamilton, charged with trying to swindle nearly $5 million from his late son's widow and children by filing forged documents with the Registry of Deeds in 2016, is being represented by an attorney from the Committee for Public Counsel Services. 

Donovan Sr., 76, was indicted in 2017 on a total of 13 counts, including forgery, attempted felony larceny and witness intimidation. Prosecutors allege that Donovan Sr. used forged, back-dated documents, including quitclaim deeds, will codicils and other records, which were filed at the Essex South Registry of Deeds, in an attempt to divert the proceeds from the sale of more than 300 acres of land to the Trust for Public Lands in 2016. 

The land was being sold to the Trust for Public Land on behalf of the estate of Donovan's late son, John Donovan Jr., who died of cancer at 43. 

For about a year, he was represented by well-known Salem attorney John Andrews. But during a hearing last Wednesday in Salem Superior Court, Andrews filed a motion to withdraw, according to court records. 

Judge Salim Tabit granted Andrews' request. Donovan Sr. was interviewed by a probation officer and determined to qualify for a court-appointed attorney. 

A person is deemed indigent if their annual after-tax income is 125 percent or below the federal poverty guideline. For a two-person household, the federal poverty level is $20,780.

However, individual financial information provided to the court is not public, so it is not known what income Donovan Sr. reported. 

In 2017, Donovan Sr. and his wife Linda hired a Beverly auction house to sell off many of their personal belongings. 

Donovan Sr. was previously convicted of filing a false police report after unsuccessfully attempting to frame his other son, banker James "Jim" Donovan, by shooting himself outside his Cambridge office and blaming it on "hitmen" sent by his son, in 2005. 

Donovan Sr. is also about to go to trial next month in a civil lawsuit, in which he is still, according to court documents, represented by private counsel (court-appointed lawyers are not available in civil actions). 

That lawsuit was filed by a Vermont woman, Jennifer Brining, an investor in a company called Send It Later. Donovan Sr. was providing advice to the company's founders, but Brining alleges in the shareholder suit that nearly all of the funds being invested in the business were actually going to support Donovan Sr. and his wife. A trial is scheduled for late February in Suffolk Superior Court.  

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