There are many places you would expect to find a South Boston hoodlum like Eddie MacKenzie
on a Sunday morning, but the pulpit of the Swedenborgian Church on Beacon Hill
is not one of them.
"There is a renewed spirit of freedom and independence in our church," MacKenzie
told the 50 or so worshipers."We need to truly believe we are God's disciples. . . . We are filled with a revolutionary energy and spirit."
As if on cue, the choir broke into "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Not that everyone in the pews felt like singing along.George Chapin, a church stalwart for half a century, remembers watching MacKenzie
, dumbfounded, and thinking, "What the hell is going on here?"
...Edward J. MacKenzie Jr.
is a man of parts -- many parts.A convicted drug dealer, he is the author of a maim-and-tell memoir about his years as a legbreaker for South Boston gangland leader Whitey Bulger.He
has been, as he
describes himself, a man almost irresistibly drawn to cons and scams.He
recently admitted to filing phony worker's compensation claims and is awaiting trial on charges of swindling $200,000 from an elderly woman.And he
faces charges in another court that he
threatened to kill his
ex-wife by chaining a cinderblock to her
leg and throwing her
off a bridge.He
is, in short, a busy man.
finds time for church.Indeed, within months of joining, be became part of a new leadership circle that is shaking the rafters at Boston's Swedenborgian church
-- and raising doubts among some about how the church's wealth is being spent.Upfront about his prolific rap sheet, MacKenzie has won an ally in the church's longtime pastor, the Rev. G. Steven Ellis, who sees him as a man who turned his back on crime, a sinner seeking spiritual sanctuary.Ellis, a Bible scholar who has been pastor of the Boston church for 22 years, has sided with MacKenzie against church elders, who are skeptical of MacKenzie's conversion and worried about his motives.
And so in September, MacKenzie
A lump sum of $850,000 has been transferred to a real estate company in which MacKenzie
and another church leader were founding officers.
is a criminal," the suit alleges.
...The Boston church's lawyer, Gerald P. Hendrick of Edwards & Angell, calls the lawsuit meritless, while MacKenzie and other church leaders dismiss it as sour grapes.
...And almost as soon as Reilly's investigators began snooping around the church last November, demanding its financial records, MacKenzie stepped down as treasurer.He is now the church's chief of operations.
hangdog eyes and what-me-worry disposition, 45-year-old Eddie MacKenzie
seems serene as he
contemplates the maelstrom he
says he'll beat the rap in his
accusers are lying, he
says, and besides, he's
got religion.When he
was a young thug, selling coke on street corners and roughing up rivals, his
horizon stretched no farther than Winter Hill in Somerville, where Irish plug-uglies plotted mayhem and formed a gang named after the hill, a gang whose boss was Whitey Bulger.Now MacKenzie
sits in a church on Beacon Hill, a new man.
"I love this church," he
A time of turmoil And so it was, almost two years ago, that Eddie MacKenzie
arrived at the Boston
church at a time of extraordinary economic opportunity.
in-laws were not on the list, but Eddie MacKenzie
was.Later, the Buchanans were expelled from the church.
Would any man of good judgment, they wondered, have so swiftly turned the church's leadership over to MacKenzie?Or to Thomas J. Kennedy, a former MBTA auditor who, while never accused of wrongdoing like MacKenzie
, was one of MacKenzie's
early supporters and became, within a year of joining, the church president?
At Ellis's prompting, and with MacKenzie's
and Kennedy's active lobbying of church members, the church abruptly severed ties with the national organization to which it had been bound since its founding, and quit the state association with which it had been affiliated since 1835.MacKenzie
says the critics of the new church leadership badly miscalculated the membership's loyalty to Ellis.
"They attacked Steve's integrity when they should have attacked me and Tom Kennedy," MacKenzie
That would be Eddie MacKenzie
knows very well what his
critics think: that he
and a band of cronies are pocketing cash, spending it freely, squirreling it away in new accounts.It is baseless and insulting talk, he
"You can't take money here.There are systems in place.I couldn't steal money here even if I wanted to," he
says, hesitating slightly before adding, "and I don't want to."
`He preys on people' So how did the New Church and MacKenzie
and Southie's own, come together?
was first attracted to the church when a friend told him that one of its traditions was to pay college tuition for members' children.But he
goal now is to put the church's wealth to work for the disadvantaged, not himself.He
is doing so well financially, between book sales and what he
said is a soon-to-be-finalized movie deal, that he
may not even need to ask the church to pay for the college educations of his
has not read much of Swedenborg
but had read enough to appreciate his
says it was Ellis's charismatic sermons that captured his
The book, "Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob," is an account of MacKenzie's
disadvantaged childhood and life of crime.In it, he
gleefully describes the pleasure he
took in mayhem, including swallowing a finger he
bit off an adversary.Some critics have called the book a wildly embellished tale of his
role in Whitey's world.
MacKenzie's book is also frank about how hard he
has found it to leave behind his
"Crime is a way of life, an addiction," he
In the final chapter, he
observes: "Every day I face a choice: continue to change or fall back to the comfortable, darker ways of my predator side.Too often I retreat to scams and doing `collections' for people.The money is good and easy, and the accompanying rush of adrenaline is probably close to what one gets in closing a legitimate business deal."
When asked whether she
former husband has changed his
ways, Carla MacKenzie laughs ruefully before answering.
"There is no redemption in this story," she
says."I don't think Eddie
could change even if he
wanted to. . . . He
preys on people with good hearts and takes them for what they are worth.
says that his
former wife is lying, and that she
has a pathological desire to destroy him.
vigorously defends his
honor in the pending cases, MacKenzie
understands why some people would think ill of him.
"For some people, I'm always going to be a scumbag," he
says."There's nothing I can do about that."
Ellis, for his part, sees MacKenzie
as bringing just the sort of new blood the church needs.
also sees snobbery behind the opposition.
"There are about six or seven families who are complaining," he
says."This church was the best kept secret on Beacon Hill.These people were taking care of their families and their relatives, not the church. . . . We've opened up the church, and we're going to continue to open it up."
Certainly, the new regime has brought many new members in. Church records show that at least 45 of its 105 members joined the church over the past two years, 28 of those in just the past year.MacKenzie
brought in about 10 friends and relatives.
...Late last year, John B. Burke, who replaced MacKenzie as treasurer Dec. 6, just a month after becoming a church member, began approaching property developers, asking if they were interested in converting the apartment building into condominiums.
...Filings in the secretary of state's office, meanwhile, show that MacKenzie and Burke formed a private real estate company, Harborview Real Estate Corp., on Nov. 12.
"Most of these people are poor," Eddie MacKenzie
said, surveying the room from the back, his
says these people are getting better food, better treatment, more respect, than they did under the old regime.There are more field trips.He's