Director of Beacon Hill church indicted on charges of intimidating members, looting institution

The director of a venerable church in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood is facing charges that he took over the church and intimidated its members while he and his associates looted its coffers.

Police arrested Edward J. MacKenzie Jr., 54, of Weymouth today after a federal grand jury indicted him on more than a dozen charges, including racketeering, mail fraud, money laundering, extortion, and bribery, prosecutors said.

MacKenzie is the director of the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem, which operates the Church on the Hill on Bowdoin Street, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office said in a statement. The Swedenborgian church is just across the street from the Massachusetts State House.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The indictment, filed Tuesday, alleges that MacKenzie and several associates conspired to join and take control of the church in order to steal its substantial financial assets.

MacKenzie made an initial appearance in federal court today, wearing shorts and a fleece jacket. He was ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing Tuesday. His attorney, Ed Colbert, had no comment.

MacKenzie joined the church in 2002 and was named director of operations in 2003, according to the indictment.

After manipulating a voting majority away from the church’s mostly elderly members by signing his associates up as new members of the church, MacKenzie and his associates began voting to grant themselves financial benefits, according to the indictment.

He arranged to have himself elected director of operations, a position that paid him $100,000 a year, the indictment alleges.

Church money was also used to buy four new cars for MacKenzie and his associates, to grant MacKenzie a $50,000 loan, and to pay tuition for the family of one of his associates, the indictment alleges.

Using their majority voting bloc, MacKenzie and his associates allegedly caused the church to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in companies that then kicked back part of the investment to the conspirators, the indictment said.

In other instances, the conspirators allegedly caused the church to deposit checks that were diverted into accounts they shared, according to the indictment.

Throughout the scam, MacKenzie allegedly intimidated members and employees of the church by giving them signed copies of his book, “Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob,” which details his history of burglary, robbery, armed assault, and narcotics trafficking, according to the indictment.

Bulger, the notorious gangster who rampaged through South Boston and is now awaiting trial in federal court on numerous charges, including 19 murders, maintained that he had only had two conversations with MacKenzie, according to the book “Whitey Bulger” by the Globe’s Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy.

MacKenzie faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each of the 14 charges he is facing, the US district attorney statement said.