Michael Taylor's friends say he is a top undercover man. Critics say he is out
of control -- and that federal agents are protecting him. One thing is certain:
the government doesn't want you to read this story.
by Tim Sandler
The answer to that question appears to lie somewhere in Taylor's unusual life
story. The son of an Army man, Taylor spent much of his early life moving --
from New York (where he was born) to bases in Nigeria to Florida, and
eventually to Ayer, Massachusetts. In the shadow of Fort Devens Military
Reservation, Taylor attended Ayer High School, where he competed in track,
baseball, and basketball, and was captain of the football team.
Upon graduation in 1978, Taylor took his taste for adrenaline to the US Army.
Stationed at Fort Devens, he moved rapidly up the ranks. In four and a half
years of active duty, his military records show, he rose to sergeant first
class, a senior non-commissioned officer rank that some soldiers achieve only
after of 20 years of active duty.
As a junior sergeant, Taylor had been admitted to the elite 10th Special
Forces group, also known as the Green Berets. In the Green Berets, Taylor
proved himself to be as proficient with an M-16 rifle as with a hand grenade.
He also chose to be trained as a demolition expert and parachutist, testimony
to his self-confidence and daring. While in the Army, during stints in Norway
and in turbulent Lebanon, he learned to speak Norwegian and Arabic. Taylor's
fluency in Arabic proved to be invaluable to him, both in the Army and after he
returned to civilian life in 1983.
Equally important to his civilian career were his Special Forces contacts,
part of a brotherly network referred to half-jokingly as "the Green Beret
mafia." A decade later, Robert Monahan would find out how extensive that
Taylor declined to return repeated calls from the Phoenix requesting
an interview. Indeed, Taylor might well have remained anonymous -- he is referred
to as "John Doe" in Monahan's suit -- but his name, and those of other
principals, is not blocked out in several documents obtained by the
Shortly after Monahan returned from Florida, he sat down in his unit's
second-floor Framingham barracks office and told state-police sergeant Robert
Cerra what he'd discovered in the briefcase. Cerra was Monahan's supervisor and
the other member of the Asset Forfeiture Unit; together, the two-man outfit had
collected more than a million dollars in forfeitures from drug traffickers. The
Massachusetts State Police alone received hundreds of thousands of dollars in
seized assets from Monahan's and Cerra's work.
Cerra trusted Monahan's instincts and investigative skills. "I told him to
keep me advised," Cerra recalls, "but to take that investigation wherever it
goes. The focus of our investigations was to track drug money. Period."
One of Monahan's first stops was at the state's special licensing unit, which
investigates and approves applicants for private-investigator licenses. Monahan
learned he wasn't the only one who had raised questions about Michael Taylor.
James McMahan, an investigator for the unit, had conducted a thorough
background check on Taylor when he'd first applied for a PI license in 1990.
Back then, McMahan had found inconsistencies in Taylor's employment history,
including his claim to have worked in the early 1980s as an investigator for
the state Attorney General's office. State financial records indicated that
Taylor was hired by the AG's office on a freelance basis -- not full-time, as
Taylor's application had suggested. (The AG's office says it has no record of
employment for Michael Taylor at all.)
Contributing to McMahan's misgivings was a 1988 complaint alleging (among
other things) that Taylor, while working for another investigator, had sexual
relations with a client's daughter, and was involved in what he said a
prosecutor might well deem to be a shakedown of the client. Noting that state
law requires private investigators to be "honest and of good moral character,"
McMahan recommended that Taylor's application for a PI license be denied, and
But even today, McMahan, now retired, is fascinated by Taylor. "You look at
him and you think you're talking to an altar boy. He has the face of an angel,
he's very composed, he's very sharp. Very, very sharp. I think the guy could
talk a dog off a meat wagon."
At one point, shortly before McMahan's retirement, Taylor presented him with
a book penned by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and an autographed picture of
the author, whom Taylor claimed as a personal acquaintance.
Charm aside, McMahan still doesn't understand why, when Taylor
reapplied for his PI license two years later, it was granted. Another thorough
investigative report on Taylor should be attached to his application in the
licensing bureau's files, McMahan says, but that report is missing from
Taylor's file. (Equally mysterious is the sealed court case on file under
Taylor's name at the Department of Probation.)
Taylor's file does hint at one reason for the licensing unit's sudden
turnaround. His 1992 application includes sworn statements, vouching for Taylor
and his character, signed with the names of two ATF agents: Dennis Leheay and
Tim Wyse. Here again, something is amiss: contacted at the ATF in Boston, the
first signatory says his name -- typed and clearly signed "Leheay" on Taylor's
PI application -- is "actually spelled L-E-A-H-Y." He referred further
questions to his supervisor, who was unavailable.
Despite the discrepancies, there is another connection between Dennis Leahy,
Timothy Wyse, and Michael Taylor: all are listed as members of the Boston
chapter of the Special Forces Association.
As Monahan continued his probe, federal authorities continued surfacing
whenever Taylor's name did. Monahan learned that Taylor had been arrested by
Ayer police in 1984, upon returning from a trip to Lebanon, for the rape of a
female soldier stationed at Fort Devens. Seized in Taylor's home during his
arrest were an unregistered Czechoslovakian semi-automatic gun, nunchakus, and
several syringes. Taylor, however, was never arrested for illegal possession of
either the firearm or the syringes.
At the time of the arrest, Taylor claimed to the police he worked for the
state AG's office.
Tim Sandler can be reached at tsandler[a]phx.com.