December 5 - 12, 1 9 9 6
[The Untouchable]

The Untouchable

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

Part 3

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 network was.

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 Phoenix.

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 it was.

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.

Part 4

Tim Sandler can be reached at tsandler[a]