Boston church official pleads guilty to racketeering, extortion, conspiracy in looting case

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BOSTON — A former Boston church official who claimed in an autobiography that he was an enforcer for gangster James "Whitey" Bulger pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal charges that he looted his church's assets.

Edward MacKenzie Jr. is the former director of operations at the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem Church, whose members belong to the Swedenborgian denomination.

The U.S. Attorney's office said MacKenzie pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor IV to 13 counts including racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. He is to be sentenced Jan. 23.

Prosecutors said he joined the church in 2002, and in 2003 became its director of operations, a new position that paid more than $100,000 a year. They said he gradually gained control of the church's assets, including an 18-story apartment building in downtown Boston, and cost the church millions of dollars. The church fired MacKenzie when he was arrested last year.

Prosecutors said MacKenzie voted himself and his associates into positions of authority, including changing the bylaws to his benefit, and was able to do so because the church had a small number of voting members, many of whom were elderly.

"The defendant preyed on the elderly and unsuspecting congregation of a well-established Boston church for more than a decade," U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement.

MacKenzie intimidated people, prosecutors said, by giving them signed copies of his 2003 autobiography, "Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob."

Bulger is serving life in prison after being convicted last year on racketeering charges that tied him to 11 murders and other gangland crimes from the 1970s and '80s. He was one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives for 16 years until his 2011 arrest in Santa Monica, California.

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