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Church official pleads not guilty in looting case

BOSTON (AP) – A Boston church official who claimed in an autobiography that he was a leg-breaker for reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he looted the 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. MacKenzie was arrested last week after a grand jury indicted him on charges including racketeering and extortion.

Federal authorities say MacKenzie looted the church of its considerable financial assets through fraud, deceit, extortion, theft and bribery. The church fired MacKenzie earlier this month.

MacKenzie pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all 14 counts against him. He faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence on each count.

“He maintains his innocence,” defense attorney Robert Griffin said after MacKenzie’s arraignment.

MacKenzie’s bail hearing was postponed until June 26 after Griffin, who is new to the case, requested more time.

MacKenzie’s book, “Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob,” was published in 2004. That same year, the national Swedenborgian church sued MacKenzie and another church official, alleging they tried to seize control of the Boston church’s assets by taking advantage of its mentally disabled minister. The lawsuit was apparently dismissed later that year.

But the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office reached an agreement with the church that required it to hire an independent chief financial officer. The agreement came after members complained that MacKenzie and other new leaders had pushed out old members and put cronies on church boards to try to cash in on church assets.

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