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

The drug trafficker hadn't seen the briefcase for months. Facing charges that he led a sizable marijuana-smuggling ring, he knew the evidence against him was overwhelming. So he agreed to cooperate with authorities and to turn over $2.1 million in drug proceeds. And that meant surrendering the briefcase, which contained tens of thousands of dollars in a secret compartment.

It was a crowning moment for Massachusetts state trooper Robert Monahan. A member of the state police's Asset Forfeiture Unit, he had been brought in on the case by the US Attorney's offices in Colorado and Florida to help investigate the trafficker's Massachusetts connections. Later, Monahan would receive a federal award for his five years of work on the smuggling case. But on this humid and sunny day in the fall of 1992, Monahan, a muscular, spit-shined trooper, stood in a spare conference room at the US Attorney's office in Jacksonville, Florida. And he watched the drug trafficker dial the combination lock on the brown plastic briefcase.

When the briefcase popped open, the trafficker scanned the contents and paused. "Uh-oh," he muttered. He had forgotten what else was inside.

Alongside the money, Monahan says, were numerous documents referring to a Boston-based private investigator named "Mike." There were letters and memos indicating that, for $120,000, Mike had helped provide the trafficker with falsified Greek passports and back-up identification. There was paperwork showing that Mike had been paid $40,000 to use his connections in the federal law-enforcement community to warn the smuggler of any pending indictments or warrants. And there was evidence that this same Mike and a Lebanese man had embezzled some $300,000 the trafficker had entrusted to them for "investments."

After several lengthy interviews with the drug trafficker, during which the trafficker told Monahan that he had paid Mike up to $30,000 to organize a Florida jailbreak -- and that Mike had said he could arrange to kill anyone outside the US -- Monahan knew he was on to something.

But what he didn't know at the time was that following Mike's trail would lead him into a shadowy world of international intrigue -- a world inhabited by drug smugglers, covert military operatives, and agents of virtually every branch of the federal law-enforcement community, including the FBI, the US Attorney's office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

Because as it turned out, "Mike" was Michael L. Taylor, a former Green Beret with deep personal ties to the Middle East and to federal law-enforcement agents. And it was those same authorities who -- despite Taylor's questionable background -- paid Taylor hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work as an undercover agent.

Mike Taylor had helped the US Attorney's office in Boston break one of its largest cases: a huge hashish-smuggling case that, in turn, shed light on a shady Middle Eastern criminal enterprise producing billions of dollars' worth of counterfeit $100 bills of such stunning quality that they threaten to undermine confidence in the nation's currency. US government officials, in fact, all but deny the existence of these "Supernotes" -- but that doesn't mean they aren't grateful to the man who helped them zero in on the counterfeits.

Part 2

Tim Sandler can be reached at tsandler@phx.com.