In July 2000, Mark Belnick, then the top in-house lawyer at Tyco International Ltd., received a $2 million payment toward a $12 million bonus. For Mr. Belnick, it was the latest reward in a meteoric legal career that ran from some of the highest-profile business cases of the 1980s and 1990s to Tyco, a hugely successful conglomerate and Wall Street darling.
Today prosecutors say that payment bought Mr. Belnick's silence about the looting of Tyco by its extravagant former chief executive, L. Dennis Kozlowski. Mr. Belnick, facing criminal charges, has become one of the most celebrated casualties of the recent wave of corporate wrongdoing.
But few people know just what he did with that $2 million. Almost immediately, he gave most of it to a small Catholic college in California and to the Culture of Life Foundation, a Catholic pro-life group in Washington, according to e-mails to and from Mr. Belnick at the time and interviews with people involved with the donations.
Three months earlier, Mr. Belnick, formerly an observant Jew, had quietly converted to Catholicism and become an active supporter of Opus Dei, a conservative group within the church. While prosecutors accuse his boss, Mr. Kozlowski, of taking millions from Tyco to buy artwork and posh homes and to entertain friends in Sardinia, Mr. Belnick was using some of his allegedly unlawful Tyco haul for an entirely different purpose. In addition to his donations to the Catholic college and foundation, he gave money to a Catholic television network, two parishes and an Opus Dei bookstore and information center. It was all part of a midlife transformation that Mr. Belnick, the former president of a suburban Westchester, N.Y., synagogue, long kept secret from most of his friends and even his own family.
For Mr. Belnick, two journeys intersected at Tyco: He became embroiled in one of the messiest corporate scandals ever, and simultaneously pursued a sudden conversion and devotion to Catholic philanthropy.
The article goes on to describe Belnick's background, including his role in the US Senate investigation into the Iran-Contra affair. But the call of corporate life was too great, because "In his three years and nine months at Tyco, Mr. Belnick made $37.2 million, not including $14 million in no-interest loans from the company." Such capital rapidly converts an ex-Jew not into a Catholic but into a Catholic VIP, and indeed in 2001 he got his private chapel mass with the Pope in Rome.
Perhaps the most fascinating character in the long article is the recruiter:
Father [C. John] McCloskey, who has an economics degree from Columbia, worked as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch & Co. in the late 1970s, before joining the priesthood in 1981. His official job is running the Catholic Information Center of the Archdiocese of Washington. But he is best known for shepherding prominent people into the church. "The Holy Spirit uses me as a conduit," says the priest, whom many refer to by his first initial and middle name.
"C. John is the most effective converter of high-profile people in the country," says Dr. Nathanson, who, decades before his 1996 conversion from Judaism, had helped start the organization now known as the National Abortion Rights Action League. "He wants to bring well-educated, affluent people to the Pope."
Some of the others the priest has helped through the conversion process are conservative publishing executive Alfred Regnery and financier Lewis Lehrman. Father McCloskey says that his Wall Street experience, as well as church postings in Manhattan, Princeton, N.J., and now Washington "put me in a circle I wouldn't otherwise be in."
This story, although extremely strange in its particulars, demonstrates the banality of corporate evil as leveraged by concentrated wealth. Unlike your routine televangelist or Hare Krishna captain, cult leader McCloskey recruits from a richer caste of sad people to staff his army of functionaries.
Besides what's happening in faith-based government initiatives, the net effect of the theocratization of the Tycos of America is that the money from your 401(k) — already a quasi-privatization of retirement funding — has been siphoned off to assist radical religious groups.
The story is another example of criminal lying and theft with a secret agenda — the chief characteristic of corporate omnipotence.