A decade ago, the football team at Lawrence Academy, a private school outside Boston, had become so fearsome that it drew national attention when a rival school forfeited a match for fear of its players' safety.
The volunteer coach, Michael Taylor, shrugged off suspicions that Lawrence had done anything underhanded to suddenly field a team in the genteel Independent School League that featured a trio of footballers weighing 300 pounds each.
"That's the nature of our society," Mr Taylor told the Boston Globe, bemoaning the scrutiny his team had faced.
Three months later Mr Taylor resigned — just before the school's football team was forced to give up the two titles it had won under him. Soon after, Lawrence's headmaster and athletics director also resigned.
Mr Taylor, a former member of the US Army's elite Green Berets, this week returned to the headlines as one of the private security contractors who helped smuggle Carlos Ghosn, the embattled former Nissan executive, out of Japan in an operation that featured private jets, a bullet train and a black case typically used to store audio equipment.
The escape showed daring and ingenuity. It also required a willingness to break rules, something Mr Taylor has demonstrated repeatedly since leaving the army in the 1980s to launch a career in the murky world of private security.
Most notably, he served 14 months in prison for bribery and kickbacks connected to $54m in defence department contracts in Afghanistan. But prior to that, Mr Taylor was also a player in the notoriously corrupt Boston of the 1990s, an era dominated by two brothers, William Bulger, one of the city's most powerful politicians, and Whitey Bulger, its most feared gangster. Mr Taylor consorted with local criminals, including the disgraced FBI agent, John Connolly, now imprisoned in Florida for second degree murder for assisting Whitey Bulger.
"Most people who do this don't want to touch anything like this," a US security consultant said of the Ghosn assignment. "I certainly wouldn't take the job."
Reputable US contractors are loath to apply for jobs that might violate US or foreign laws, potentially jeopardising security clearance needed for the most lucrative work. "This guy is an outlier," the consultant said. A British counterpart agreed, saying: "It's not a job that many people would have taken. They must have been very well paid."
Mr Taylor, 59 — a former football star who joined the army out of high school and was dispatched to Mr Ghosn's native Lebanon in 1983 with the special forces — did not respond to requests for comment.
He is not the only character with a colourful past who has cropped up in the Ghosn escapade. Another member of the crew was George Zayek, whose brother Elias — a leading figure in the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia — was murdered in 1990 during the fratricidal power struggles of the Lebanese civil war. Mr Zayek's code name in the militia was "Bimbo".
According to online job listings, Mr Zayek has worked extensively in Iraq and has experience in "war . . . weapons" and "hostile environment[s]". He is listed as having worked for Mr Taylor's company, American International Security Corp.
Mike Douglas, a former member of the British army, has been caught up in a public dispute with a large Turkish company in relation to the private jet that whisked Mr Ghosn out of Japan.
MNG Group, a Turkish conglomerate that says its private jet operator inadvertently leased two aircraft used in the getaway, claims that Al Nitaq Al Akhdhar for General Trade Limited, a company linked to the Dubai-based businessman, paid for the Bombardier Global Express that took Mr Ghosn from Osaka to Istanbul. Mr Douglas denies that, saying that it has only ever paid MNG for cargo services.
Some of Mr Douglas's former business associates are less glowing. For more than a decade, he has been locked in an acrimonious dispute over the ownership of his firm, SKA International. Mr Douglas was taken to court in Canada and Dubai but the claimants were unsuccessful.
Mr Taylor also has strong links to the Middle East, where, according to his lawyers, he assisted the Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI after leaving the military. In Boston, he traded on that experience to ingratiate himself with local law enforcement authorities. "That was his modus operandi," a person who knew him said. Police officers and federal agents would moonlight at Mr Taylor's security firm, including — according to the Boston Herald and a person familiar with the matter — Mr Connolly, before he was indicted.
One of Mr Taylor's specialities included securing picket lines for companies. In 1999, according to a federal indictment, Mr Taylor met in a Boston hotel room with a boss for the local Teamsters union, then suing Cardinal Healthcare for $1m after a labour dispute.
According to the indictment, they cut a deal to settle for $400,000 — in addition to a $100,000 kickback to the union boss. Of that sum, $20,000 was paid to Mr Taylor. Mr Taylor agreed to testify against the union boss, who later pleaded guilty and went to prison. Mr Taylor was not charged with any offence.
"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 meatwagon," James McMahan told the Boston Phoenix newspaper in 1996. Six years earlier, Mr McMahan had rejected Mr Taylor's application for a private investigator's licence due to character concerns.
In 1998, Mr Taylor was accused by authorities of planting marijuana in the car of a woman locked in a custody battle with one of his clients. The alleged scheme came to light because the arresting police officer could not find the drugs and ended up calling Mr Taylor for assistance — within earshot of the woman. Mr Taylor ended up pleading guilty to two misdemeanours.
"Oh, boy," a Massachusetts official sighed when asked about Mr Taylor. "He's a piece of work."
- Additional reporting by Chloe Cornish in Beirut and Simeon Kerr in Dubai.
Written by: Joshua Chaffin and Laura Pitel
© Financial Times 2020