Randy Engel
Jackson Lab project defeated in Florida, Part III
A critical look at Monaghan's "City of God" and a postscript of the last dance of the Jackson Lab
By Randy Engel
May 24, 2011

On July 27, 2010, the Commissioners of Collier County, Florida, met in public session to discuss and take action on the Jackson Lab controversy. The taxpayers of Collier County were unhappy with the prospect of using public monies as a tax-subsidy to lure pro-eugenic, pro-euthanasia founder Clarence Little's transgenic mouse company to Ave Maria Stewardship Community District. After all, as a "non-profit" corporation, the Jackson Lab would pay little or no taxes.

Not surprisingly, in a poll taken by the Naples Daily News, 82% of the responders checked the box "Don't give any taxpayer money at all."

The problem, of course, was that the Jackson Lab controversy was not about what was best for Collier County residents including the townspeople of Ave Maria and students and faculty of Ave Maria University (AMU), but about how best and how quickly to bail out the powerful land baron, Barron Collier Companies and their partner, Catholic tycoon Tom Monaghan, from their multi-million dollar "innovative" swamp land misadventure.

Moral and Ethical Issues in Jackson Lab Controversy

In the Naples public forum, opposition to the Jackson Laboratory was emphatically expressed by numerous citizens including savvy businessmen and biotechnology experts, whose criticism of the Jackson Lab project was based largely on financial and economic grounds. For example, former Smith, Kline & French international director Alvin E. Strack, Sr. joined with retired Bristol Laboratories president and CEO Julius L. Pericola in denouncing the "airy-fairy promises being made for the Maine-based company." On the other hand, the tough moral and ethical questions surrounding the Jackson Lab enterprise were just beginning to be openly discussed.

Were it not for the courageous journalist and Ave Maria Town resident, Marielena Montesino de Stuart http://romancatholicworld.wordpress.com/ these tough moral and ethical questions would have been deep-sixed by Monaghan with at least the tacit, if not outright approval of the residents of Ave Maria Town, aka "The City of God," and the faculty and students of Ave Maria University.

Indeed, the attempt by Monaghan and Company to deliberately obfuscate and outright deny the well-documented anti-life history, programs, research and services of the Jackson Laboratory never abated during the entire controversy.

Case in point was a letter sent out by AMU's President and Monaghan's long-time friend and lead legal counselor Nicholas J. Healy, Jr. in response to a critic of the Jackson Lab project. Healy himself was on record as supporting the project claiming that it would bring "very considerable benefits to the entire area. ...They will bring well-paying jobs and so on. It will help real estate in the town."

For openers, Healy advised the anonymous critic that he was "badly misinformed" with regard to the circumstances and actions taken by Monaghan to approve the sale and subsequent donation of 50 acres of land by his real estate business partner Barron Collier for the location of the new Jackson Lab biomedical complex.

Healy emphasized that Monaghan used "due diligence" in his approval of the land sale by first seeking out the professional opinion of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in Philadelphia which advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., and various Vatican agencies on "bioethics."

Attached to Healy's letter were two papers, "Background on Position of The National Catholic Bioethics Center for Land Transaction for The Jackson Laboratory," and "Brief Summary of the Position of the National Catholic Bioethics Center of the Sale of Land by Thomas S. Monaghan to Barron Collier Co. Who Might Sell It to Jackson Laboratory," the latter dated June 9, 2010.

Readers of Parts I of this commentary will recall that, after "due diligence" on its part, the NCBC had reported back to Monaghan that there would be "no moral obstacle to his selling his 50% interest in this land back to his partner" for the Jackson Lab site. It was the answer that Monaghan wanted to hear, but unfortunately not the answer he needed to hear, that is, the truth.

The NCBC information sheets relayed by Healy do not indicate who ultimately was responsible for conducting the study on the Jackson Lab or what the price tag was. But in all likelihood, Monaghan's first contact would have been John Haas, Ph.D., President of the NCBC who has a close working relationship with Legatus, Monaghan's exclusive club for wealthy Catholic CEOs with business assets over $5 million. On February 5, 2009, six-months before the Jackson Lab pow-wow, Legatus hosted Haas in Bermuda at their annual 3-day members-only summit where the NCBC executive received the Cardinal O'Connor Pro-Life Award from Monaghan.

So the question remained, even if Haas later passed the research job onto another staffer, how is it possible that he wasn't able to immediately identify the Jackson Lab's Bar Harbor, Maine facility as one of the nation's oldest, most notorious international eugenic establishments? Its name has always been synonymous with two things — laboratory mice and eugenics including the promotion of in-vitro fertilization and eugenic abortion. Yet no red flags went up at the NCBC?

Next question. How much time did Haas and/or his assistant actually spend investigating the history of the Jackson Lab or examining its website which provided more than sufficient evidence of the lab's involvement in human embryonic stem cell programs as well as male contraceptive research?

Next question. Wasn't Haas or his staffer even a little bit curious to know what kind of research Jackson Lab West was conducting in Sacramento, California? If they had, they might have picked up on the fact that on June 22, 2009, Jackson Lab executives announced that they had received a $3.4 million contract from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to develop mouse models which can support long-term transplantation with human stem cells and can be used in stem cell research. Human embryos are the source of the human embryonic stem cells used to produce the immune-deficient mouse models of human diseases that can be used for testing human stem cell therapies. In plain wrapper language that anyone can understand, human embryos, the tiniest of our kin, are being cannibalized, being killed, in order to obtain the human embryonic stem cells which are injected into the Jackson Lab mice.

Assuming that the NCBC was truly ignorant of Jackson Lab's anti-life history, programs, services and research, how did it react when evidence supporting the charges were brought against the lab by the USCL? Did the NCBC admit its error? No. It compounded it by issuing the asinine June 9, 2010 statement, reaffirming that the Jackson Lab was not guilty of the ethical and moral charges leveled against it.

Why was Monaghan's legal mouthpiece, Nick Healy, continuing to perpetuate the very same lie exonerating the Jackson Lab? One did not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that that there was something radically wrong in Monaghan's "City of God" and that these problems appeared to go much deeper than just the Jackson Lab controversy.

Monaghan and Company No Stranger to Scandal

My first introduction to the bizarre happenings at Monaghan's "City of God" was the Thomas Golisano Scandal.

On November 5, 2009, Ave Maria University Chancellor, Thomas S. Monaghan, announced that the university had received a $4 million dollar donation from New York billionaire Blasé Thomas Golisano to fund the construction of the university's first indoor athletic facility, the Tom Golisano Field House. Giving Golisano a standing ovation, Monaghan said "The entire University community is humbled and quite frankly ecstatic over this contribution."

The problem was that the $4 million was blood money. Golisano was a major backer of the Abortion Industry, giving millions to NARAL-endorsed pro-abort politicians and to pro-aborts President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Golisano insisted that he was "prolife" and always has been "pro-life." This is not true. To date, Monaghan and Healy have continued to defend the honoring of Golisano by AMU.

My second introduction was the Fr. William Thomas Internet Porn Scandal of 2005 that involved Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Mich. and Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich. AveWatch with Fox News Detroit broke the story on July 9, 2007, but I did not learn about it until I began this series on the Ave Maria and the Jackson Lab in the spring of 2010.

Fr. Thomas was ordained to the Diocese of Lansing, Mich. in 1978. At the time, the diocese was shepherded by the "gay friendly" Bishop Kenneth Joseph Povish, a backer of the notorious pro-sodomite New Ways Ministry and defender of Michigan native Bishop Keith J. Symons of the Diocese of Palm Beach.

Fr. Thomas was appointed pastor to Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in Brighton in August 1999, where he quickly gained a reputation for "conservatism" (EWTN-style) and an expensive lifestyle. Not surprisingly, he soon attracted the attention of Monaghan's Ave Maria Foundation (AMF) in Ann Arbor, and over the years built a solid working relationship with the Ave Maria Foundation.

Thomas also developed a friendly relationship with Ave Maria School of Law Chaplain Fr. Michael Orsi, who assisted at Holy Spirit on weekends. Orsi's relationship with many members of the faculty of the law school was less than cordial. In a letter dated February 18, 2007, some faculty members complained to Orsi's bishop, Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante, D.D., J.C.D., of Camden, N.J., that the priest acted more like an enforcer for Law School Dean Bernard Dobranski than a chaplain.

Thomas appeared to be living a charmed life until 2004 when Patrick Flynn, business manager for the parish, inadvertently discovered homosexual/pederast pornography on Thomas' computer. Records from the Michigan State Police later revealed that Thomas had bookmarked references for "teen" and "boy" and "young" pornography and that he spent hours viewing web sites that featured very young looking men simulating their first experience with sodomy.

Finally, sometime in the late fall of 2005, after months of careful monitoring and tracking of Thomas' computer operating systems' registry and related data, Flynn brought the matter to the attention of Bishop Mengeling, but without much success. Flynn's next step was to seek advice and assistance from Fr. Orsi, but that proved to be an even harsher reception for reasons that will soon be made clear.

In early September 2007, after Flynn's visit, Thomas was summoned to the bishop's office and told to get rid of everything on his computer, but not to destroy evidence. Say what?

That very same day, Orsi put Thomas in touch with Ave Maria School of Law's Information Technology (IT) people who informed the priest that the hard drive of his computer could never be completely erased. Alarmed by this news, Thomas coordinated with attorney/parishioner Robert Pavlock to replace the hard drive with a clean new drive. Twenty-one days went by before the State Police secured Thomas' original drive with the incriminating evidence from Pavlock who was about to be served with a search warrant.

In the meantime, Thomas was granted a "leave of absence" with full pay and benefits while canonical proceedings by the diocese languished in Rome.

All this time, Dobranski, Dean of the Law School, said he was kept in the dark and was not informed of the details of the Thomas case until December 2005. That month he ordered an in-house investigation by the school's law firm and Monaghan's long-time legal representation Butzel Long. The firm was of the opinion that the law school had done nothing illegal. Dobranski let the matter drop and never informed the authorities of the events related to the charges against Thomas.

In the end, no criminal charges were filed against Fr. Thomas as the suspected child and simulated child porn was located in an unallocated sector, which is not prosecutable. Thomas died in Germany shortly after the story broke in July 2007. Father Thomas had gone to Germany to join up with the Schoenstatt Movement, known for its international youth ministry.

Like many decent, fair-minded whistleblowers, Flynn, the father of seven who wanted only to get Thomas the help he needed, lost his job in 2006 for "budgetary" reasons.

Father Orsi, on the other hand, who was aware of the police investigation of Fr. Thomas yet withheld that information for months from Dobranski, was never censored or reprimanded either by Dobranski or Monaghan.

And where was Monaghan in this sordid mess? Listening carefully to every detail Dobranski and his attorneys were feeding him one can be sure, and praying the matter would never come to light.

Tom Monaghan and his "City of God"

I must confess, as a cradle Catholic I've never been favorably impressed by calls to build a New Jerusalem, here on earth. This early prejudice, was reinforced with my first reading of Msgr. Ronald Knox's 1950 classic work Enthusiasm on the history of revivalist sects and the dangers they pose to the Catholic Church.

In the early 2000s, this skepticism was reinforced by the pederast/homosexual Society of St. John, "a private association of the faithful" which collected millions of dollars from traditional Catholics to build a "City of God" in the Diocese of Scranton. The affair did not come to a happy end, and neither, I believe, will Monaghan's Ave Maria Town.

I came into this series knowing a great deal about the Jackson Lab, but not about Ave Maria Town, AMU and the people who lived and worked there, or Tom Monaghan. I knew nothing about the relationship that exists between them. All this changed during the months of my investigation as I came to know and understand the true nature of the malignant entity known as Ave Maria Town.

The Jackson Lab story is important, but ultimately, I think the story behind Ave Maria Town is even more important. Until that story is written, Catholics, especially any Catholic considering relocating to Ave Maria Town or parents who are considering sending their children to AMU would be wise to heed the warning signs ahead.

Ave Maria Not a Catholic Town

Ave Maria is not God's town. It's not a Catholic Town. It's Tom Monaghan's little theocracy, a mini-state governed by a man who regards himself as divinely guided.

The official religion practiced and promoted here by Tom Managhan, Nick Healy and the Ave Maria University administration is not traditional Catholicism but rather a Pentecostal-Charismatic fundamentalism with all the eccentricities and characteristics and dangers of a full-blown cult. The "Praise and Worship" services, Novos Ordo guitar Masses and bizarre healing services held at the Quasi-Parish of Ave Maria Oratory (the "healing services" were eventually banned inside the Oratory by the local Bishop) are not merely a variant on Catholicism, but a different religion altogether with a different theology of grace and salvation.

While it is true that the Latin Mass is offered at the Oratory, it is important for the reader to understand that this is only due to the insistence of the local Ordinary that it be made available. The Bishop insists that the Latin Mass be celebrated — in spite of the opposition from the university administration, including some faculty members. The fact that Monaghan owns the church building, and that it cost him $24 million to build it, is generally used as leverage against the Bishop's orders and wishes.

Catholicism has doctrine, dogma, hierarchy, structure, sacraments, and a sacred liturgy — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Catholic faith is based on the Redemption of the cross. Catholics worship Christ crucified. This is why we wear a crucifix.

Baptists, Evangelicals and most other Protestant sects hail an empty cross, from which Jesus has already risen. http://www.catholicthought.com/promise_keeper.htm.

Not only do Catholics have doctrines, but as Knox emphasizes, we have a balance of doctrines and a balance of emphases.

This is in sharp contrast to the religion of Revivalism promoted by Monaghan and Company which seeks a new Pentecost and a New Jerusalem. In its heart of hearts it is anti-hierarchical and anti-authority. It is also anti-intellectual, that is, it fosters a morbid distrust of our God-given intellect, and relies instead on a blind faith where external signs and flashes of intuition take priority over common prudence. It is a religion where the Sacramental life is secondary in importance to signs of wonders and religious experiences of all kinds especially glossolalia, that is, speaking in tongues. The latter, it should be recalled has generally been regarded by the Catholic Church as a symptom of diabolic possession, not divine inspiration.

It is no coincidence that Monaghan has had strong connections to the Word of God Community of Ann Arbor, a neo-Pentecostal quasi-Catholic community formed by Ralph Martin and Steve Clark and known for its cult-like tendencies. Healy, the recemtly retired President of AMU, has had ties to the Mother of God Movement of Montgomery Village, Md., which in 1994-1995 was investigated by Cardinal James A. Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. after complaints of cult-like practices and activities were leveled against community leaders. Later, Mother of God was allowed to restructure itself as "a private association of the faithful" with the approbation of the archdiocese, but its dark past is a matter of public record. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/mog/mogmain.htm.

Neither is it a coincidence that relations between Monaghan and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of the Diocese of Venice where Ave Maria Town is located have always been strained.

It may come as a surprise to the reader that Ave Maria University (AMU) is not a Catholic University. The University itself has no relationship to the diocese and is not recognized as a Catholic University by Bishop Dewane. The latter has no authority over any decision at AMU. He simply sits as an ex officio member of the AMU board, but without any voting privileges. "Ave Maria University, Inc." is classified as a B43 non-profit organization by the IRS and Monaghan is listed as the University's primary benefactor and Chancellor/President/Director.

No doubt, the released statement of July 22, 2010, by the Diocese of Venice highlighting the moral and ethical questions surrounding the Jackson Lab's involvement in illicit human embryonic stem cell research, was not welcome news for Monaghan or Barron Collier. The concluding paragraph of Bishop Dewane reminds Catholics that:

    Economic growth and development are not the only components which impact the life of a community. An organization which truly respects the rights of all human beings could and should "rule out" human embryonic stem cell research. This is precisely because it involves the destruction of innocent human life and consequently, affects the community. Without such an understanding, the plan of Jackson Laboratory, as it has been reported, presents difficulty for the Diocese of Venice in Florida.

This brings us to what I consider to be one of the key questions concerning the Jackson Lab controversy. It is the proverbial elephant in the living room.

The population of Ave Maria Town is over 95% "Catholic." I would venture to say that the majority of these residents are "pro-life." Ave Maria University has over 50 faculty members including a number of converts and over 500 students, most of whom would classify themselves as pro-life. On its Mission Page, the university stresses both the responsibility of Catholic academicians to explicate the truths of the faith and of students and graduates to bring the truths of the faith to bear on contemporary issues, including abortion as well as non-therapeutic fetal research and presumably human embryo and human embryonic stem cells experimentation.

How then does one explain the fact that during the 13 months that the Jackson Lab controversy raged in Collier County, it was not until the very end of the battle that a small group claiming to be pro-lifers from Ave Maria publicly came out in opposition to having a eugenic playground in their backyard? Where were the hundreds of faculty, staff, and students of Ave Maria University? Where were the numerous faculty, staff, and students of Ave Maria School of Law in Naples? Where were the hundreds of residents of Ave Maria Town, again, with the exception of Marielena Montesino de Stuart? Where was Tom Monaghan?

During the time that I covered the Ave Maria debacle, I found this silence to be unnatural and a bit unnerving. It is the same kind of silence one associates with religious cults. Who or what were the people of Ave Maria afraid of?

A Postscript — The Jackson Lab's Last Dance in Florida

By the fall of 2010, while Jackson Lab officials continued to express unbridled confidence concerning their Collier County project, opposition to the creation of a bio-medical cluster centering about Jackson's Institute for Personalized Medicine and Research near Ave Maria Town and University, continued to grow. It was easy to see that while state and local taxpayers were expected to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars to get the project off the ground, they could expect little by way of a financial return anywhere in the near future.

Unfortunately, in September 2010, AveWatch, which had been monitoring and reporting on Monaghan and his "City of God" since 2006, closed down its website and deactivated all its pages. This left a wide gap in reporting on events surrounding the Jackson Lab and Ave Maria Town and University as well.

Thank God, Marielena de Stuart did not desert the fort, or else all would have been lost. She gave public testimony before the Board of County Commissioners, the Ave Maria Town Governing Board, and testified before Judge Kenneth Bell in an Arbitration Hearing, regarding the rezoning that would allow the location of the proposed Jackson Lab facility. On the economic front, she also joined and supported Collier County Open Economic Development (COED) organization — a group created during the Jackson Lab battle, in order to fight the Jackson Lab proposal — and to prevent future Jackson Lab fiascos.

In October and November of 2010, four lawsuits were filed against the project in the Collier County courts over alleged violations of Florida's sunshine laws and commercial rezoning issues. These were, no doubt, a serious wake-up call for Jackson officials.

On October 14, 2010, Catholic Culture carried a pro-Monaghan/Jackson Lab "in depth analysis" puff piece by Phil Lawler. http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=467. How "in depth" Lawler's own research on the Jackson Lab involvement in human embryonic stem cell research was is reflected in his assertion that the Jackson Lab did not engage in human embryonic stem cell research. In fact, Jax-West, the company's Sacramento affiliate, as detailed in Part II of this series, was awarded a $3.4 million grant in 2009 from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a grant which involves the destruction of human embryos in mouse transplantation research. Lawler closed with the comment, "If the bio-medical-research project that begins with Jackson Lab proceeds down avenues that are inimical to Catholic teaching, the AMU community may have many more opportunities to make their opposition to effective." Ah. Yes. The timeless home-spun philosophy espousing the merits of closing the barn door after the horses have bolted.

On December 14, 2010, matters came head when a group of Ave Maria Jackson Lab supporters held a bogus and stacked "town hall meeting" at a small, local coffee house, with a promise of an open forum with a question and answer session for public input. The three "pre-selected" panelists assigned to address the ethical, scientific, and developmental aspects of the Jackson proposal were:

  • Dr. Michael Waldstein, a resident of Ave Maria Town and a professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University.

  • Michael Hyde, Vice president for Advancement and External Relations at the Jackson Lab.

  • Blake Gable, President, Barron Collier's Real Estate and Minerals division and project manager for the Ave Maria development.

Waldstein showed his loyalty to Monaghan and Company by stating that he rejected "in the most decided terms the suspicion that has been raised about Mr. Monaghan and Nick Healy, that they are willing to set aside moral considerations for financial gain." He went on to describe the Jackson Lab project as "A gift of God... an answer to prayer," because "we will have people to talk to who stand in the mainstream of American culture." Like he couldn't go down to any Naples street corner and encounter a grass roots American!

Hyde argued that the Jackson Lab was not associated in any way with eugenics, a philosophy and practice he linked to Nazi Germany. Such allegations, Hyde said, were "deeply offensive." He made no mention, however, of the eugenic track record of the lab's founder C.C. Little; or the eugenic program the Jackson Lab established with the March of Dimes under the leadership of Dr. Victor McKusick in the 1960s; or the CIRM grant obtained by JAX-West in Sacramento, California. Later, when pressed to the wall and grilled serenely and relentlessly by journalist reporter and Ave Maria resident, Marielena Montesino de Stuart, Hyde was forced to confess that the Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor, Maine, uses its resources to promote human embryonic stem cell research and workshops. http://romancatholicworld.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/ave-maria-and-the-jackson-lab-is-it-a-marriage-made-in-heaven/.

Gable, the mouthpiece for Barron Collier and Tom Monaghan (who was conspicuously absent from the meeting) denied that the Jackson deal was a "bailout" for his bosses. What else was he supposed to say if he wanted to keep his job?

As it turns out, this fateful meeting spelled the beginning of the end for the Jackson Lab in Collier County.

A month later, on January 17, 2011, the Jackson Lab withdrew its application to Enterprise Florida for state funding, and Barron Collier yanked its free land offer to the Jackson Lab. According to Chuck Hewett, Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for the Jackson Lab, "political challenges and interventions" as well as a hostile taxpayer's environment had forced his organization to seek greener pastures in the state.

Frank Halas, a former County Commissioner who supported the Jackson Lab deal claimed that "the rock throwers prevailed."

Good-bye Collier County and Ave Maria. Hello Sarasota.

On March 2, 2011, Hewett announced at a press conference held at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, that the Jackson Lab would establish a Florida/Jackson Lab campus in Sarasota County as part of a new bio-medical village for the region. Under its revised business projection, the Jackson Lab would need $100 million in state funds and millions more from local tax assessments and extensive philanthropic donations.

Unfortunately for the Jackson Lab, Governor Rick Scott was not in a "giving" frame of mind, the state already being overloaded with more than eight major biotech cluster enterprises, none of which had produced the revenue or jobs that were promised when they were created.

No tax monies. No deal. The Sarasota plan went bust. And Jackson Lab officials went back home to Bar Harbor, Maine, to lick their wounds with their tails between their legs.

Who says that God does not answer prayers?

© Randy Engel


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Randy Engel

Randy Engel, one of the nation's top investigative reporters, began her journalistic career shortly after her graduation from the University of New York at Cortland, in 1961. A specialist in Vietnamese history and folklore, in 1963, she became the editor of The Vietnam Journal, the official publication of the Vietnam Refugee and Information Services, a national relief program in South Vietnam for war refugees and orphans based in Dayton, Ohio... (more)


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