National Roundup


School desk carved with 'JFK' isn't Kennedy's

It seemed too good to be true: An old wooden desk carved with the initials "JFK" from the private school in Connecticut where John F. Kennedy studied as a boy.

That's because it was.

The desk was the centerpiece of a new exhibition in November at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston devoted to the 35th president's early years, even though the museum put it into storage in 1993 after school officials said it was clear to them the desk wasn't Kennedy's. It had been displayed from 1979 to 1993 as Kennedy's desk from Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut.

"I said, 'Oh boy, here we go again,'" Judy Donald, Choate's archivist since 2001, said Monday.

The story begins in the 1970s, when the wife of a former Choate teacher offered the desk to the school. Choate turned down the offer, knowing the desk wasn't authentic: The style of desk wasn't in use during the time Kennedy attended, from 1931 to 1935.

The woman then donated the desk to the museum.

Meanwhile, Kennedy's former roommate at Choate wrote to the museum's then-director, Dave Powers, in 1977 assuring him the desk belonged to his boyhood friend.

"There is no question in my mind that this was Jack's desk," Lem Billings wrote, adding that Kennedy carved his initials in everything.

The desk went on display.

But in 1993, Lee Sylvester, Choate's archivist at the time, told the museum the desk certainly was not Kennedy's.

Sylvester wrote in a letter to the library, "We should have taken the thing when it was offered to us and burnt it on the spot!"

A library official replied that the desk was in storage and would not be displayed again.

But in November the desk re-emerged, with museum officials saying it was among items never before displayed. Donald emailed museum curator Stacey Bredhoff.

Bredhoff said the desk's history was news to the museum's staff. They weren't aware of the 1993 correspondence, and the person who replied to the letter no longer works at the museum. Even veteran staff members didn't recall the desk having been on display.

"We weren't 100 percent sure," Bredhoff said. "What we said in the exhibit is that it was believed to have been used by JFK."

But the desk's style - not in use until the 1940s - cast doubt on it being Kennedy's, she said.

The museum has since updated the description that accompanies the desk. It says, "The desk, which comes from Choate, is presented here to evoke Jack's life as a high school student." The letters about it are now on file at the museum.

"I'm glad it wasn't burned for kindling," Bredhoff said. "It's still from the place where he spent time and it helps to tell a little more about his story."


Alleged phony priest arrested for pope swindle

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A man who allegedly posed as a priest and officiated at Masses, funerals, confessions, and at least one marriage was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of selling thousands of dollars in phony tickets to see Pope Francis during last year's U.S. visit.

Erwin Mena, 59, declined to comment to the Los Angeles Times ( as detectives escorted him in handcuffs from police headquarters. He remained jailed, and it was unclear whether he had an attorney.

Mena faces about 30 charges, including grand theft, perjury - for filing a marriage license he signed as a priest - and practicing medicine without a license in connection with offering "a system or mode of treating the sick," according to an arrest warrant.

Last year, Mena allegedly posed as a priest at St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in northeastern Los Angeles and sold tickets to a pilgrimage to visit New York and see the pope during his Philadelphia visit in September, prosecutors said.

The trip supposedly included airfare and lodging at convents.

Michelle Rodriguez, 60, and some of her friends and co-workers paid more than $950 each in cash for the trip.

"It was a great deal for the price," Michelle Rodriguez told the Times. "We were thinking, 'Oh, we'll have this great time in New York. We'll see the pope and it will be a great experience.' "

"He used us, he stole from us, and that's it," she said.

Mena, who was acting as a substitute priest, made a good impression.

"He smiled, talked about how good things were. There was never anything negative," Joaquin Oviedo, a retired public high school teacher, told the paper. "He was not a fire and brimstone kind of preacher."

"We had always been raised not to question authority figures," Oviedo said. "He's a priest - what he said is holy writ. We never imagined he was a phony."

Mena had been posing as a priest since the mid-1990s, appearing at parishes or prayer groups in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Stockton, Fresno and Orange counties, then vanishing before Roman Catholic authorities could act, court papers indicated.

Mena showed up at St. Mary parish in Fontana more than five years ago and celebrated Mass on a few occasions, John Andrews, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, told the Times.

Mena allegedly made money by borrowing from people and selling his services or videos.

One group loaned him about $16,000 to produce CDs about Pope Francis that turned out to be pirated, and one person loaned him $6,000, Los Angeles police Detective Gary Guevara told the Times.

Mena's name is on a list of dozens of unauthorized priests and deacons that is kept by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Some victims have been reimbursed, and those who received the sacraments from Mena can receive them again, said Doris Benavides, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles archdiocese.


Judge in murder case represented suspect in 2009

BOONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A southwestern Indiana judge who will preside over the murder trial of a man accused in a killing at a power plant has told attorneys that he once represented the suspect in an unrelated case.

Warrick County Superior Court Judge Zach Winsett informed prosecutors and 33-year-old Mathew McCallister's attorneys Monday. He said that he represented McCallister when McCallister faced 2009 misdemeanor charges, including driving with a suspended license.

The Evansville Courier & Press reports Winsett said he didn't know any reason why he should be disqualified from the case, but was giving attorneys 30 days to file any written objections.

McCallister is charged in the February 2014 shooting death of Joseph Nelson of Martinsville, Indiana. Nelson's body was found at Alcoa Warrick Operations along the Ohio River just east of Evansville.

Published: Thu, Feb 04, 2016