Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk,
May 23, 1997
VIRGINIA MEN ALLEGEDLY PLOTTED TO ATTACK JUDGE \ HIRSCHFELD
HAS NOT BEEN CHARGED, BUT HIS NAME APPEARS IN AN INDICTMENT
Author: LYNN WALTZ, STAFF WRITER
Estimated printed pages: 3
An aborted plot to blind a federal judge by throwing
acid in his eyes was allegedly masterminded by Richard
M. Hirschfeld, a former Virginia Beach lawyer-deal maker
currently in a Spanish prison on fugitive charges.
The plot, revealed in federal court Thursday, is another
bizarre chapter in a story that has more twists and
turns than a John LeCarre novel - Hirschfeld's life
Hirschfeld's name was bandied about in federal court
Thursday during the appearance of Joseph Matthew Gaffney
II, an equally colorful figure who dived from a boat
in Sicily in 1985 to fake his death.
Gaffney, 52, is accused of trying to hire a federal
inmate to assault U.S. District Court Judge J. Calvitt
Clarke. The motive was purportedly in retaliation for
Clarke's rulings in Hirschfeld's tangles with federal
Hirschfeld allegedly arranged the 1993 meeting of Gaffney
and the inmate, during which Gaffney asked the inmate
to assault Clarke by ``taking the victim's glasses off
and throwing acid in the victim's eyes or breaking both
legs,'' according to Gaffney's indictment, unsealed
Hirschfeld has not been charged, though his name appears
in the indictment 25 times. The indictment says the
FBI believes Hirschfeld orchestrated the conspiracy
against Clarke. Hirschfeld, Gaffney and the inmate were
all in federal prison in Petersburg at the time.
The indictment says Gaffney did not identify Clarke
to the inmate, telling him only ``that he did not want
the . . . official killed but wanted (him) to be badly
hurt and made to suffer and be hospitalized for months.''
Gaffney gave the inmate Clarke's address and physical
description, including his age, build and hair color.
Clarke's address is not in the telephone book.
Gaffney and the inmate allegedly used coded language,
referring to the assault as ``landscaping work'' or
``mowing the lawn for $700,'' the indictment said.
Clarke, 76, who has senior status in Norfolk's federal
court, once referred in court to Hirschfeld as a ``very
devious and plotting kind of person,'' and said he ``had
a responsibility to society to get (Hirschfeld) off
It is not clear why federal authorities waited three
years after Gaffney was released from jail before indicting
him last November.
Gaffney's attorney, Jon Babineau, said Thursday that
Gaffney's indictment results from an elaborate scheme
by Hirschfeld to retaliate against Gaffney. Babineau
said he could not discuss the motive for the retaliation.
``Hirschfeld has set up Gaffney for significant reasons,''
Babineau said. ``He could feel threatened by Gaffney
and is making a pre-emptive strike by maligning Gaffney
to divert attention from himself.''
In 1985, Gaffney made an unsuccessful effort to collect
nearly $800,000 in insurance money by diving overboard
to fake his death, then assumed a new identity for seven
years. Gaffney said he did so to escape from his Chinese
wife, who he said was a spy for the CIA.
Gaffney's trial date on the assault charges was set
for September to give prosecutors time to get Hirschfeld
back from Spain.
In November, Hirschfeld was indicted for allegedly conspiring
to send fraudulent letters to federal judges to get
out of prison. He fled to Spain, where he was arrested
in January. He was released from prison in 1995 after
serving four years for tax fraud.
Hirschfeld has a long history of disputes with federal
authorities, claiming charges against him stem from
a vendetta by a U.S. attorney who believed Hirschfeld
undermined his bid for a federal judgeship by using
his influence with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The Spanish government has denied Hirschfeld's request
for political asylum. Hirschfeld has appealed and is
Hirschfeld has dabbled in international intrigue for
years. His clients have included Muhammed Ali - one
of many character witnesses - Kenny Rogers and the Saudi
In one wild foray into international investigations,
Hirschfeld reportedly tricked deposed Philippines dictator
Ferdinand Marcos into confessing plans to retake his
He gained international notoriety for accompanying Ali
to the Middle East in 1985 to lobby for the release
of U.S. hostages.
Hirschfeld and Gaffney became friends in prison, according
to the indictment. They share similar stories of intrigue
involving allegations of faked deaths.
In 1994, the FBI was convinced that a Hirschfeld business
partner, Robert Chastain, had faked his death to collect
insurance money. They disinterred him, then reburied
him. Hirschfeld collected millions of dollars after
Chastain allegedly committed suicide in a Vienna, Austria,
hotel room in 1989.
Richard M. Hirschfeld allegedly arranged a meeting about
Joseph Matthew Gaffney II is accused of trying to hire
an inmate to
assault the judge.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Calvitt Clarke, 76, was
Copyright (c) 1997 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 9705230676