America at Night Files


FILE #29
Hirschfeld Plots to Blind a Federal Judge

In 1997, Richard Hirschfeld was indicted for plotting to blind U.S. District Judge J. Calvitt Clarke, Jr., the federal judge who had overseen Hirschfeld's criminal conviction, by throwing acid into the judge's face. Three newspaper articles about the case, which were written before Hirschfeld's indictment was unsealed, are shown below.

Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA)
May 23, 1997
Edition: FINAL
Section: FRONT
Page: A1
Dateline: NORFOLK
Estimated printed pages: 3
Article Text:

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 and times.
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 authorities.
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 this week.
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 the street.''
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 fighting extradition.
Hirschfeld has dabbled in international intrigue for years. His clients have included Muhammed Ali - one of many character witnesses - Kenny Rogers and the Saudi royal family.
In one wild foray into international investigations, Hirschfeld reportedly tricked deposed Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos into confessing plans to retake his country.
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 a judge.
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 supposedly the
Copyright (c) 1997 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 9705230676