by Virginia McCullough

If one feeds ‘Michael Riconosciuto’ into Google, the search engine pulls up over 31,000 hits in .38 seconds. The Internet is a wondrous place! The first ‘hit’ on Michael Riconosciuto is the information supplied by Wikipedia, the free internet encyclopedia’. This site contains some inaccurate information about ‘Magic Mike’, but it also contains a great deal of very accurate information about the many high profile news stories Riconosciuto has been involved in over the past decades. The man Wikipedia describes as “an American activist advocating for several conspiracy theories, and claiming to have expertise in computers, electronics, and explosives” has been in prison since 1991 on what many people believe are falsified drug charges. Wikipedia states Michael Riconosciuto claimed he was involved in the following:

The Inslaw affair (a legal case in which the U.S. Government was charged with illegal use of computer software), the so-called October Surprise and other plots. Riconosciuto claims to be an electronics and computer expert and to have been hired to alter Inslaw's PROMIS software to allow for clandestine tracking of individuals. Riconosciuto claims his knowledge of PROMIS made him a threat to the United States Government particularly the Justice Department, and that this resulted in his incarceration. Some of his supporters see his prosecution as a means of interfering with his ability to agitate about Inslaw, and thus describe him as a political prisoner.

Before Michael Riconosciuto became famous for his involvement in the Inslaw story, he was acknowledged to be a gifted child. An article from the Village Voice published shortly after investigative reporter Danny Casolaro’s death in August of 1991 stated:

When he was just 10 years old, Michael wired his parents’ neighborhood with a working private telephone system that undercut Ma Bell; in the eighth grade, he won a science fair with a model for a three-dimensional sonar system. By the time he was a teenager, he had won so many science fairs with exhibits of laser technology that he was invited to be a summer research assistant at Stanford’s prestigious Cooper Vapor Laser Laboratory. Dr. Arthur Schalow [sic], a Nobel laureate, remembers him even now. “You don’t forget a 16-year-old youngster who shows up with his own argon laser.

While all these details of young Riconosciuto’s technical abilities were true, Michael also possessed a darker side that severely limited his ability to maximize his scientific talents.

While attending a private school on the San Francisco peninsula ‘Magic Mike’ became fascinated with the “Summer of Love” philosophy of free sex, rock and roll, and readily available drugs. Michael wove many webs about the years he spent in and around San Francisco in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This reporter was told by those friends and family closest to Michael that he claimed to have been a partner with Chet Helms, Lori Helms and Bob Cohen in the famous Avalon Ballroom. This claim was disproved. Michael claimed to have played an important part in ‘Family Dog’, Chet Helms concert promotion company. Members of that organization had never heard of him. Michael also stated that he had played a prominent role in San Francisco’s Straight Theatre on Haight Street. One person involved in the management of that site said that ‘Magic Mike’ might have been around the theatre for a brief period of time, but he disappeared shortly after the theatre opened in 1967.

In fact, during his years in the Bay Area, Riconosciuto loved to experiment with the chemical structure of certain drugs such as LSD. Many who knew him said that he was one of the renowned chemists or cookers of the hippie era. There were also rumors that Riconosciuto was playing the drug scene from both sides of the law. During these years Riconosciuto became an informant for the FBI and he claims credit for supplying information that jailed a California State Bureau of Narcotics officer and a sergeant in the narcotics unit of the San Francisco Police Department.

The Wizard from Washington State was walking a tight rope balancing between complying with law enforcement personnel, who were using him as an informant to entrap high profile drug dealers, and keeping his powerful intelligence sources happy by working on secretive new technology. He would not be the first scientist to succumb to the lure of the three letter agencies nor would he be the first product of the hippie era to covet the perks easy drug money supplied.

Riconosciuto abruptly left the Haight scene and returned to his home state of Washington. This reporter has unpublished manuscripts written by Michael. The first, hand written in December of 1970, details events between 1970 and 1973. The second document is a 7-page handwritten essay on legal paper entitled “The Underground Underwater Laboratory”. These manuscripts might well have been prepared with an eye toward any future drug problems the author might be facing. In fact Riconosciuto was charged and brought to trial on possession and manufacturing of drugs in the US District Court, Western Division of Washington State, [Case no. 128-7302] in 1973.

Before he was brought to trial Michael Riconosciuto’s mental capability was brought into question by his own attorney and he was subjected to an examination by three local psychiatrists. The three doctors differed in their analysis but the final consensus was that Michael was capable of participating in his own defense. On January 16, 1974 doctors at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri had the final say when they declared Riconosciuto to be “without mental illness” in report No. 11919-116.

However by this time Michael had already lost the legal battle and on October 5, 1973 the 25-year-old was found guilty of two counts of manufacturing methamphetamine and one count of possession of an illegal firearm. Because of his youth the court found that he was a young adult offender under 18 U.S.C.A. Statute 4209. He was sentenced to two years, designated a “protection case” and on September 24, 2974 the federal prison system approved transferring Riconosciuto to FCI Terminal Island, California were he was placed in the segregation unit.

The years between the time that Riconosciuto was released from federal prison and 1979 are clouded with mystery. What little documentation exists about this time period shows that Michael Riconosciuto worked at a mine in Maricopa, California. The mine was owned by W. Patrick Moriarty and was managed by his long time friend Marshall Riconosciuto, Michael’s father. During his son’s second trial for drug manufacturing in 1991, Marshall declared under oath that Michael had also been employed at Moriarty’s mine as an engineer

In 1979 W. Patrick Moriarty and Marshall Riconosciuto and 10 limited partners formed Hercules Properties. The company raised $7,000,000 and purchased 380 acres in the East Bay half way between Richmond and Vallejo. The property fronted on San Pablo Bay and initially consisted of 50 acres residential and the remainder commercial. Hercules Properties owned virtually all of what is now known as the City of Hercules. Michael Riconosciuto was soon employed as a scientist at a company called Hercules Research and Development.

However “Magic Mike” had also re-entered the San Francisco drug scene as an informant for the SFPD and the FBI. Many say that he was also a drug dealer in partnership with a man named Paul Morasca. Riconosciuto had met Morasca at the Moriarty mine when Morasca submitted a bid on demolition and the subsequent purchase of salvage. Riconosciuto would later refer to Morasca as his “banker” and would form several companies with him. Together the two men would often visit the Cabazon Indian Reservation in Indio, California. There Riconosciuto became acquainted with a man known as “Jason Smith” whose real name is Philip Arthur Thompson.

In January 1981 Philip Arthur Thompson’s name would make headlines in San Francisco when law enforcement alleged that Thompson and two other men executed a series of crimes designed to raise money for the purchase of automatic weapons to be used by the Contras and other right-wing plotters in South American countries. The headlines increased when a 26-year-old named Valerie MacDonald disappeared from San Francisco on November 9, 1980. She was last seen getting into a car outside an apartment complex managed by Thompson. The publicity tying these activities in San Francisco to the Contras were similar to what was taking place on the Cabazon Indian Reservation in Indio, California.

The early 1980s found Riconosciuto also involved in the intrigue and free federal money supporting the infancy of the Iran Contra operations at the Cabazon Reservation. There Contra activities ranged from night vision goggles demonstration to the development of arms and biological warfare weaponry. Covert activities at the Cabazon nation were derailed by the June 1981 triple assassination of Cabazon tribal member, and many say Cabazon hero, Fred Alvarez and two of his friends. Alvarez had been publicizing the nasty background and devious nature of the Cabazon’s Business Manager “Dr.” John Philip Nichols. When Alvarez delivered documents exposing the international connections he told reporters, “You are speaking with a dead man.” The triple killings remain unsolved.

In January of 1982, just six months after the unsolved murders, another strange homicide occurred. Michael Riconosciuto found the body of his “banker” Paul Morasca hog-tied in a San Francisco apartment. When Riconosciuto discovered Morasca’s body, he did not report his find to law enforcement. Instead he requested assistance from a man known as “Jason Smith”. Smith arranged for Riconosciuto’s wife Phyllis and Michael’s son and step-son to be immediately moved from their home in Hercules, California to safety in “The Desert”. Then Riconosciuto drove over 500 miles in 7 hours to the Cabazon Reservation and reported Morasca’s murder to his controller, “Dr.” John Philip Nichols. Nichols and Jason Smith took care of the problem by referring Riconosciuto to a very high profile and competent attorney. The attorney, in turn, notified the proper authorities. Riconosciuto then blamed “Jason Smith,” also known as Philip Arthur Thompson, for killing Paul Morasca. San Francisco impaneled a grand jury and it failed to bring back any indictments in the Morasca murder which remains unsolved.

For the next six years Michael Riconosciuto kept a very low profile. Then in 1989 he had a run in with a girlfriend who had broken up with him. The incident took place in Normandy Park, Washington. In a fit of anger, Michael broke down the woman’s front door, forced the woman to accompany him and sped away from the scene nearly hitting a crowd of 10 bystanders. The local police issued him Citation #0005934 and mailed it to his address at 4 Kings Way, Hercules, California. He was charged with reckless endangerment and the ticket also listed separate violations in 1988 and 1989. Other citations were issued to Riconosciuto’s address at 3515 SW Ocean View Drive, Seattle, Washington. Riconosciuto hired attorney John M. Rosellini to defend him at trial. Riconosciuto’s presence at his September 1990 arraignment in the “Normandy Park Incident” was waived by his attorney.

In November 1990 this reporter was contacted by Bill Hamilton, president of an east coast company called Inslaw. Hamilton wanted any information I had about Michael Riconosciuto. Hamilton told me that Riconosciuto was going to submit a declaration in the Inslaw bankruptcy stating that he had “back-doored” Inslaw’s proprietary software called Promis while working for United States intelligence agencies. Riconosciuto told Hamilton that he had altered Promis on the orders of covert operators so that the software could be sold internationally in order that the United States could spy on its friends and enemies alike. Government retaliation against Riconosciuto was swift and effective. Seven days after the declaration was filed on March 21, 1991, Washington state law enforcement arrested him and several days later, a search warrant was executed on property controlled by Riconosciuto. Law enforcement stated that evidence of a “clandestine laboratory believed to be operated by defendant and others” was seized. The government denied any connection between the allegations Riconosciuto had made in his Inslaw declaration and his arrest in Washington State for the manufacture and distribution of drugs.

Michael continued to detail the many historic high profile cases he had participated in over the years. He claimed to be a member of the McKee team that went down in the Lockerbie crash of Pan Am 103. He played a part in the infamous October Surprise. He had developed explosives similar to those used in the Oklahoma City bombing. He controlled the millions stolen in the Nugan Hand Bank scandal. However, no amount of tale tales diverted the government from his prosecution. Riconosciuto’s trial moved forward and ultimately he was found guilty as charged. He was sentenced to 30 years in a federal prison. Michael Riconosciuto will remain in jail until 2017 unless he can strike a deal that gives give him an earlier release date.

Virginia McCullough © 2/17/08

Next: Is Puppet Master Michael Riconosciuto Pulling the Strings in the Betty Cloer Murder Trial?