By Matthew DeLuca
Special to the BIR
A former agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Paul Doyle knows that people are fascinated by undercover police work. But it wasn’t the dark allure of the criminal element that drove him to pen a memoir about his time busting up drug rings from the Combat Zone to San Francisco; he just wanted to tell his personal story, all of it, his way.
Now free of any connection to the world of violence and drugs, Doyle remains in fine shape – at 64 and a boxer all his life, he looks as though he could put up a decent defense of the New England Diamond Belt that he won in 1967.
Abandoned as a child and adopted at five, Doyle said he moved sixteen times before he turned sixteen, and was always “the new kid on the block.” The frequent moves might have been difficult to deal with as a child, but Doyle says when he became an agent working local streets, they “helped me in the long run, because I knew all the neighborhoods. I knew kids from everywhere.”
What he did not learn as a child was a respect for law enforcement. Doyle said his father was frequently hassled by cops, and from that he gained a sense that he could not rely on the police. “They were no help,” he said. “The people I admired were bookies or the working guys, guys who went to work every day.”
That youthful experience didn’t hurt once he found his way into law enforcement locally. “I remember going into a raid,” Doyle said. “There’d be a disturbance in the house and guys would go in and crack some kind of a joke only someone from the neighborhood would know.” But when it came to drugs, he said, that experience could be a matter of life or death. “I saw a guy [an agent] walk into a group like that, and whatever he said, the next thing I know he’s got them all laughing.”
Life was a long and winding road for Doyle. After Dedham High school, where he met his wife, xxxxx, he went to Rutgers University in New Jersey on a full football scholarship. Later, when his brother was killed on active duty in Vietnam in March 1968, he enlisted, and served in the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula. It was while he was in the service that he heard about the DEA, and after returning to the States, he applied. Within months, he was working the streets of Boston.
For almost three decades, Doyle battled the drug trade in Boston, going undercover and often wearing a diamond-studded coke spoon on a gold chain around his neck, disarming knife-wielding dealers in bar bathrooms, trying to protect friends and strangers while his own life was in constant turmoil. “You’re not dealing with one group all the time,” Doyle said. “I may be talking with you today, but I may have a deal going down in Harlem tomorrow. It’s like fighting. You always have to be on your toes.”
In New York, where his work sometimes took him, he fell in with a circle of writers and intellectuals that included Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes, and his brother Malachy. Terry Moran, a professor at New York University, was also a member of the group, and remembers meeting Doyle. “I seem to remember he and a friend of his who was a DEA agent came in because they had both met Malachy somewhere,” Moran said. “He fit in because I suppose he was Irish, and he also had this yearning to write.”
Indeed, Doyle had wanted to find a way to tell the story of his time as an undercover agent. “These guys originally wanted a book about my partner and me. But I told my partner that I wasn’t comfortable letting anyone write my story.” It wasn’t until Doyle went to the heart of another tragedy that he found way to do what he wanted. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, he took a train to Manhattan to aid in the recovery efforts. Afterwards, unable to tell his wife about what he had seen while working at ground Zero, he wrote down an account for her, and it was later published by Northeastern University Magazine.
It was then that Doyle realized that he could write his story on his own, and that he could do it his way. What resulted was Hot Shots and Heavy Hits, a first-person account of his time undercover. “They pushed me and wanted corruption,” Doyle said. “They wanted something salacious. But I wrote it the way it happened.” Doyle plans to write more about his experiences, but the accounts will be just that – memories “based on a true story.” The fact-checking and permissions involved with writing another truly factual memoir would be too intensive.
Doyle joined forces with the Missionaries of Charity, a group founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, after he wandered, accidentally, into a documentary about their work. He contacted their Boston branch and has been involved with their good works ever since. He also teaches undercover techniques to new agents in Boston and at the DEA’s training facilities in Quantico, Virginia. And he hasn’t forgotten his friends from the neighborhoods.
Mickey Finn of Dorchester has known Doyle since the two were teenagers. Doyle always had a moral sense about him, Finn said. “He didn’t have a dirty mouth on him as a kid.” But when Doyle first showed up years ago at the boxing gym where he met Finn, he was already undercover, in a way, carving out opportunities that wouldn’t have been afforded him otherwise. “Paul came into the gym when we were around fourteen or fifteen and started to work out. You could tell that his father had probably taught him something,” Finn said. “I didn’t find out until later that he was three years younger than he put himself up to be.”
These days, Doyle and Finn are still throwing punches, occasionally getting into the ring at the Gentleman’s Gym, a boxing club on the upper floor of a warehouse on Business Street in Hyde Park. One night, after a sparring match with Finn, Doyle played to his instincts, wandered over to a group of local teenagers to chat them up, mostly about upcoming bouts.
Doyle and his wife Pam have our daughters, and one of them is training to join the DEA. Along the line, the agent had numerous career opportunities to leave the Boston area and the embattled neighborhoods of his youth, but he always took a pass. Though he has an apartment in Manhattan that he uses regularly, his main residence is in Westwood. “I had moved around so much as a kid myself that I wanted my kids to grow up in a nice community,” he said. “And when you do that, you miss out on some of the big promotions. But I was content to be an undercover guy.”