March 8, 1990, 9:15 a.m. — I was sitting in my apartment when I heard a loud banging at the front door. I went and looked through the peephole. What appeared to be the eye of a television camera stared back at me. Then I heard:
“OPEN THE DOOR OR WE’RE GONNA KICK IT DOWN!”
I opened the door.
A bunch of guys wearing blue windbreakers rushed in. They were followed by a camera crew. It seemed to me that a lot of the men appeared to be wearing either an abundance of hair spray, or else they had some really bad wigs.
“HANDS UP! HANDS UP AGAINST THE WALL! ”
I had a .38 pressed against the back of my head and another shoved into my gut. For the next two hours, members of the LAPD and the Secret Service searched my apartment. As I usually do in situations where I’m completely terrified, my brain sent signals of bemused detachment to rest of me. Two hours later, as they led me out the front door in handcuffs, I wore an incredibly stupid grin on my face.
A few miles away, on the other side of Coldwater Canyon, Lyle Menendez was lying face down in the street with a horde of cops pointing shotguns at his back. Just my luck. Had Menendez not gotten popped on the same day I did, I would have grabbed all the good headlines. Be that as it may, the following day, stories of my arrest ran in — amongst others — the L.A.Times, the San Francisco Chronicle the New York Times and all three trades.
JOURNALIST CAUGHT IN TABLOID STING OPERATION! one headline screamed.
WRITER NABBED BREAKING INTO FOX TV NETWORK! blared another.
In the articles, I had been given a new nickname: The Hollywood Hacker.
Despite myself, I thought it had sort of a nice ring to it.
I was OR’d after spending one night in Parker Center. I arrived home just in time to see my idiotic, grinning face on the Fox evening news. I found it interesting that Fox was the only network which saw fit to run the story (which they’d conveniently promoed all afternoon). The segment was titled — what else? — THE HOLLYWOOD HACKER.
It was a beaut.
The piece looked like an outtake from “Cops.” It showed the guys in the bad wigs and bulletproof vests standing outside my door with their guns drawn. It showed the cops tearing my house apart. It showed the Feds carrying out my ancient computer and a couple of boxes of floppies.
“Newsrooms around the country are shuddering!” babbled Fox’s anchor, Dave Bryan. I sat and watched with the rapt attention one gives to a bad B-movie. My wife remarked that Fox hadn’t even pixelized my face — a courtesy they afford even the dope pushers that are busted nightly on “Cops.”
The stupidest part of the whole thing was that the charges were bogus. I was a lot of things — but a computer hacker wasn’t one of them.
Had I been in the Fox computers? Absolutely. Like dozens of other stringers, I’d been given an access code when I was hired by Fox. That access had never been revoked. I’d been using the system — and quite openly — for over a year. To make sure things were kosher, I’d kept both senior producers in New York — Burt Kearns and Wayne Darwen — appraised of my activities.
Approximately six weeks prior to my arrest, Fox did something cute. They set their computers up with what’s called a “nul passcode.” What that means is, there is no passcode. That way, when their mark (i.e. yours truly) logged onto the system, they could make a claim that the system had been broken into. After that, all they had to do was notify the authorities, and — when the deal went down — leak the story to the wires.
Oh, I’d been set up all right. I knew it the moment the cops came through my door. Though I wasn’t sure as to all the whos and hows and whys, I knew what the basic deal was. The worst part was, I knew it was my own fault. I’d opened my big yap about the investigation I engaged in one too many times, so the tabs had decided to pop me before I popped them. And I had to hand it to them because, frankly, they’d done a pretty bang-up job of it.
One bothersome little tidbit: At the very same time they were having me whacked on trumped up charges, Fox was engaging in big time illegal activity.
It’s called felony wire piracy.
What Fox was doing — and they’d been doing it for over a year — was stealing the satellite uplink from Inside Edition (a new tabloid show produced by King World) to whom some of the Fox staffers had recently defected. The name of the game was to get the jump on Inside’s story rundown.
Maury Povich: “The launch date for Inside Edition was January of1989, and we went shopping around the satellites, trying to find out what stories they were going to do. That’s how shows worked — they fiddled around with frequencies and latched onto the communications channels and listened in on the shop talk. It was spying. We all did it … it was part of the game. Maybe it’s illegal, but that’s the Front Page mentality.”
I hired Michael Adelson and Alan Rubin — two topnotch criminal defense attorneys — to handle my case (Rubin had represented reputed computer hacker Kevin Mitnick).
Rubin immediately fired off a letter to the U.S. Attorney. In it, he outlined the tabs’ bogus “sting” operation and stated that I — as well as the Federal authorities — were being used as pawns in a malicious personal vendetta instigated by a group of rogue tabloid reporters.
The Feds promptly dropped all charges against me. But district attorney Richard Lowenstein — a man whose colleagues routinely described as “a nice guy … but not especially bright,” — was another story. “Your man is gonna go to prison!” Lowenstein bragged to my attorneys, taking a healthy pick at his ear.
Every attorney, bar none, who looked at the file said the exact same thing. “This case is bulls—,” Rubin told me. “If anything, it should have been civil. Frankly, I can’t understand why the DA even filed it.”
The answer of course, was that Fox had juice. I never could ascertain exactly what the relationship was between Fox and the DA, but one thing was clear — it was very cozy. At every single one of my court appearances, the DA was accompanied by a phalanx of Fox attorneys, led by a shrunken, hatchet faced woman named Muriel Reis, head of Fox Legal Affairs in New York. In addition to their in-house attorneys, Fox had hired Greenburg, Glusker, Claman and Machtinger — a powerful Century City Law firm — as outside counsel.
I didn’t get it. Why did Fox need all this firepower? Why was the head of their legal department raking up massive travel expenses flying out to Los Angeles to attend all my court appearances?
“You might be a good reporter,” one of my lawyers chided me, “but you obviously don’t know s— about politics. Fox wants to make an example of you! You are the messenger boy for anyone who decides to f— with them.”
Actually, it wasn’t just Fox. When we began to get discovery, we found numerous faxes from The National Enquirer to Fox that made it abundantly clear that the two tabs had collaborated on this little escapade. And when we were given the list of witnesses set to testify against me, it included not only “A Current Affair” staffers, but employees from the Enquirer the Starand the Globe. I also noted that Riva Dryan’s name was listed as the complainant in the original report to the LAPD.
Fox’s agenda quickly came into focus. The DA told my lawyers that Fox would be willing to settle the case if I’d sign paper stating that I wouldn’t write a book about my investigation. I patently refused all such overtures.
For awhile I took my attorneys’ advice and kept my mouth shut, turning down all requests for interviews. Meanwhile, Fox took every opportunity to hype the media circus they’d created. They sent camera crews to all my court appearances. They continually leaked items to the wire services. They stonewalled us at every turn. When my process servers tried to subpoena their people, they were bodily thrown off the Fox lot. When they were finally served, they actually had the balls to invoke the California State Shield Law (which gives journalists the right not to reveal their sources).
Finally I could take it no longer. I appeared on segments of CNN, “The Today Show,” “AM Los Angeles” and “Entertainment Tonight” to tell my side of the story. When I showed up on a segment of “60 Minutes” which exposed the tabloids’ phony sourcing scam (wherein sources are invented in order to libel-proof a story) the proverbial s— hit the fan.
Fox sent in a hitman in the person of jowly, mealy-mouthed gossip-maven, Mitchell Fink (no pun intended), who skewered me on the Fox Entertainment News. “It’s rogues like this,” Fink blabbered, “who give my profession a bad name!”
A month after my arrest, I received an interesting piece of mail. It was written on the personal letterhead of the District Attorney’s office. The letter read as follows:
I saw your picture in the Times yesterday right under the word “Hack.” I’d love to kiss your talented Yiddish a–, but by the time I get around to it, it’ll probably be full of big, black prison d–k. Give my regards to the boys on the AIDS ward, Stu.
Before I could even pick up the phone to call their office, two dour faced inspectors from the DA’s office showed up at my door. They didn’t look very friendly. Apparently, I — that is, someone using my name — had mailed a similar letter to Reiner. Additionally, Reiner had received a one year subscription to the National Review courtesy of my friendly alter ego.
“Did you mail this to Mr. Reiner?” one inspector asked, waving the document in my face.
“Do you guys think I’m stupid!?” I shot back. I showed them the phony Reiner letter I’d received. “Don’t you see what’s going on? It’s called a smear campaign!”
I could tell they didn’t know what to make of me. They told me that an investigation would be instigated.
That was the last I heard from them.
I hired my own team of investigators. It was headed up by Ted Gunderson, the former head of the Los Angeles office of the FBI. I gave Gunderson copies of the phony Reiner letters. He asked me if I had any idea who might have written them. I told him I did. In my mind was an image of a highly smelly, obscenely fat tabloid reporter with an English accent. Her words still rung in my ears: “I always get revenge, babe,” Dryan had once told me. “But I do it so the other person never sees me coming.”
Gunderson and I matched up both phony Reiner letters with copies of material typed on Dryan’s typewriter. The machines lined up perfectly — even down to a couple of crooked letters.
But the Reiner letter was only the beginning.
Over the course of the next eighteen months, I was accused of — amongst other things — breaking into the homes of tabloid reporters, super-gluing their car trunks shut (a nifty idea), bugging their phones, stealing their mail, and planting bombs in their cars. The DA’s office was barraged with calls from tabloid reporters who complained that they were being “harassed” and “threatened.”
My family members were telephoned by nameless people from nonexistent organizations trying to ply information out of them. My ex-wife was called by a reporter from the Enquirer who asked if she were aware that I was a bigamist. Another friend received a call asking if he knew whether I were a member of either a Neo-Nazi organization or a satanic cult.
One day, my wife noticed an unmarked car parked across the street. She said it had been there for over two hours and that the driver appeared to be watching our house.
I looked out the window. Yep, there it was. I picked up the phone and dialed Westec. “There’s someone surveilling my house,” I said. “Would you please send a car over immediately?”
The minute I made the call, the car started up and drove away.
It was back the next day.
They were letting me know they were out there.
Fred Wolfson, an ex-cop specializing in phone bugs, ran a sweep on my house. I was told my main phone line had a tap on it. I asked Wolfson to give me a clean line. “I can do it,” he said, “but it won’t do any good. They’ll have a new tap on there within 24 hours.”
Wolfson told me to start using pay phones.
Gavin de Becker, Rod Lurie (a writer from Los Angeles magazine who had embarked upon his own tabloid investigation) and I each had our credit illegally accessed, our phone records pulled, and our homes called by tabloid reporters pretending to be representatives of Pacific Bell, in an attempt to gain access to our private telephone lines.
Shortly after Lurie’s article hit the stands, the tabloids went on the offensive. They accused Lurie, de Becker and myself of engaging in a massive smear campaign against them. Iain Calder, editor-in-chief at the Enquirer, started showing up on TV, where he announced to the world that the Enquirerwas “under siege.”
“A cadre of Hollywood powerful are trying to stop us,” Calder intoned. “But we refuse to be scared off. The National Enquirerwill not be stopped!”
Considering that he represents the nation’s leading smut/smear rag, it was a fairly amusing performance.
The Enquirer’s chief goon, Anthony Pellicano, (“The Nation’s Most Publicized Private Investigator”) began a nonstop campaign to hound Lurie, de Becker and myself. Pellicano was right out of a bad Fifties B-movie. He loved to do the good cop/bad cop bit. He threatened, he bullied, he wheedled, he cajoled. (At one point, Pellicano sent me a personal check as “hush” money to keep me from incriminating the Enquirer.) When I changed my private telephone number — which I did frequently — he’d call just to let me know he’d made the new number (Pellicano enjoyed a rep and expert bug/wire man).
Despite his shenanigans, I kind of liked the guy. He never threatened me, and we had some fairly interesting conversations. Pellicano had a major hard-on, however, for Lurie and de Becker, who he said he was going to expose as “a couple of fags.”
“Their lives are going to be disrupted in ways they can’t even begin to imagine,” Pellicano said ominously.
On March 11, Rod Lurie was riding his bicycle near his home in Pasadena. An unmarked car (no plates) drove up behind him, suddenly sped up, and whacked Lurie fifty feet into space. The bicycle was instant scrap, and Lurie wound up in the hospital with two broken ribs and a busted back.
When I called him after the accident, Lurie was resolute: “It was no accident,” he said hoarsely. “That car hit me on purpose. There’s absolutely no doubt about it … I saw the the guy veer over and go right for me.”
I asked him if he had any idea who was behind it.”Lemme put it like this,” Lurie said. “The tabloids warned me if I didn’t back off I’d be sorry. I think they just made good on their threat.”
Whether Lurie’s assessment was correct remains to be seen. But one thing was for sure. Somebody had messed the guy up real bad. Fact is, I’d never particularly liked Lurie — he was always running around kissing somebody or others’ tuchus. But he sure didn’t deserve this.
After that incident, my paranoia level — which was already on the upswing — amped up noticeably.
Paranoia or no, I remained fully fixated on my mission. I persisted with a mixture of religious fervor, panic (I was looking at six years for each of seven felony counts) and my own weird redneck/Jewish brand of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Oh yes, and the need for revenge.
All I could think about was getting my day in court; that would be the day when I’d rip the lid off the monstrous, corrupt organization that was the tabloids. All the world would hear the laundry list of illegal methodologies by which the tabloids poke their nose into everybody else’s business. Moreover, they would hear what happens to someone who decides to poke their nose into the tabloids’ business. Oh yes … I’d be vindicated! I’d be a hero …a saint! They’d hold a parade for me on Hollywood Boulevard!
It was not to be.
Fifteen months after it all began, some$85,000 poorer, I’d just about depleted my savings account. My wife had taken a hike. Piles of legal documents, unserved subpoenas, transcripts, records, tapes, phone bills, newspaper clippings and other detritus littered the floor of my tiny apartment. Not to mention that I was fried.
On May 28, 1991, I plead no lo contendre to charges of unauthorized access to a computer system. I was given probation, restitution, and community service.
Everybody said I’d beaten them. After all, they had wanted to send me to prison. I tried to feel good, but somehow I couldn’t pull it off.
Stay tuned for the next episode in which our intrepid reporter not only gets his revenge, but sells the rights to his story in an unprecedented bidding war between some of biggest heavyweights in the film industry. If you can’t wait, and absolutely must have the entire “Spy Vs. Spies” story now, click here. Also be sure to visit the “Spy Vs. Spies” section on The Tongue to find out the latest info on “Spy Vs. Spies,” the forthcoming feature film from director Oliver Stone.