In an attempt to avoid infinite delays on this very long post, I’ll be putting it up unfinished, with additions made every so often, so that the thing is complete by the end of the week,
Friday, March 27th, 2015 Friday, April 3rd 8th (sometime in April), 2015…let’s aim for early May. This might be seen as the third part of a three part series, “The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage” and “Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening”.
IRVING WALLACE’S THE FAN CLUB: THE FAPPENING
THREE WOMEN / THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE
“I found out something I never knew,” Bobby Kennedy said of Dallas not long before his own murder. “I found out my world was not the real world.”
—The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and its Hold on America by Sally Denton & Roger Morris
Mindy McCready, Kari Ann Peniche, Michelle Braun; photos taken, respectively from “Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens” (no credit), WENN.com, and “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure”, photo credit Broward Sheriff’s Office.
It ends with stolen rubies. It begins with ridiculous dreams. “You are one interesting girl,” said Howard Stern when he interviewed Kari Ann Peniche. “How do you get to be Miss Teen USA? That seems like a big deal, Miss Teen USA.” “Miss United States Teen,” Peniche corrected him. “I was modeling at a modeling agency and the receptionist, she was like, “Oh, I’m giving up my crown next weekend,” and I was like, “What crown?” and she’s like, “I’m Miss Teen Oregon,” and I was, “I wanna be Miss Teen Oregon! So…” Stern: “And after you win the whole thing, you think, something’s going to happen, but nothing really big happens, does it?” Peniche: “Um…no. Playboy came along.”1 Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA 2004: “Playboy, for some reason, has these little tentacle feelers that go out and girls in pageants are like, “My year’s over. Playboy!””2 “My initial reaction to the offer of doing Playboy was absolutely not,” said Peniche. “My mom raised me with honesty and integrity. There was no amount of money that could basically screw over the pageant, or make the pageant look bad…After talking more and more with my agents about it, and my mom, we came to an agreement to do it.” Finnessey: “A lot of people also think that Playboy is this big door that opens up, and provides all these other opportunites…”3 Does the obvious qualifier need to be added? Okay: no, it doesn’t.
Peniche seemed like a soft edged creature, whose soft edges you were never sure were entirely a pose, or whether it was genuine vulnerability occasionally employed for her own ends. “What’s your favorite song?” she was asked on the Sin City Sessions podcast. “I’m like an Air Supply, Kenny Loggins, Carpenters kind of girl. My favorite song, in the whole wide world has to be Kenny Loggins, “Danny’s Song”, because my dad used to sing it, when I was little…and I also love “Let Me be the One” by The Carpenters…I’m such a nerd when it comes to music.”4 Right after “Bush or brazilian?” (“Oh, brazilian,” said with a kind of obviously dismissiveness, from a time before hair made a comeback) on the same podcast, she was asked, “What turns you on?”: “Someone who makes me laugh…you know what turns me on? Someone who does my errands,” and then she gave a charming laugh. “Yeah, that turns me on.” Which was punctuated with another laugh5.
Peniche was one point in the trio, along with Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart, who appeared in the sex tape which Gawker and the current editor of The New Republic, Gabriel Snyder, had published: “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”. “Every young woman I know was violated when the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other successful women were posted on the internet for public consumption against their will,” Reut Amit would write in “That Type of Girl Deserves It”, which was also published on Gawker; the gossip platform Gawker, as well as on Gawker Media’s porn division, Fleshbot, had also published (the following links are all NSFW) “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link), “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), “Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link), “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link), “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link), “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link), “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?” (archive today link), and “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link), all of them hacked celebrity nudes. Amit’s essay bluntly equated viewing such stolen pictures with rape: “We are not concerned with what it means to violate a young woman by viewing her unwilling naked body. We see hacking a computer as a crime but viewing the hacked image as a misdemeanor rather as an act of sexual violence.”
“Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. You bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you,” wrote Roxane Gay in “The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning”, published in The Guardian. A follow-up post to Snyder’s “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker” was “More People Know Kari Ann Peniche’s Boobs Than Her Face” by Brian Moylan, might be an example of what Gay was writing about: you are nothing but your decaying body, you dunce. Peniche, wrote Moylan, “walked right up to Chambers (who plays Dr. Alex Karev) at a party in L.A. Problem is, even after all the kerfuffle, he had no clue who she was. Harsh…Damn, we give it a month before she’s somewhere in Hollywood knocking over tables and screaming, “Don’t you know who I am? I was the other girl in the McSteamy tape!”” Gay writes of these on-lookers and debasers as if they are some crowd distant and faraway from The Guardian; well, at the time that her piece was published, Moylan was one of her colleagues at the paper6. “It’s not merely tawdry that the private sexual conversations of partners are now being disseminated like memes,” wrote Zoe Williams in “If you click on Jennifer Lawrence’s naked pictures, you’re perpetuating her abuse”. “It’s an act of sexual violation, and it deserves the same social and legal punishment as meted out to stalkers and other sexual predators.” Williams’ essay was published in The Guardian; she was a colleague of Moylan as well. That John Manese, the man behind the reddit, “The Fappening”, identified as asexual, did not seem to excuse him of complicity in the matter. Does Moylan being a gay man excuse him of complicity here?
I think you can look at this as a violation, though not equal to sexual assault – and Gawker, which had perpetrated this violation many, many times in the past, had better hope like sweet hell it’s not equivalent to sexual assault – but whatever degree of violation you want to assign it, this was just one more violation in the life of Kari Ann Peniche. This was revealed, not by the enlighteneed, noble souls of Gawker, but by a degenerate with a special place in my heart, Howard Stern. A degenerate, as well as a great interviewer. From his episode with Peniche, recorded after the sex tape went public and she was briefly on a rehab program called Sober House7:
HOWARD STERN [HS]: They sit her down in the first episode. They sit Kari down, in the first episode, and they…right away, you come clean, and you say, hey, I was molested…
KARI ANN PENICHE [KAP]: Mmmhmm.
HS: I mean, no wonder you got sex issues.
ROBIN QUIVERS [RQ]: Well, who, what was happening, how old were we, what was going on?
KAP: My next door neighbour molested me when I was five, six, seven.
HS: How old was he?
KAP: Older. Much older.
HS: Like a teenager?
KAP: No, like fifties.
HS: Like fifty?
KAP: Yeah, but he also had a mental, like, thing.
HS: But how does he get alone with you? Where the fuck are your parents in all of this?
KAP: Um, well, my parents they worked, my mom worked a lot. My dad was working or passed out, one or the other. We had a nanny. And I had two other brothers. So, I would just go to the backyard fence, and…
HS: And he would take advantage of you?
HS: And you didn’t know what was going on, you were a kid.
KAP: No, I looked forward to it. Because he would bring candy…or give me games…
HS: And what was he doing to you at five? I mean, that’s the sickest Goddamn thing ever. Touching your vagina?
HS: No kidding.
KAP: And then he would have me touch his.
HS: Through the fence, no less.
KAP: Mmmhmm. And then, oh my gosh, once he cut his finger, and the nanny had come out right, right when…he had pulled his finger out his finger from the fence, and it was one of those metal fences with wood on the other side. And the nanny went and got him a band-aid, and didn’t realize that my panties were down.
HS: What kind of people were watching you, wolves?
RQ: Blind people.
HS: Nobody cared about you.
RQ: Well, that’s what it would seem, I suppose.
KAP: No, I had great parents. My mom-
HS: No, you didn’t.
KAP: Yeah, I had a good mom.
KAP: She’s amazing.
RQ: You said your dad might have been passed out, what do you mean?
HS: He’s a drunk.
KAP: Yeah, he was like a musician/drug-addict.
RQ: You didn’t have good parents. I’m gonna-
KAP: My mom was great, though.
HS: Still alive? Both parents?
HS: Do you ever see your dad? Or do you have nothing to do with him?
KAP: No, I do. I have a relationship with him as I choose to. I go see him. He’s not a bad person, he just made poor choices.
“How long was that going on?” Stern would ask. “For two or three years,” Peniche would answer. Stern: “Two or three years. And you say you looked forward to it, as a kid, because you got candy.” Peniche: “Isn’t that sick, isn’t that weird? But I didn’t know better.” Stern: “The bad part in this whole story is, nobody ever offered me candy for any kind of sexual thing.”8 They would then move on to a decade later9:
HS: And then, terrible stories as you’re growing up. Rape occurred.
HS: How did this happen to you?
KAP: I was raped when I was fourteen and again when I was seventeen.
HS: How as a fourteen year old? Because you mentioned you were a sexy, hot model, you were going overseas modeling. So, were any parents around, or were you just out of their supervision?
KAP: When I was raped at seventeen it actually happened overseas. And no, there weren’t parents…we would go over…you know, I was the youngest one, like the next youngest girl was nineteen, from Australia. And we would live in a models’ apartment for six to eight weeks.
HS: Right. And what happened when you were fourteen?
KAP: I was raped by college boys. I had snuck out of the house, and…like, I had unscrewed my alarm system, and superglued it together so I could go out the window.
HS: You went to go to a party, have parties with friends? What happens, you go to a party and they all jump on you?
KAP: Nah, I just got drunk. And, you know…put myself in a bad situation, basically.
HS: You were drunk, and they took advantage of you. Wow. How many guys?
KAP: Just one.
HS: Oh, one guy. You never reported him.
KAP: MmmMmm [No].
HS: Why do you think that is? Why not report the fucker?
KAP: Because I think uh…at fourteen I was also getting into trouble. I was getting caught smoking cigarettes, or ditching school, and so, if you try to, you feel if you say something like that time, you’re just coming up with an excuse. Nobody’s going to believe you, you know.
HS: Everybody’s going to think you’re just…
KAP: And then you have to admit that you snuck out.
HS: Right. So did you ever tell anyone, or just kept it to yourself?
KAP: I didn’t tell anybody until I was nineteen.
HS: Did you ever say anything to the guy afterwards, or did you-
KAP: Uh Uh [No].
HS: -you fuck, you raped me.
KAP: MmmMmm [No].
HS: What did you do, you just got up and left?
KAP: I really, I never saw him again. It was a college party I’d gone to.
HS: He passed out after he did it.
KAP: No, he actually dropped me off at my house.
RQ: Wow, that was nice. Nah, I’m only teasing.
HS: Well, it wasn’t all bad, I guess.
HS: Oh my god. Where does he rape you? At the party?
HS: And then says, “Get in the car, I’ll take you home”?
KAP: No, I asked him to take me home.
HS: And isn’t that crazy, that you got into the car with him and it could have happened again?
HS: You weren’t thinking.
KAP: Yeah. I was fourteen and drunk.
HS: Jesus christ. Who knew this was going on when I had you in the tickle chair [a reference to her previous, first appearance on the show, when they had a prop chair which women sat in]?
KAP: But it’s okay. It doesn’t matter, really.
HS: I wouldn’t have tickled you.
KAP: Who cares? It doesn’t matter really.
HS: You keep saying that about the sex. It so matters.
KAP: Well, it doesn’t matter, really. Why would you let some sick fuck, basically, like, affect your future, your forever?
RQ: Don’t you think it has?
KAP: It has, yeah. And that’s what I learned in sex rehab. I used to think, it doesn’t bother me, like, it’s not going to affect me. And actually it did. A lot of ways about my personality, my relationship.
HS: When you were seventeen, and modeling, how does a guy get a hold of you like that? You have no parents around…were you at a modeling session when you were raped?
KAP: No, I was actually in Itaewon [district unit in Yongsan District of Seoul], in Korea. Itaewon is like the American area. It’s like, there’s a lot of military guys. It was by a military guy [a military guy raped me]. And again, I was…I don’t drink at all, anymore, so…
HS: No kidding. Stop.
RQ: It wasn’t good for you.
HS: You were drunk. Where did this guy meet you?
KAP: At one of the bars.
HS: And so he says, “Hey, come back to my place”?
KAP: No, all I remember is…I remember very little of it, in a hotel room. And then not being able to fully wake up…and then I woke up behind a dumpster when the sun was coming up, and I was covered like in shitwater and…
RQ: Do you think this was a roofies situation?
HS: Somebody slipped you something?
HS: You don’t even remember being raped?
KAP: I barely remember any of it.
HS: You’re kindof hazy about it. And then you wake up behind the dumpster?
HS: Wow. Boy, guys are cold.
KAP: But I was a virgin by choice till eighteen (laughs).
HS: That’s the weird thing, right? Yeah. Tough stuff.
Peniche would go on to win Miss Teen Oregon, then Miss United States Teen, then pose for Playboy while Miss United States Teen, after which, “Playboy came along,” Stern summarized, “and you did Playboy, and then you got booted out of being Miss United States Teen.” Stern: “And then things went downhill…did you get addicted to drugs? What was your whole thing?” Peniche: “Sex and drugs.” Stern: “Sex and drugs. What drugs were you doing? Meth?” Peniche: “All of them.” Robin Quivers: “You didn’t have favorites? You just did them all?” Peniche: “No, I had favorites. I went through phases.”10
Another follow-up post to “Dane’s Anatomy”, this one by Foster Kamer, would hint as to how Peniche paid for her habits: “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?” What takes place on the tape is very mundane – the three in various states of undress talk on a bed, and the two women get together in a bath – with only two moments that might concern us here. The first, is right before Peniche gets into the tub with Gayheart, when Dane tells them they’re “two of the fucking hottest girls”, Gayheart then says, “I know, you’re so nice…I was so bummed when you said that, you know…” Peniche: “That what?” Gayheart: “We had to call one of your girls.” Peniche gives her charming laugh. Gayheart: “Remember what I said to you?” Peniche: “Yeah.” Gayheart: “And then you’re like, “We can pay you.”” Peniche: “No.” Gayheart: “I was like, “No, you. You’re normal, you’re funny, you’re smart, you’re nice, you’re fun.” She was like, “No, I don’t do it.”” Gayheart’s line, “We had to call one of your girls,” touched on the point that was the theme of “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has madam past, claim sources”, whose contents were summarized in “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?”, and this was the original essence:
Three on-the-record sources tell us the dethroned Miss United States Teen queen freely admitted to once being in the sex-for-hire business.
Country singer Mindy McCready tells us Peniche revealed that she hooked up guys with hookers when the two ladies were roommates on VH-1’s “Celebrity Rehab” show.
“Did she say she’d been a madam?” says McCready. “She sure did.”
Bodyguard Joey Gonzalez recalls, “Kari Ann wanted to hire me to follow a girl who worked for her – who she said was skimming money and stealing clients. I declined. But she bragged about how her girls could make $15,000 a month. She introduced me to one girl who told me she’d just gotten a boob job Kari Ann had paid for.”
Author Mark Ebner says Peniche told him she used to “subcontract” for big-time madam Michelle (Nici) Braun, who pleaded guilty this year to money laundering and prostitution.
“Kari Ann said that, unlike Nici, she’d only take 40% of what a girl brought in,” recalls Ebner, adding that Peniche admitted having turned tricks herself. (Another source says Peniche once joked, “I’ve gone from labor to management.”)
An obvious question would be how exactly this sex tape had ended up at Gawker. We know of one part of the route: journalist Mark Ebner (who gets a shared by-line with Gabriel Snyder on the original piece featuring the video, “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”) brought the video to Gawker, something openly stated in “Nude video pal”: “Ebner says he was present on July 30 at an L.A. Starbucks when an unnamed informant gave LAPD vice cops the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche tape. “The police said they already had Kari Ann under surveillance,” says Ebner, who admits bestowing the tape on Gawker.com, which first invited us to the frolic.”
Kari Ann Peniche would be allowed to give her most in-depth explanation of how the tape ended up with this unnamed informant on, where else, Howard Stern11. It was an intricate tale that involved Mindy McCready, a country singer who had long term addiction issues and was on Celebrity Rehab alongside Peniche:
HS: I’ll get into the whole night. According to what I’m reading…the claim is, you lived with a girl, she was your roommate for a couple of years. Somebody got into your personal computer-
KAP: Oh, Mindy McCready from Celebrity Rehab?
HS: From Celebrity Rehab?
HS: You lived with Mindy?
KAP: No, I never lived with her. After Celebrity Rehab, she had called me, and said, “I don’t want to be alone in my hotel.” And I said, come on over to my house, like, she’d invite me over to her house. Or her hotel. I was like, “I have six bedroom house. I’ll take you to the airport in two days.” She was supposed to stay for two days, because that’s when her flight was. Well, she ended up staying three weeks. Like, taking over my bedroom…like, I slept in the bunkbeds of my own house. Like, in my guest room. I was like, she’s taking over my room. And at first it was fun, like we cooked, we were going to go to Nashville, be country singers together, and then all of a sudden when I got the offer for Sober House, and she didn’t, she got really, really nasty with me. We were driving home from dinner one night, and she grabbed the steering wheel while I was driving, screaming at me, telling me how my career’s a joke, and Dr. Drew has asked her to help me. And I was like, what are you talking about?
KAP [continued]: And anyhow, when I left for Sober House, I said, “Mindy, when I leave, I need you to leave as well, because I’m having a housesitter here, and I want to blame her if anything happens in the house, you know.” Because I have a dog there, too. And she goes, “I’m not going anywhere.” And so then, I got to set, and asked the other producers and Drew to get her out of the house, and they were like, “Just call the cops.” So, I called the cops, but then when the cops were calling me, I’m at Sober House, I’m not even at my house, and Dr. Drew wouldn’t let me answer my phone. And I’m like, “It’s them.” And they’re like, “We’re filming right now.” So, anyhow, Mindy had told the police that, I guess, she was on the lease. So, they left. And, you know.
HS: Couldn’t get her out of your house. Now, you blame her, for taking out of your computer, the video…
KAP: She stole my external hard drives.
HS: Alright. So, in other words, this video, which I want to ask you about…with you, Rebecca Gayheart, and the other one…
RQ: Eric Dane.
HS: Eric Dane. That video was living in your computer. You think she took it out of there, released it on the internet…
KAP: Oh, I already know. I have the text messages from her, and everything. She was extorting me, basically. She wanted a certain amount of money from me, if I wanted my hard drives back.
HS: Now, everybody in the video thought you were a prostitute, working for Rebecca and Eric, right?
HS: Because at one point, they see him on the phone with his credit card?
KAP: No, that was me on the phone with my credit card.
HS: Right. And checking his credit card.
KAP: No, (laughs) if you actually watch the video – I’ve only watched it twice – but, you know, I had an assistant who used to videotape me doing everything, and I was actually buying a plane ticket to go to Hawaii. You see the suitcases on the edge of my bed too. And it was a completely different day, you could totally see it. And I was reading it to the airline people.
RQ: So they matched up those two pieces of video?
HS: So, in other words, you’re saying, you’re not a prostitute…
KAP: No (laughs).
HS: …you’ve never been a prostitute…
HS: You weren’t charging people for sex?
HS: And so, when you were with Eric and Rebecca, it was a friendly thing.
KAP: Yeah. We were at a party, and, like, we just wanted to continue the party. And then we came back to my condo.
HS: You’ve only watched it two times?
HS: I’ve watched it four thousand times.
The relevant details of Peniche’s version are that McCready had gotten the sex tape when she’d stolen Peniche’s hard drives, she had never charged anyone for sex, and she hadn’t charged anyone that night. There is one point she makes here, that is not under dispute, and it’s the second point of interest of this sex tape: the video consists entirely of footage with Peniche, Dane, and Gayheart, when abruptly we shift to an entirely different moment. Where the footage with Dane and Gayheart in the bed has candles lit on a side table, this brief scene features no candles or inside lights on, which suggests it’s taking place during the day. Peniche is lying on the bed, topless, reading someone’s credit card numbers into the phone while somone films her, and an open suitcase is on the bed. Dane and Gayheart are neither seen nor heard here, again suggesting that this is shot at an entirely different time. The footage seems to serve no purpose at all – Peniche is topless in the other parts of the video as well – except to serve as possible proof that Peniche is paid for her services.
A split screen of the isolated fragments with the bedside table, one section showing a lit candle during the night when Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart were there, and another without light from the table, during the day when Kara Ann Peniche was reading someone’s credit card information over the phone.
Later in the Stern interview, McCready’s version of events would be brought up12:
HS: Now, the girl who…Mindy McCready…the one who you feel went in and got your hard drive. And released it, so you’re accusing her of that. She says about you, listen to this, this is what she says about you. “Kari Ann is the one that stole my hard drive, and copied it to two mini drives. She also stole money from me. I think she probably wanted to sell my music. I was the one trying to keep Kari Ann out of trouble, steering her away from drugs during the taping of the show.”
HS: But you’re saying, she was the-
KAP: We came home and did drugs the second we walked in the door, from her hotel. She was like, “I have to lose this weight. Give me those drugs that we were on celebrity rehab for.” I relapsed with, because of her. Not because of her, but she definitely influenced me, and, from after rehab…and then, um…why would I…she was in my house! How would I steal money from her? She’s a guest in my home.
RQ: How does anybody know how to get these download to mini drives…
KAP: No, they were just external hard drives sitting on my desk. You know, when I left for Sober House, I didn’t think someone was going to steal them off my desk, you know, in my house.
McCready and Peniche goofing around in happier times; image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 2: ‘I Know’ Mindy Released The McSteamy Nude Tape”.
Lee Ann Peniche, Kari’s mother, would back the version of events where McCready was staying at Peniche’s house and had to be forced out, in “EXCLUSIVE: Mindy McCready Wouldn’t Leave My Daughter’s House Says Kari Ann’s Mom”:
“Kari opened up doors and welcomed her when she had no place to stay and that’s a typical Kari Ann,” Lee Ann said. “The only thing I knew about Mindy McCready was that there was a problem and that she’s had to have her removed from her house.”
Lee Ann also revealed that McCready did not pay rent and “was only supposed to stay a few days but weeks went by and [Kari Ann] couldn’t get [McCready] out of her house.” Visiting her daughter last week, Lee Ann was already well aware of some tension: “I knew something was up when I was down there. As much as I knew she had some problems, not this, but problems with Mindy McCready, getting her out of her house.”
Over the course of two Access Hollywood segments, Mindy McCready would give her own perspective of what took place, one crosscut with a Kari Ann Peniche interview that provided her narrative. The first segment, “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”:
SHAUN ROBINSON, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD HOST[SR]: Did she tell you that she was a madam?
MINDY MCCREADY [MM]: Yes.
SR: She did?
SR: Did she tell you that she was a prostitute?
MM: Yes she did.
SR: Did she tell you that there were celebrities that she employed to work for her?
MM: Yes she did.
SR: Are you now, or have you ever been, a madam?
KARI ANN PENICHE [KAP]: I’ve never been a madam. I’ve never been a prostitute. Mindy is the craziest person I’ve ever met in my life, like, she’s insane.
SR (Voiceover): From the mouth of Kari Ann herself, the twenty five year old made infamous after appearing as a third player in the naked Rebecca Gayheart-Eric Dane video, maintains that the married couple were not her clients in a prostitution ring, as Mindy McCready alleged to me.
SR: Who did she say were her celebrity clients?
MM: She talked about Eric Dane. And his wife Rebecca. So um-
SR: She said both Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart were clients of hers?
KAP: It’s almost funny…I don’t know where she gets this shit.
SR: So, she, Mindy McCready is lying?
KAP: Flat out lying. Okay, flat out lying. She stole my hard drive.
SR: You think Mindy actually put it on the internet?
This hanging question would receive an answer in the second segment, “Kari Ann Peniche Part 2: ‘I Know’ Mindy Released The McSteamy Nude Tape”:
KAP: I know Mindy, for a fact, is the reason that’s out on the internet.
SR (Voiceover): Keri Ann alleges Mindy McCready stole the video from her computer and brokered a deal for it to be released. According to Keri Ann, the theft occurred inside her home, where Mindy was a guest after VH-1’s Celebrity Rehab, Mindy denies the allegations but still claims that Keri Ann told her she was a prostitute.
SR: To say somebody a prostitute is libelous.
SR: If you say that about somebody, you’re in jeopardy of being sued.
SR: But nobody’s suing Mindy for saying these things, these libelous, horrible things. Why? Why is that not happening?
KAP: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know.
SR: But that’s one way to shut her up.
KAP: I might look into that. I’m just, uh, not really into that. What am I going to save?
SR: Your reputation?
KAP: Yeah okay, how does that fix my reputation?
SR: Because if she’s proven to be a liar, doesn’t that vindicate you?
KAP: Yeah, I guess…I just think the truth is the truth, karma is good enough. You know, if it continues, maybe I’ll have to do something about that.
In a third Access Hollywood segment, “Did Mindy McCready Poison Kari Ann Peniche’s Puppy With Crystal Meth?”, Peniche would accuse McCready of poisoning her dog with crystal meth, allegations which McCready would deny: “That’s insanity. That could not be further from the truth. I’ve never used crystal meth in my life. This is just another out and out lie.”13 McCready would in turn allege that Peniche had poisoned her dog herself in order to gain sympathy from the producers of Celebrity Rehab, a program from which she would eventually be kicked off due to misbehavior. Stacy Kaiser, a body language expert amd author of How to be a Grown-Up: Ten Secret Skills Everyone Should Know, would be brought in at the end of the third segment to analyze the two women:
What I’m seeing over and over in this interview [Kari Ann’s] is that this is a person who is protecting herself. Her body language is tight, her shoulders are slightly raised, she’s nervous, she’s licking her lips. This is someone who’s uncomfortable with the conversation, and could be avoiding the truth. One of the things I notice when Mindy speaks, in contrast to Keri Ann, is that Mindy is calm and cool and relaxed. And that is very common in a person who is relaxed. You don’t have anything to be nervous about. In addition, I’ve noticed, under some of the more uncomfortable questioning, Mindy is getting reserved, as if she is uncomfortable to share that information, as if she’s revealing too much about someone.
In an interview conducted by Gayle Thompson a year after these tumultuous events, “Mindy McCready ‘Still Here’ After Weathering Scandalous Storms”, McCready would reiterate her version of events:
Your ‘Celebrity Rehab’ roommate, Kari Ann Peniche, blamed you for leaking her provocative homemade video with Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart. What’s your response to that accusation?
She is an extremely disturbed and very sick individual. The thing that she craves the most — to be famous, is also the worst thing for her, because she is such a sick person. I do want people to understand what happened in that situation is not at all the story that she’s told, and everything that comes out of her mouth is complete and utter bull. I did nothing to her but try to help her, and all she did was steal from me and lie and try to use every situation she possibly could to be more famous and get more attention … I hope that she does get help, and I hope that she does get better.
Do you want to tell us your side of the story?
Kari Ann had copied my computer on her hard drive. She stole all my information. Not only did she steal every bit of my new record coming out, my phone, my bank account information … she also stole thousands of dollars from me. When I took those hard drives, I took them because my stuff was all over them. Never in a million years was I going to leave my entire life from my computer and everything personal to me at her house on those hard drives. I didn’t even know what else was on there.
I went back to Florida and got a phone call a few days later from Eric Dane saying, “I understand you have a video that belongs to me,” and I said, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” I didn’t know it was on there. He said, “How can we work this situation out?” I said, “I have no problem giving you whatever you want. You can have the hard drives back. I just want to get my information erased off of them.”
Of course, you can never really erase anything. So I sent my computer person the hard drive and went to Eric Dane’s lawyer’s office. What they did was take the information that belonged to Eric and put it on his hard drive. They took Kari Ann’s information on a separate hard drive. Those two hard drives that had information of mine were destroyed. We all signed the confidentiality agreement that said none of us would talk about what was on there, none of us had any other copies of it. Except, the day that Kari Ann was supposed to sign the agreement, she didn’t show up. And the next day the video was on Gawker.com. And to this day, she still has not signed the confidentiality agreement. Eric Dane and I both know very much beyond any shadow of a doubt that I didn’t have anything to do with that.
If I were to try to dissect the truth of both narratives, my opinion would be that both women were lying, but about different things. Whether or not Kari Ann Peniche was working the night recorded in the tape with Dane and Gayheart, she had worked as an escort and she did work as a madam, and this forms what is the most fascinating part of the story. For proof that Peniche worked as an escort and madam, we have the various confirming statements in the Rush & Malloy piece, as well as Gayheart’s quotes on the tape. But it was McCready who took the drive with the tape on it, and she was instrumental in getting it to the police. McCready’s account in the Thompson interview makes no sense to me: she apparently was at Peniche’s house, had access to drives on which Peniche had copied her personal information, and her course of action was to take these drives out of the house. She did not call a technical person to the house to erase the drives there, nor did she check Peniche’s own laptop or take that – even though copies of the same personal information might have been stored there as well.
The statement quoted by Howard Stern offers a further entanglement: “Kari Ann is the one that stole my hard drive, and copied it to two mini drives.” Peniche stole McCready’s hard drive, presumably while she was staying at Peniche’s house, copied the valuable material to two mini drives while Peniche was still staying at her house, after which Peniche left for Sober House, and while alone in the house, McCready discoverd the data theft, after whcih she left the house and took the mini drives with her. I go with what seems like a far simpler explanation than this, that McCready was kicked out of Peniche’s house, McCready took Peniche’s mini-drives with the sex tape, and made sure they got passed to law enforcement. Everything that Peniche says about her friendship with McCready in the Howard Stern interview rings true for me; I do not doubt that they became quite close and Peniche told McCready about her secret life, about working as an escort. McCready leaked the sex tape not just to humiliate Peniche with footage of her naked, but over the secret that she was a prostitute. This is why you have the abrupt scene of Peniche topless on her bed reading someone’s credit card numbers into the phone, to establish clearly to the outside world what Peniche’s line of work is. Peniche’s explanation for this moment on the Stern show, “I had an assistant who used to videotape me doing everything, and I was actually buying a plane ticket to go to Hawaii. You see the suitcases on the edge of my bed too. And it was a completely different day, you could totally see it,” rings slightly false to me. You see the suitcases, yes, and yes, it looks like a completely different day, but it doesn’t feel like the camera holder is a personal assistant, but a man she is comfortable and physically intimate with, someone who she has no problem filming her topless on her bed.
McCready would begin her career with an extraordinary burst of success, her debut album Ten Thousand Angels selling two million copies, and “Guys Do It All the Time” a #1 Country single. This first album was the peak of her career, with her second record selling half as much, and her third a commercial failure. In 2005, her ex-boyfriend, another country singer, would be charged with trying to choke her to death. “With her eyes still showing injury, McCready testified in horrifying detail the beatings she says she received Sunday morning at the hands of this man, 38-year-old William Patrick McKnight,” was the clip that played on her interview with Larry King (“Interview With Mindy McCready”). “So you tried to commit suicide by doing what?” was one question (anwer: “I took a bunch of pills and drank a bottle of wine and went to sleep.”) Other questions: “And when did you attempt the second suicide?” and “You were how long pregnant then?” (answer #1: beginning of September, answer #2: a month and a half). Larry King: “Do you ever look in the mirror and say “I’m a train wreck”?” Mindy McCready: “Yes, yes I do, yes, all the time. I have got to be more careful about everything I do.” McCready would get arrested for an illegal OxyContin prescription in 2004, a DUI in 2005, and by 2007, the headline was “Mindy Mccready arrested again”: “She was arrested last week in Fort Myers when she scratched up her mom’s face and then resisted [arrest], leading to three violations: being charged with a new offense, not reporting those charges to her officer and assaulting someone.” She would admit to an affair with baseball player Roger Clemens that started when she was fifteen14, and it was after all this that she met Kari Ann Peniche and they were on Celebrity Rehab together. She would go on to overdose again in 2010, the same year in which her own sex tape, one called Baseball Mistress which capitalized on her affair with Clemens, would be released by Vivid Entertainment. The next year she would abduct her son with Billy McKnight, after which both McCready and her child were declared missing persons and a nationwide search was launched, the two eventually found hiding in a closet. Two years later, her record producer boyfriend, David Wilson, would kill himself with a gunshot to the head. A month later, February 17, McCready killed herself with a gunshot to the head as well15.
Those who believe that this post considers Kari Ann Peniche more truthful than Mindy McCready on some details out of arbitrary bias should consider some of McCready’s accounts of well-publicized incidents which appear to be very much at variance with actual established facts. There is, for instance, her charge of prescription drug fraud, for which she pleaded guilty16, and which she explained on Larry King Live this way:
KING: So you were addicted to prescription drugs?
MCCREADY: No, I was not buying that medication for myself. That’s why it’s prescription fraud. I was buying it for my doctor.
KING: Explain that.
MCCREADY: The doctor that wrote me the prescription I was buying the medication for my doctor and had been for several years. I mean I didn’t always buy him a pain…
KING: This was the doctor who gave various patients prescriptions for them so that he…
MCCREADY: Yes, he saw my band. He saw my parents. He saw my family, you know, Josh and T.J. my brothers on a regular basis and he would call me and say, you know, “Can you get me some cough medicine? Can I write you the prescription and you go get it for me” and I would.
KING: What happened to him?
MCCREADY: I don’t know. I don’t think anything. I think he lost his…
KING: He’s never been charged?
MCCREADY: No, I think he lost his license.
KING: When you were arrested did you tell them that you were filing this for a doctor?
MCCREADY: Absolutely, yes. I told them the whole thing. It never came out[,] unfortunately for me.
In 2005, McCready would be charged with identity theft and hindering prosecution because of her involvement with a con artist named Jonathan Roda. Supposedly, Roda would openly brag about his con schemes to McCready. Shortly after these charges, McCready would make one of her suicide attempts17. She would give this version of events on Larry King Live:
KING: And you were also this year charged in Arizona with identity theft, unlawful use of transportation and hindering prosecution, what was that?
MCCREADY: Those were all false charges. I never did any of that. I was never involved in any of that. I met a con artist earlier this year and this con artist was gallivanting all around the country pretending to be someone else and I met up with him and traveled with him for over a week.
I was going to Los Angeles and he was — he had a tour bus. He misrepresented himself that he was a record label owner and just unbelievable con artist. The guy spoke five languages. He was amazing.
KING: Where is he now?
MCCREADY: I hope in jail.
After McCready kidnapped her son and both went missing for two days, authorities would report to the press that they found both hiding in a closet at home she shared with her then boyfriend, David Wilson. From “Mindy McCready’s son found in Arkansas”:
Country music singer Mindy McCready was hiding in the closet with her son when authorities took the 5-year-old boy into custody in Arkansas, officials said early Saturday.
Authorities found Zander McCready and his mother in a home in Heber Springs, Arkansas, according to David Rahbany, the chief deputy U.S. Marshal in eastern Arkansas.
“The child appeared to be in good condition when we found him … he was in the closet with his mother,” Rahbany said.
Local sheriffs and marshals had placed the home — believed to belong to the singer’s boyfriend — under surveillance for hours before they found the boy late Friday, he said.
ANDREA CANNING (V.O.): The U.S. marshals tell 20/20 McCready was hiding in a closet with Zander [her son] in a neighboring house. McCready tells a different story.
CANNING: Were you hiding out in a closet, like everyone has said?
CANNING: Where were you?
MCCREADY: We were sitting on a couch.
CANNING: Where did this come from that you were hiding in the closet?
MCCREADY: I think that…it just makes a better story.
In the days before her last suicide attempt, McCready would tell a close friend, “[The] point of me living is waiting to die so I can be with him,” a reference to David Wilson, the boyfriend who killed himself just two months earlier. A part of this audio of a phone call to a close friend was handed over by this close friend to Radar Online. This friend was Danno Hanks18, and Danno Hanks was a private detective. Hanks, along with his late partner Fred “Mad Dog” Valis, were two fascinating characters who somehow remained on the fringes of the press, while far more banal types took up space. They had worked decades doing paid undercover and surveillance work, for mundane workers compensation cases where they’d check in to see if an employee was actually sick or injured, as well as paid work for the DEA and tabloids. Their long career was written up in “Watching the Detectives” by Paul Cullum [archive link: https://web.archive.org/web/20180202142138/http://www.laweekly.com/news/watching-the-detectives-2134636 ], and their involvement in the bust of Ron Sacco, who ran a billion dollar a year off-shore gambling operation, got them a prominent appearance on 60 Minutes, which can be found on Youtube under “Fred Valis & Danno Hanks On 60 Minutes”. Hanks had also been involved with the federal investigation of another prostitution ring, that of bygone Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. Hanks had been paid by Fleiss’s competition, pimp Ivan Nagy, to tape her phone calls in order to acquire her client list. Hanks would play the tapes for the producer of Hard Copy who had him on retainer, as well as Shawn Hubler, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times; the phone calls were especially noteworthy for the top name Hollywood people among the clients. “That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering,” said Hubler. “This league of rogues They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area.” Hanks would end up selling the tapes to Fleiss, and after her bodyguard threatened him, he would hand them over to the FBI as well19.
There was another profile of Hanks and Valis, also headlined “Watching the Detectives”, and this one was by Mark Ebner, an excellent old school shoe leather reporter, and the man who provided the Rebecca Gayheart sex tape to Gawker. The piece would discuss how the detectives helped Ebner out in dealing with a stalker. It would also go into deeper, grittier detail than Callum’s “Detectives” when exploring the careers of Hanks and Valis; how Hanks scaled a telephone poll to install the recorder that would tape Fleiss’s phone calls and how they got booked to record a sex tape with O.J. Simpson. In the account given here of the Fleiss tapes, however, they never hand them over to the FBI, only to Ebner and his then writing partner, Andrew Breitbart:
When the Feds turned Hanks’ apartment upside down on a mistaken identity drug-search, comically, they missed the Heidi tapes. They were sitting in full view on his bookshelf the whole time – secreted in the video box from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi. And, in August 2003 – right when the statute of limitations had expired on his wiretap crime – Danno turned the tapes and transcripts over to me and my partner Andrew Breitbart, for inclusion in our tell-all best-seller, Hollywood, Interrupted. Verbatim, we published a sampling of septuagenarian sybarite Evans [producer and former Paramount head Robert Evans] arranging liaisons with an underage girl he affectionately called “the little one.” Heidi was not happy.
The book by Breitbart and Ebner which dealt with Heidi Fleiss, alongside many other episodes of Hollywood tawdriness, was Hollywood Interrupted. This blog had previously written on this book in a profile of its co-author, Andrew Breitbart, and it had many nasty things to say about the book, Breitbart, and maybe Ebner as well20. A few relevant excerpts from Interrupted featuring Fleiss’s recordings, of Fleiss and mogul Robert Evans:
In August 2003, private eye Dan Hanks of Backstreet Detectives [the detective agency of Hanks and Valis] gave us the transcripts and tapes. And he did it for free. Though burglars and police turned Hanks’ home upside down in their futile attempts to find the tapes, Hollywood, Interrupted got hold of them the old-fashioned way. We asked for them. The tapes, recorded over the soundtrack portion of two videotapes, had been sitting on Hanks’ living room bookshelf with his movie collection all along. In full view, the video box containing the tapes was from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi…
Evans: “What did that little girl think of me? Did she like me?”
Heidi: “How could she not like you?”
Evans: “No, no. I’m curious.”
Heidi: “The first thousand dollars she made I think is the first thousand dollars she’s ever seen in her life.”
Evans: “I knew it. And she’s a good girl basically. I don’t think she could—I can be so wrong and naive, but I don’t [think] she wants to be a full-time hooker.”
Evans: “Here’s a 17-year-old vagrant who’s a fairly attractive girl, who could be very attractive . . . because she has presence and she’s not afraid. And she’s attractive in an interesting way, and she’s sort of sensual too, by the way. That’s a good combination. But she has to be able to open her mouth.”
On an episode of Crime Time, hosted by another solid journalist, Allison Hope Weiner, Ebner would bring up the fact that he worked as a private investigator under another detective’s license (presumably that of Hanks), that he sometimes worked for the Backstreet Investigations agency in collaboration with Hanks, and the modus operandi of detectives – all part of a discussion of another fascinating case, that of the shooting of Kameron Segal (which would be talked about more fully in another episode of Crime Time, “Ponzi Scheme Ensnared Hollywood Shooting Victim Kameron Segal”). From the Crime Time episode “Scientology Secrets, Bill Cosby Rape Conspiracy + Hollywood Murder” 21:
As you may or may not know, during my downtime, as a result of writing crime stories, I got myself godfathered into private investigative work. And I work under a guy’s license, Backstreet Investigations, my buddy Danno Hanks, and I found a little side industry to do during my downtime in-between writing projects. Well. I was introduced to Kameron Segal about two years ago. And I became his in-house P.I.
Two days later, I was sitting with my wife having dinner, I get a call from Danno. “Hey,” [Danno says] “weren’t we at this office, about two days ago, collecting money?” I was like, “What office?” And he said, “Sunset and Gardner. The guy in the rolls royce. Helicopters.” I said, “Danno, come pick me up.” He came, picked me up, we went to the crime scene. Now, in respect to Danno’s P.I. license, anytime we’re aware of a crime, it’s like being a journalist. It’s a license to be a rat. In other words, we took our files, on the guys that owed him money, gave them right to the cops. Said, detectives: this is where this is coming from.
One might focus first on what Ebner says here: “Now, in respect to Danno’s P.I. license,” Mark Ebner says in reference to the separate case of Kameron Segal, “anytime we’re aware of a crime, it’s like being a journalist. It’s a license to be a rat.” After which, Ebner and Hanks then gathered the documents they had, and handed them over to the police. Now I return again to “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has alleged madam past”, and this sentence with my bolds: “Ebner says he was present on July 30 at an L.A. Starbucks when an unnamed informant gave LAPD vice cops the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche tape.” Fred Valis, as Ebner’s “Watching the Detectives” tells us, died in 2005. Who could this unnamed informant be? Someone who perhaps knew both Mindy McCready and Mark Ebner, who had done past work in breaking a prostitution ring, who worked several sides at once, and had in the past leaked taped evidence to tabloids? My guess, plausible, I think, given all that has just been shared with you, is: Danno Hanks.
All this, however, was far less interesting than what Kari Ann Peniche may have been part of. “Author Mark Ebner says Peniche told him she used to “subcontract” for big-time madam Michelle (Nici) Braun,” wrote Rush & Malloy in “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has madam past, claim sources”, “who pleaded guilty this year to money laundering and prostitution.” A post made after #TheFappening by a Gawker commenter aliased “Magister”, “Recapping McSteamy v. Gawker from 2009”, was Gawker Media’s sole look back on the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche sex tape episode, one which would give none of Peniche’s perspective and only McCready’s voice, with the overriding implication that Peniche leaked the tape for publicity. Mark Ebner would comment there: “[B]elieve me, that video would never have been proffered to Gawker without me being sure that it had been bagged and tagged as evidence in an investigation by the LAPD vice squad.”22 This investigation, no doubt, was not just one looking into Peniche’s sex work activities, but that of the woman she used to work for, Michelle Braun. Who was Braun? Well, in “Charlie Sheen’s War” by Mark Seal, about the actor and well-known client of Heidi Fleiss’s services, this is her introduction: “I called Michelle Braun, the former Hollywood madam who became Fleiss’s chief successor on the strength of landing Sheen as her first client. She said Sheen had contacted her three months after Fleiss’s sentencing, in 1997.” “I show up with three girls,” is Braun’s opening line, “and he’s in this amazing condo…laid out on the floor in silk pajamas embroidered C. MA SHEEN on the pocket with some girl sitting on his face.” For a solid decade after, Braun ran a legendary escort service, before it was finally taken down by the FBI in 2007. Rush & Malloy’s “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies up to federal agents” would tell their readers about one person who’d been very helpful to the Bureau in their investigation of Braun’s escort ring, a name unsurprising to anyone who’s read this post so far: “Investigators obtained evidence from private investigator Dan Hanks, who got to know Braun while working for “Fox Undercover.” “Michelle would ask me to do background checks on potential clients and girls, which I did in order to find out more about her,” Hanks tells us.”
Braun’s escort ring was, as said, legendary, eclipsing that of her infamous predecessor. Mark Ebner, in “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies”, would say, “The things she knows make Heidi Fleiss look like Mary Poppins.” Braun was “planning to write a tell-all about her 11-year career hooking up centerfolds and porn stars with the men who could afford the $10,000 minimum for a date,” threatened Page Six23, but that book was never published, if it was even ever written. Whatever secrets Braun held appeared to be radioactive; no one touched the story of Michelle Braun. Even TMZ, the famously sleazy and well conntected gossip site which had the financial backing of colossus Time Warner24, only ponied up one Michelle Braun related story, “Madam: Two Alleged Tiger Mistresses Are Escorts”. “According to multiple sources, the only coverage TMZ steered clear of was anyone, like Ellen DeGeneres, involved in Telepictures productions,” reported the definitive history of the site, Anne Helen Petersen’s “The Down And Dirty History Of TMZ”, “other Time Warner properties were, however, fair game.” Whether the executives and properties of Time Warner fell within or without the bounds of fair game territory is an unanswered question, and along with all other questions related to Braun, one which the Hollywood and entertainment press had no interest in.
In the series “E! Hollywood Secret Societies”, focusing on the hidden prvileged worlds of the holy niche of Tinseltown famous, one episode was devoted to the subject of secret clubs accessible only to the elect, detailed with a few choice memorable and picturesque images, which conveyed well the idea of a hidden decadent world just out of plain sight25:
The Sayers Club, you actually go through a, what used to be a hot dog stand, it’s an indiscriminate front entrance, no signs, and you’re either in, or you’re out. There’s no line. There is a club in Hollywood Boulevard, where they open three different doors, and only one door actually opens, once you get inside, the girl on the bed asks you a question, and if you answer it right, a hydraulic system pulls pulls the bed away, with the girl on it, and it reveals a stairs that takes you down into the bar. So elitist, you don’t even do a red rope. You don’t even know where it is.
Michelle Braun and her ring, for a few years, were very much part of that hidden decadent world. One of the few to pierce its veil was the very good reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, who profiled Braun in “The Sex Queen of L.A.”, which revealed why Braun’s prostitute ring was such an astonishing thing. Her stable of girls didn’t resemble, or were carved into resembling, fashion models, Playboy cover girls, actresses, and other coveted women – they were top models, centerfolds, actresses…the coveted women themselves. Playboy had its tentacles in beauty pageants throughout the country, according to Miss USA 2004, Shandi Finnessey, and Michelle Braun had her tentacles in Playboy, according to Braun. “I only worked with famous girls, mostly Playmates,” said the former madam. “At one time, seven of the eight girls living in the Mansion were working for me. I had one of [Hugh Hefner’s] girlfriends in the Mansion just to recruit for me.”26
Michelle “Nici” Braun grew up middle class in Bakersfield, California, the daughter of parents who owned a Baskin-Robbins franchise, but Braun had no plans to hang out in her small town for long. “I wasn’t going to stay in Bakersfield,” she made clear. “No way.” She was a popular, confident girl who knew how to build a computer on her own but also won hundreds of dollars in a wet t-shirt contest. Her way out of Bakersfield didn’t come through San Diego State University, where she dropped out, but through her work at the Century Club, where she’d pick out the pretty girls at the velvet rope, and seat them with the big spenders inside. “We’re really busy tonight,” she’d tell the couples trying to make it inside, “I don’t know if we have room for all of you, but the girls can come in.” After one man inside tipped her over eight thousand dollars to be set up with one of Braun’s girlfriends, she figured out quickly how you could make a lot of money quickly in Los Angeles27.
Her ring would end up consisting of over seventy girls, including at various times, 1999 Playboy Playmate Tishara Cousino, WWE wrestler Ashley Massaro, 2002 Playmate Tina Jordan, porn star Krystal Steal, 2003 Penthouse Pet Lanny Barby, porn star McKenzie Lee, Playboy model Patricia Ford, Maxim model Jody Palmer, porn star Angelique, porn star Taryn Thomas, porn star Victoria Paris, porn star Naomi, and Playmates Christi Shake, Alexandra Karlsen, and Victoria Silverstedt28. Anna David, another solid journalist, and the only one along with Mark Ebner and Vanessa Grigoriadis to really investigate this milieu, would provide the following revelation of another of Braun’s escorts in “My Time With Less-Than-Hip Hookers”, where she discusses the laptop contents of an unnamed associate (though those with some familiarity with the surrounding characters will figure it out easily) of a “well-established madam who’s since been busted” AKA Braun, I bold the relevant part:
Another bit of data that sent me reeling came about because I ended up getting a hold of a disc that contained the contents of a laptop which belonged to a pimp who’s now serving time in a Cuban jail. This disc contained many juicy elements, including IM conversations between the incarcerated guy and a well-established madam who’s since been busted and lists of clients and girl. While I expected to see Charlie Sheen and his ilk on there, instead I was privy to names I was unfamiliar with but which were all highly Google-able: the biggest car dealer in a Midwestern city, for example, and successful attorneys and bankers from across the country. Still, the most interesting piece of information was a list of his girls — for smack in the middle of the porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playmates was the name of an actress who still works regularly and whose romantic travails are considered relevant enough to be covered in the tabloids. [for context, this piece was published in 2010] If she was willing to delve into such side work, I could only imagine how much the Cuban jail dwelling guy had been able to get [for] her.
That this was a world without clean borders, that it was not the muck in the pool of a shabby hotel, but flowed in the currents of the tippity top of the wealthy and famous is there in another anecdote from David’s “Less-Than-Hip Hookers”:
A guy who called himself a photographer but had served time for pandering (and was well-known in the community for supplying Hollywood’s highest rollers with women) [again, for context, this piece was published in 2010] invited me over to see the many portraits he had taken of one of the world’s most beautiful women, a multi-Academy Award nominated actress, when she was just starting out.
“Okay,” I said. “But what does this prove? And how do I even know you took them?”
He shrugged. Then I noticed, among his photos, an old issue of a now-defunct women’s magazine, this beauty on its cover. I turned the page and saw that he had the photo credit.
“How did this come about?” I asked, knowing that I knew there was no way he’d ever been established enough to have been handed such a high-profile assignment. “Did she request you for the shoot in exchange for you keeping quiet about her previous career? Was it a pre-condition for her appearing in the magazine?” He only shrugged again and I finally understood that the shrug wasn’t a proclamation that he was telling the truth but an indication that he would let the photos do the talking.
“Sex Queen” would make the allegation that “Nici even claims she once spoke with a teenage Paris Hilton, who offered to meet any client who paid $10,000 a night.” Hilton would call this charge “completely false and totally absurd.” An enforcer who collected debts for various madams would describe the essence of what was sought after in Anna David’s “The State Of Hookers in Hollywood”: the escorts are “right out of high school, with plastic surgery on whatever body parts aren’t already perfect.” How many famous women were part of this industry, and whether Hilton was one of them was an open mystery, but it was without question that this was a playground in which many of the topmost sheiks of the industry played. “State Of Hookers” mentioned a roving “strip club and brothel that requires a constantly changing password for entry and is attended by big players such as a top action-movie director and his producer.” Sometimes it was at someone’s house in the Hollywood Hills, sometimes it was in a Valley restaurant closed for the night, but it always featured women who could be paid to play. “You can get lap dances, blow jobs, or whatever,” said one participant. “It’s an unspoken law-no one will say anything about what goes on there.” And the escorts would be open to things to which a regular, open-minded girlfriend might not. “These girls will get with each other, stuff things up their asses, or put a dog collar on the guy and drag him around his house,” said one pimp. One player invited a group of men over to a party, then went missing for hours. “Finally we found him in the corner of his front yard, naked, on all fours, with a collar around his neck and a hooker standing over him, lifting her leg and peeing on him,” said one guest.
It was a not-so-secret business that overlapped with that other not-so-secret business, the porno world of San Fernando Valley. From an interview with Anna David on “Red Eye”, hosted by Greg Gutfeld (“Anna David Bought Interview on Red Eye”, this segment runs from 1:50 to 2:19):
Don’t all porn stars do this? They always say it’s an overlap between these call girls and porn stars, but the fact is, once you’re being paid for sex on camera, this is no different?
I mean, they call it side work in the industry, you know, and it is, I mean, we can’t say a 100%, every single porn star is doing it, but I think we can say 99.999 are doing it.
There can’t be any difference between…the only difference is, there’s no camera there. And they’re probably getting paid more.
A lot more.
“Many companies in the adult-entertainment industry, estimated at $13 billion annually, have seen their fortunes plummet by a third,” Grigoriadis would write in “Sex Queen”, “with video rentals and sales down nearly 50 percent over the past decade.” The decline in the industry would force more adult performers into escort work, which in turn made porno work riskier. Despite the image, women in the adult industry work with a relatively small circle of men, having sex with the same partners over and over, with everyone tested for STDs before their scenes. “It used to be that [performers] who escorted, if that was known, weren’t hired, because they were considered a higher risk factor w/ STDs,” Kayden Kross said in E.J. Dickson’s “When porn stars become escorts: Lucrative new trend could also be risky”, about the intersection of the two industries. That, however, was before the porno business completely fell apart, with piracy and tubing. “When the bottom started falling out of the porn industry, work started drying up, and you had an oversaturation of girls who wanted work,” says Mike South, a former producer and reporter of the scene. “You had people who were shooting 25 percent of what they were the previous year, so what you had was a lot of hungry girls who needed to pay the rent.” When you did escort work, you were now having sex with a larger circle of men, with some escorts offering the comdomless bareback full service (BBFS). This would lead to the greater possibility of an infection being brought into the closed porno industry. “What Porn Stars Do When The Porn Industry Shuts Down” by Susannah Brelin would report on what took place when the industry went on hiatus over an STD scare in December 2013, the third time that year. “Despite the amount of money that performers make, most still live paycheck-to-paycheck, so having your income cut off for a few weeks is a huge damper financially,” said one adult perfomrer, Chanel Preston. “Most successful adult film stars understand that financial success is a result of cultivating multiple revenue streams,” said Donia Love, head of Slixa, an on-line escort site which included adult performers in its stable. You had to escort in order to supplement the smaller paycheques of the porn industry, but that meant the possibility of more STDs, which shut down the industry, which meant you had to spend more time escorting, which meant increased risk in your porn scenes, and a greater likelihood that things would shut down again, and it was an obvious vicious circle.
Retired porn star Mariah Milano would write the following editorial, “Mariah Milano on Porn Stars Escorting, A Double Standard” (linked page features very NSFW ads) at porn blog Luke is Back, on September 4, 2011:
With the recent HIV scares and the big controversy over cross over talent there is one subject that seems to be constantly ignored that is a very serious double standard.
Porn stars escorting. I have been over this before and taken quite a beating for speaking out but I don’t fucking care. It needs to be said. If a girl goes and fucks some random guy in a hotel room and then continues to show up to sets to shoot how is that not being addressed as high risk for the rest of the industry? If a girl gets her test on August 20 and fucks strangers in hotel rooms and does movies until September 19 when she tests again how is that not a very serious concern for OSHA and all the people screaming about the recent HIV crisis? It’s almost as if it isn’t really happening.
The reality is there are very few “Porn Stars” anymore. The huge majority are escorts who shoot some movies on the side to keep their per hourrates high. And please try and tell me that these girls who are being flown to Dubai for weekends for $50,000 are using condoms and tests are being provided by sheiks and princes!
One commenter on Mark Ebner’s “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” would link to an ad on the site of Luke Ford, a gadfly and reporter who covered the industry, an ad which featured a long list of girls available as dates for the 2006 Adult Video News awards (the adult equivalent to the Oscars), including Chasey Lain and Krystal Steal, who were mentioned in “Sex Queen” by Grigoriadis, but other name performers as well, such as Kendra Jade, Monica Mayhem, Puma Swede, and Sativa Rose. They all worked for Bella Models. And who was behind Bella Models? From “Sex Queen” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:
In 2005, when one of the largest escort agencies for porn stars, Exotica 2000, was shut down by authorities in New York, Nici quickly maneuvered to fill the open niche with a new agency. She named it Bella Models, a dig against a madam in London named Bella with whom she had fallen out.
A screenshot from “Looking for an AVN Date??” (ads on page are very NSFW):
The following is an excerpt from an interview with the adult performer known as Gauge, conducted by Billy Watson, a porn director (see his AMA: “I am Billy Watson. I’ve shot porn for the last decade, a lot of which is interracial porn for Blacks on Blondes.”), in 2013. Gauge had returned to porn that year after several years of civilian life, and this portion of the interview dealt with what had changed with regard to escorting and the industry (though this interview was once on youtube, it’s now been taken down; the excerpt in the original runs from 9:5 to 11:56):
Now, your big years were ’98 to 2005, about.
Plus or minus.
Okay. Try to be honest with me here.
Your contemporaries, your peers. From ’98 to 2000, the girls that you were working with, or around, how many of them were escorts, as opposed to just being porn stars? What would the percentage be?
You know, honestly, I really don’t know. I’m gonna just do a guesstimate here…maybe only a few. One of the girls that I just knew for sure was Brittany Andrews [listed in the roster of “Bella Models”, in their “Looking for an AVN date?”], but she’s always been open about that, her own website advertising it, and everything.
A few, is the point. Because here’s my point now. You just jumped back into this game. Let me tell you what the brutal news is now. Because this business is getting so crushed by piracy, by people stealing content and stuff, most of the girls now are escorts as well as porn stars.
The escort[ing] is their primary work, almost, because they can’t make enough money shooting scenes.
Which wasn’t the case when you were involved.
Like, you could be a porn star and make plenty of money and not have to escort or do anything.
Right. Right. Well, you know, yeah, I didn’t really know anybody’s personal business and I don’t ever recall talking to anybody about their escorting deals. I know it’s pretty more open now…I think what it is, is that now that…through the internet, and gentlemen with money are able to, you know, buy their time with a porn star, a lady of their choice, if they’re escorting. You know, I would hope that…I’m not going to judge anybody, but I hope that if they’re doing that, then they’re careful because then the gentlemen who can afford I’m sure a porn star, can also afford to be tested just like we are…and still keep in mind, to keep the business safe. Whether it’s your personal life, escorting, in the business…
Though “side work” must be as prevalent now, if not more so, than it was in late 2013 when “What Porn Stars Do” was posted and early 2014 when “Lucrative new trend” was put up, the topic appears to still be largely verboten. Molly Lambert’s “Porntopia”, for instance, a lengthy account of this year’s AVN awards and an adult industry beleaguered by piracy and falling DVD sales, would not mention escorting or prostitution a single time. The focus of the piece is Carter Cruise, who goes on to win the AVN award for Best New Starlet; the 2007 winner of the very same award, Naomi, would work for Braun.
Though she never got around to publishing a book naming names, Michelle Braun was open and proud of the prestige of her girls. From an interview with CBS Correspondent Peter Van Sant, “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam” (beginning of video to 1:12):
So, you’re a nice little Jewish girl, if I may say, from Bakersfield, California…
Yes. Nice Jewish girl from Bakersfield, California.
…who rose to become the most influential, wealthy madam on planet Earth.
Right. My business was called Nici’s Girls, and I operated Nici’s Girls for eight years.
And what kind of girls were available through your service?
I only worked with famous women. Penthouse Pets, Playboy Playmates, porn stars, actresses, models…unless a girl had a title or, I used to say, if she was “googleable”, then…if she wasn’t, then I wouldn’t work with her.
How did you convince these girls, who’d been in the pages of Playboy magazine, Penthouse, to become one of Nici’s Girls?
Well, I offered them a lot of money. [laughs] And then I would tell them about some of my clients. You know, some of my clients were very famous, others were, you know, very famous in the business world. I would encourage them, “Look, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, this guy could really like you, could really fall for you, you know you could have a real Cinderella story. And if not, I have a hundred others just like him.”
So for some men, this [holds up a copy of Playboy magazine] was like a shopping catalog?
Peter Van Sant and Michelle Braun, taken from “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”.
The ring may have been known as “Nici’s Girls”, but it was run under the corporate title, “Global Travel Network, Inc.” The escort ring was “disguised as a travel and security business and was used to facilitate the laundering of Braun’s prostitution proceeds,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank D. Kortum29. “I never discussed sex with the girls or the clients,” Braun would tell Van Sant. “What I was being paid for was an introduction…I never considered it prostitution. I thought these people were very fortunate to have somebody to put them together and naturally, there would be an attraction, and sex would occur.”30
Braun’s ring laid bare the illusion, that the modes of Playboy were the girls next door, that they were within reach of the average ordinary man. Yes, these fantasy women were available, yes, they were accessible, but for a very, very steep price. Clients were charged $50K or more for a night. Despite Michelle Braun’s talk of introduction services and attraction, Braun’s lawyer was more blunt about the arrangement: “I’m not sure people would pay money to meet a porn star and talk about Stephen Hawking’s newest book,” said Marc Nurik31. The other side of the equation was a con as well: the illusion was of woodland nymphs embraced by new industrial barons, the molten steel of dynamic, vital capital, the marriage of guileless beauty and the astonishingly efficient engine of business. But the women were paid beautires, pricey delicacies like rare oxen or squid, commissioned artwork for a skyscraper office, and many of the men weren’t prophets of capital who owed their fortune to innovation, effectiveness, or genius, but were simple keepers of delicate, ephemeral trophies of hollow wealth, the loomwork of simple frauds, cons, and theives.
There was small fry like one name in Braun’s black book32, Gregory Turville Harry, who would be involved in a classic pump and dump scheme, issuing millions of shares of two shell companies, Austin Chalk Oil & Gas Ltd. and Amtex Oil & Gas, then boosting the share price by getting buys from investors for whom they promised returns like 500% on their investment in Amtex. In 2012, Harry would plead guilty, admitting that the shell companies had asset of less than $130K and that he’d sold his shares at peak price for millions33.
At the other end of the scale was Hakan Uzan, brother of Cem Uzan, son of Kemal Uzan, a wealthy Turkish family that had its hands on an extraordinary range of assests, including the country’s Telsim mobile network and the Imar Bank. Hakan Uzan would be Braun’s whale, a man who wanted a harem ready for him at an Istanbul hotel every week, a harem thick with Playmates, porn stars, and others of the distaff sexual elect. What was even better, this guy didn’t even necessarily fuck them every week, or even see them; he was willing to throw down to cash just to know that the harem was there34. Braun had at least one connection in the Playboy mansion, with a Hef “girlfriend” (those quotes were always a safe bet) willing to bring over other girls from the mansion to Braun for work opportunities. When they heard they could make $25K by flying to Turkey, the pussy literally started to fly. “Hakan would send me an instant message at 3 a.m., and I would have to get four Playmates ready right away,” Braun was quoted in “Sex Queen”. “The first flight to Istanbul was around 6 a.m. through Paris, and sometimes I’d wake them up in the middle of the night for that flight.” Again, from “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, which starts off on Braun’s success as a madam before seguing into her work for her Turkish client (1:53-2:41):
And you became a millionaire from this?
Yes. I made over twenty million dollars.
And so, the girls who worked for you, did they become millionaires?
Oh absolutely. I had one girl make a million dollars in one month.
And would they sometimes provide transportation, a private jet to fly them wherever-
Yeah. They’d fly them on their private jets, I had a tobacco billionaire who had a private 747, he would pick the girls up and fly them. You know, he would spend minimum hundred thousand dollars on a weekend. Every time. Then I had, you know, my Arabic clients, my client in Turkey. He would fly five Playboy playmates a week out to Turkey. I mean, it got to a point that I had almost every playmate in L.A. on standby 24-7 with a suitcase packed, ready to fly off to either Abu Dabai or Istanbul.
Grigoriadis gives us a picture of escorts who are overall happy with their madam. “It was like a paid vacation,” says porn star Angelica, “There were eight girls there, and I was doing the math: like, at least $200,000 is being spent here, and these guys don’t even care.” Another escort in “Sex Queen”, would concur. “Nici was the least shady of all agents,” is a quote from an unnamed Penthouse Pet who made over $200K a year working for Braun. “Other people made me feel like I was a product, and she treated me like a buddy. We would gossip for hours on the phone. She made me feel like it was us against them. She tooled her clients, and most agents tool their girls. That’s the difference.” Anna David, who would cover Braun’s ring as part of an investigative piece into Hollywood prostitution for Details magazine, “The State of Hookers in Hollywood”, would pick up a different sentiment. “How’d you do it?” Caleb Bacon would ask her about how she managed to write about this secretive milieu, in the bluntly titled “Anna David Knows A Lot About Prostitutes”. “I ended up sort of infiltrating this world, and spending about six months in it. Luckily everybody in this world hated this madam, so all these people talked to me for this story.” There are only two madams mentioned by name in “State of Hookers”, and one of them is the retired Heidi Fleiss; the other is Michelle Braun. The section from David’s “Less-Than-Hip Hookers” iterating the list of prominent Braun girls – “the porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playmates” – found in the files of an associate stuck in a Cuban jail, has already been excerpted; afterwards, David writes of meeting them in person and the story of one madam’s callous treatment of girls she’d sent to Turkey, and the identity of this unnamed madam can be guessed as falling on the same co-ordinates as the madam which everyone hated, which may well be the same x-y of, as CBS’s Peter Van Sant puts it, “the most influential, wealthy madam on planet Earth”, and that noteworthy section receives bolds:
But these girls looked a lot different up close than they did in documents. Once I was sitting across the table from them, looking into their eyes, I didn’t see seductresses who, with their bodies, wielded power over the world’s elite. I saw fear, confusion, a ridiculous amount of plastic surgery, and a strong desire to do something — anything — else. I saw people who spent outrageously, at least in part to dispose of income they were ashamed to have earned, and who would thus have nothing to show once their years of hard living caught up to them and their looks were gone. I saw women blotting themselves out with chemicals and constantly chasing the next thing so they wouldn’t have to examine too closely what they were doing.
It wasn’t only the men they needed to forget about, either. I heard tales of madams that treated the girls far worse than any client ever could. One in particular would send girls on jobs to places like Turkey and then shut off her phone so that if they ran into trouble, they’d have no one to call. Girls would have to literally beg her for the money they were owed (one told me about having to “send someone” — a guy you didn’t want to mess with — to collect) and deal with a series of lies, shady excuses and threats. “If you were unavailable when she wanted you, she’d threaten to tell your boyfriend that you were a hooker,” a girl told me over the phone.
In an interview with Marty Beckerman, “The Complex Lives of Escorts”, David would emphasize the point made in this excerpt, on the damage done to the women by their work, despite the high pay and them being in the high end of their profession:
Did the hookers you interviewed have hearts of gold, or were they drugged-up pains?
Every girl was extremely damaged and doing a lot of drugs to numb themselves. You can see the damage in their eyes, and you can see how in denial they are. I’m not saying every hooker is like that, but I wouldn’t say they had hearts of gold.
Though this is a fascinating byway of a major business, which bisects the entertainment capital of the United States, it remains almost entirely unspoken of. For one of the few accounts of such overseas escorts who are flown to Dubai, we again have to rely on the investigative work of Howard Stern, who would discuss the subject in-depth with porn star Kacey Jordan. This interview is on youtube (“kacey jordan 2 1 11”) with a transcript on pastebin (“Howard Stern Interviews Kacey Jordan Full Transcript”), and it’s of interest not just because of the details that Jordan provides, but because her client in this case was the crown prince of Dubai, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum34, and so she provides some major insights about a rather important figure. The reason for Jordan’s interview here is her cameo in the breakdown of another of her clients, Charlie Sheen, with her making appearances in such profiles of that fiasco like “Charlie Sheen’s War” by Mark Seal and “Coke, Hookers, Hospital, Repeat” by Amy Wallace. What follows are two lengthy excerpts from the interview dealing with Jordan’s experiences as an escort in Dubai. First excerpt runs from 8:02 to 15:28 in the interview, second excerpt is from 24:53 to 28:44:
Key: KJ=Kacey Jordan, HS=Howard Stern, RQ=Robin Quivers
So, at the AVN, AVN Vegas, okay. See, I had a ton of money.
Right. Where’d you get it all?
You blew some guy or something?
[laughs, a “correctumundo!” laugh] No, I got, uh, I got a gripload of money, just as much as Charlie Sheen [just as much as she was paid by Charlie Sheen].
You had about thirty grand on you?
Like, thirty five thousand.
Where’d you get that?
I got it…overseas.
Somebody paid you to party?
It was just a gift.
Do you ever go overseas, to these rich arab dudes, who, like, you go over and they make you put you part of their sheik-
-harem, or whatever you call that?
I dunno. [said this way: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, officer.”]
Was it Hosni Mubarak, that guy?
No. [laughs] No, it’s-
Or that Italian prime minister. [Silvio Berlusconi]
What’s the deal on that? They hire you to go over there…
They just hire me to go over there35 and then I-
And then you fuck the prince, right?
Who was saying- Who is saying this? [trying not to laugh]
I’m saying it. Because I had a girl on here who told us this whole story.
Okay. It’s true, and he’s under investigation now, he’s in a lot of trouble now, he’s a pill popper, because it’s against their religion to drink?
-and he gets three girls to go over there, and yeah.
Do you ever get nervous, they’re going to kidnap you and keep you there? When you go over to these arab countries?
No, I was really freaked out by all their turbans and stuff. I was like, oh my god.
They were fucking you with a turban on?
Does that freak you out?
Do they keep their turban on?
No, but they have this thing, where like, when you go into the room, it has the AC on, like you’re in a freezer. Because it’s against their religion to have me sweat onto them.
You know what? This is what this girl said. Remember that girl we had in, who wrote a book about this. [I think this is Jillian Lauren, who wrote Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, about her experience as a member of the harem of the Sultan of Brunei]
Who wrote the book, yeah.
She said it’s so cold, she said she would shiver the whole time. And that’s because, when you fuck a prince or something, you’re not allowed to sweat on them?
I’m not allowed to sweat on him. I’m like, why do you have the AC on, he wouldn’t turn the AC off, and I’m sitting there, shaking. And I’m like, what the hell, can you just turn it off for a second?
What’s the whole deal on that? So, in other words, somebody hooks you up, you fly over to this arab country, they fly you, what, on a private jet?
Uh, well, he owns the airlines.
He owned the airline.
So, you go over…
How long you gotta stay there?
Uh, I was supposed to stay there for three days…and he wouldn’t let me leave till eight days.
He kept you over.
Kept me over. Wouldn’t let us leave. And it was okay, we just stayed at one of his hotels, that he owned, and I sat there, let’s room service this up, let’s start ordering shit we don’t eat…I went to the spa, like twelve times…
So when they fly you, first class accommodations too, right? I mean, gorgeous rooms, the whole thing?
Sometimes they even give you shopping sprees.
We stayed at the world’s only seven star hotel.
I forget what it was called. [Burj Al Arab] It’s some…lalalala, whatever arabic jabber or whatever. But it’s seven stars, that’s all I know.
So, you go to the seven star hotel. You’re there with two other chicks, right? Are you all in the same room, or different rooms?
We get…it’s like, two chicks per room. It was four girls…
Are the chicks hot? Or are you like the hottest one? Honestly. It’s okay, you don’t have to be humble.
Are you ever going to see these girls again?
One girl, uh, is a cunt, so…
Cunt, or smelly pussy.
She just has too much plastic surgery. She’s just like…
You were not attracted to her at all.
But the other girl, she was really nice, but she’s kinda shady, kinda, she’ll still screw you over for money.
But I ended up hooking up with her, like the first night we got drunk and I was like, I don’t know, I’m straight, but once in a while, how about some random lesbian fling, I’m like, the fuck’s wrong with me? It’s the alcohol.
Yeah. Absolutely. So you mean she ate you out and everything?
So, wait, let me understand, back up. So you go over there, the prince or whoever the hell he is, he flies you over, you don’t even meet him the first night, right?
Uh, no. No, we didn’t meet him for like three days.
Alright. So you’re there, you’re like, hey, this is a cush gig, because-
Yeah, but we have to be back by eight pm.
Because, in case he calls.
Right. You’re on call.
You’re on call. During the day I went out, I went to Atlantis [Atlantis The Palm Hotel & Resort], and, you know, we got to go do…I went to a mosque, where I wore those robes and stuff. I did cutesy stuff during the day, but I had to be back at eight at night.
So were you bored out of your skull?
Nah, I just drank.
So, you started drinking in the morning. So, the chick that you’re in the room with, she was the good looking one who maybe would screw you over, but that’s the one you had lesbian sex with?
Yeah, she’s alright, you know.
You went out drinking, and you’re slutting around, you’re having a good time, and then suddenly, you say, hey fuck it, I’m drunk, I’ll have some sex with her.
Yeah, we were just in the room, and fucking drinking, and just sitting there, like, we’re all taking little pictures of each other, trying to tweet the photos, and because we had to keep hushhush while we were over there, we’re still trying to sneak photos.
Did you girls just run around naked in the room the whole time? Or, like, what’s the fun?
Yeah, we’re all walking around naked.
Getting all comfortable with your bodies, and you’re all naked…
She’s naked, and you’re naked, and you’re talking on the bed, and taking pictures, and you’re tweeting, drunk out of your mind.
I’m always just like naked, I’ll always rock the robe. I always have a drink in my hand, I’d have a robe that’d be open, and not even shut. I always sit on the couch, with my legs wide open, like this, like the Al Bundy.
Are you doing it? Like that. Because you’re totally comfortable in your body.
Yeah, I’m just like, just, I’m always…
What are you wearing today? Let me see.
Well, actually, I put on a dress. But because it’s so fucking cold outside…I don’t know how you guys deal with this weather.
We don’t deal well with it. Look at us. [laughter]
We’re falling apart.
I have a dress on, but I was like, I’m going to put on pants, and then put on jacket, so I’m all bundled up.
Yeah, it’s hard to tell what’s doing there.
So, wait a second, so when you’re over there, I want to get to Charlie Sheen, but this is fascinating to me. So, you’re over there, you’re hanging out for three days, you don’t see this guy, you don’t even know what he looks like, right? I mean, you don’t even know who you have to fuck?
Well, I googled him.
You did? Is he gross?
No, he’s hot.
He’s a good looking guy?
He’s hot. He has a huge dick.
Yeah, and he’s really aggressive during sex.
So, you’re waiting around, nobody’s allowed to fuck you, because you’re for the prince, or for some party or something. So, what happens in the three days that you meet the prince? Like, where do you meet him?
He has, like, a secret house.
Like a little secret hidden house.
Does he bring you there alone, or with the other two?
I was thinking I was going to go the palace and stuff, but of course, he has to keep it on the low, and so he has this like, hang out spot. And he’s obsessed with America, he has MTV…each girl was like, we’re comparing our stories, he does the same routine with each girl. He makes us play games to test to see how smart we are. He like, makes us do crosswords, he wants to prove that his english is better than us.
Wait a sec. He walks into the room, he’s dressed…are you naked? What do you have to wear to prepare for the prince?
I just wore, I dunno, I wore, like, we have to cover up over there? So I wore this dress, but then I wore one of their weird arabic shawls over, and I come over, and the first thing he does is, alright, we’re going to play a game.
And he makes us play games. And I’m like, this is so weird, this is, I thought I was just come over-
And what is the game?
It’s like school!
Play the game with me. What is it?
It’s like- He has like a machine, from like a casino-looking, and it has these optional games, and he’s like, okay, we’re going to play this, and he’s like, compare the photo, and figure out which one’s missing, or which one’s different than the other.
It’s an IQ test.
And what, what, aren’t guys weird like that? Why doesn’t he just fuck you, and get it over with?
It’s because he has so much. He has so much, and he’s so fucked up.
So, get back to the prince, and then we’ll get to Charlie that night. So, just finishing up with the prince, so you finally get in there, he gives you the IQ test, where he’s testing you out.
Are you there with the other girls, or are you all alone?
We all go individually.
Individually. So you’re there alone, and finally, does he put a move on you, and say, hey honey, take your clothes off and let’s get to it?
No, he just goes, “Okay,” he’s like, he’s always “I promise you I beat you in anything. I beat you in any game. I love MTV, I love America,” he just tries to prove, he just wants to be cool. Like, I wanna be like Eminem. And then he gives this spiel, and he brings me upstairs to the room, where it’s freezing cold, and I’m like, “Can you turn it up, can you turn that down, please?”
And he says, “No I can’t because you can’t sweat on me.”
I didn’t know that. He’s like, oh no, I don’t want to get too hot.
And I didn’t figure it out until someone later told me, why.
And uh, so anyways, so, you know, we fuck, and he’s, he’s really aggressive, fucking my throat, and everything-
Jesus. Did he see some of your movies, or he didn’t know who you were?
He’s just get sent photos, and he says pass or no pass.
Right. And so, did he undress you, is there anything romantic about it?
No…it was really like, he was like, and after we were like having sex, we had sex a total of three times-
When you have sex with this guy, and he’s fucking your throat, do you to moan like he’s the greatest ever-
I’m gagging, I’m not moaning. I’m like [gagging sounds].
And are you like, hey dude, could you back off a little?
Uh…I was just trying to do the best I could…
Right. So, when he’s fucking you, do you fake an orgasm, do you go “oh my god, this is so good, ohoh”-
I did come with him. I didn’t have to fake with him.
Oh, you did come?
Yeah, he’s, like I said, he’s-
-and they’re really aggressive, and after you’re done, he’d just hold me down, like, on the bed, where I was like, can you kinda just not put me in a headlock. He would do that. He kept putting me in a headlock.
What’s that about?
I don’t know.
Does he use condoms?
He did that with every girl.
Did he use condoms?
No condoms with him!
And you wouldn’t mind getting pregnant with him, right, because that’s a pay fucking day like you wouldn’t-
I dunno, because matter of fact, if they found out I got pregnant, the guy would probably get assassinated.
I was going to say, you might never show up again.
Take the baby, and kill him.
Yeah. I was thinking you could own Dubai, but maybe you’re right. They could take the baby and kill ya.
Women have no power there, Howard.
I would be, like…it would be…
There’s no court to go to.
I would not wanna be in some robe, stuck in a room…
Isn’t it weird that these guys don’t use condoms? They don’t know you, they don’t know what you’ve done, they don’t know anything. They don’t know if you’re clean…
I should’ve used a condom because…of how many girls he sees?
I can’t believe you didn’t, yeah. I can’t believe you didn’t make him put one on.
I was a little drunk.
You were drunk, that drinking’s going to do you in, I’m telling you, you’ve gotta back off a little bit. You think of ever going into rehab, or just, fuck that? You would never do that. Because you don’t want to stop, right?
Well, what’s the point?
What do you mean?
I mean, it’s not like it’s ruining my life.
You’re enjoying it.
And you’re not going through your money, you’re saving some money and stuff.
I dunno…I’m blowing some of my money.
What are you blowing it on?
Uh, well, that’s what Vegas, I blew a lot in Vegas. I went to Christian Louboutin, I bought the thirty two hundred all diamond shoe. I blew all my money from Dubai and I was like, after AVN-
So, Dubai, you get the thirty grand, does he just give it to you there?
Yeah. I had to wire it.
No shit. Thirty grand.
And you only fucked him that once?
Right, that’s it. And then I had a free vacation, spa…I just raped the spa. I was like, I need, I got every treatment that they offered…
Women would rub you down, or men? You get a massage from men?
They’re not allowed to…men are allowed to only do facials. [tries not to laugh]
Do you ever get massages from guys-
Did you do some of those guys over there that were giving you a facial-
Well, that’s part of the facial, right?
The money for Braun’s women to be flown, kept, and fucked in Turkey came from Hakan Uzan, and though the thievery of the Uzans went almost entirely unreported in the American press, it was a heist on a scale that placed them in the same infamous league as Bernie Madoff or Jeff Skilling. Their fortunes began with father Kemal’s construction company, which won contracts for soccer stadiums and dams thanks to Kemal Uzan’s friendship with Turgot Ozal, first the country’s prime minister and then the country’s president. The Uzans would go on to buy Imar Bank, founded another bank, Adabank, and set up a news empire of radio, TV, and newspapers called Star TV. In 1992, they bought 11% of the shares of Cukurova Elektrik, a Turkish hydroelectric and gas utility, after Franklin Templeton’s Emerging Markets Fund had bought up a big investment stake. They then managed to gain a majority stake in the utility, replaced the board members with their own proxies, and put the utility’s cash balances with their Imar bank. Cukurova Elektrik shares went from fifty cents to $3.50 after the Uzan share buy, then hit a low of eighteen cents after the cash balance transfer. Cukurova Elektrik went from $41 million net to an $18 million loss after the cash transfer, and Franklin Temleton was hit with an $18 million dollar loss36. It was a variation on Gregory Turville Harry’s pump and dump, on a much larger scale.
Cukurova Elektrik was a preview of the next scam by the Uzans. They were given the license to set up a private cell phone network in the country, through a company they set up called Telsim Mobil Telekomunikasyon Hizmetleri [Telsim Mobile Telecommunications Services]. In order to gain access to the market, Motorola loaned Telsim over two billion in equipment, services, and cash, with Nokia loaning a little under a billion in equipment, services, and cash as well. The Uzans pledged 66% of Telsim shares to Motorola, and 7.5% to Nokia as loan collateral. And after that, Telsim missed the loan payments. The collateral of Telsim shares were transferred to a private Turkish foundation, out of reach of creditors. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by Motorola and Nokia afterwards, would reveal that over two hundred million in cash and assets from Telsim was transferred to entities controlled by the Uzans, to pay for apartments in the Trump Tower, several aircraft, and four yachts. And though the report was perhaps too discrete to mention it, a reader could make the obvious additional inference: and Michelle Braun’s women. The Uzans must have thought that with their connections, they could somehow outsmart or outlast the suits brought by Motorola and Nokia against them; but their empire would collapse before Michelle Braun’s37.
Kemal Uzan, son Hakan Uzan, and son Cem Uzan.
Cem Uzan, Hakan’s brother, would set up a new political party with a nationalist appeal, The Youth Party, and ran in the 2002 election. There he would pitch the scandal as a story where the Uzans were Robin Hoods, using the family’s Star TV network to promote his campaign. “Everyone steals from Turkey, the people think,” said one Turkish Foreign Ministry official. “But here is a guy who steals from rich Americans. And they admire that.” Cem Uzan hoped to gain ten percent of the vote and a seat in Parliament, which meant immunity from prosecution. Cem Uzan got neither. The Turkish government would first cancel the licenses of Uzan utilities Cukurova Elektrik and Kepez Elektrik, then seize them. The seizure would have a devastating impact on the Uzans’ Imar Bank, which relied on these utilities for raising capital. About a month after cancelling the utility licenses, Turkey seized control of Imar Bank, after which they discovered an astonishing level of widespread theft, with dummy accounts created in order to transfer over $5 billion dollars out of the bank and over to the Uzans. Account information was distorted to keep the fraud going. Retrospective invoices were created and real invoices were deleted. A raid at the bank’s hub would discover hard drives detached and stolen, back-ups deleted, and computers that were empty shells, the damning hardware circuits inside taken away. A July 31, 2003 cable from the American embassy in Turkey would give some idea of the problem; from “BRSA PRESIDENT ON IMAR BANK PROBLEMS (ACTION REQUEST)” at Wikileaks:
Summary: Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA) President Engin Akcakoca confirmed to us July 30 that the agency is facing serious difficulties trying to address the problems resulting from the discovery of massive fraud in the Uzan family-owned Imar Bank. The fundamental problem is that BRSA is being beseiged by bank depositors waiving their bank books and demanding their money back (to the tune of billions of dollars), but the agency has no ability to verify accounts because Imar Bank owners/managers destroyed virtually all of the bank’s records during and immediately after the takeover. Akcakoca believes perhaps 50 percent of the accounts are fictitious — bank books with no corresponding account — and speculated that the Uzans may have handed out bank deposit books (not backed by any account) to would-be voters.
On July 30, BRSA President Engin Akcakoca provided us with his views on the problems associated with the agency’s recent take over of Uzan-family owned Imar Bank. As reported in reftels, BRSA took over management of the bank and responsibility for its $800 million in deposit liabilities early this month. However, it has subsequently learned that the bank was keeping a second set of books and that total deposit liabilities were many times greater than officially reported, perhaps as high as $5 billion.
That same July, a judge would find in favor of Motorola and Nokia in their fraud suit seeking $5 billion dollars against Telsim and the Uzans38.
The Turkish government would seize all two hundred businseses of the Uzan empire and all the company’s assets within the country in the wake of the outstanding five billion dollars in debt of the Iman Bank after its collapse39. All three men connected to the fraud – Cem, Hakan, and Kemal Uzan – would go into exile. Cem Uzan would flee Turkey in one of his yachts. He would eventually be granted temporary residency in France, while being sentenced to three and a half years in abasentia in Turkey for fraud. In July 2012, the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman would note that “Wanted Turkish tycoon spotted on Jordanian king’s boat”, after Hakan Uzan was spied amongst those in a speedboat alongside his good friend, King Abdullah of Jordan. Hakan Uzan was piloting the speedboat40. A diplomatic cable on January 27, 2006, “TURKEY/JORDAN: JORDANIAN PM BAKHIT FINDS BROAD AGREEMENT IN ANKARA” (again, at Wikileaks), from the American embassy in Turkey would contain the following item when Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit visited the country:
Bakhit was reportedly asked at a press availability about the rumored presence in Jordan of fugitive Hakan Uzan and members of his family. The Uzan family is sought for corrupt financial dealings that led to the collapse of the Imar bank and the loss of billions of dollars. According to Turkish press reports, Bakhit acknowledged the Uzans came to Jordan as investors and received some kind of residence documents, which the Jordanian government has since revoked. Bakhit told the press he had no information on the Uzans’ current whereabouts. The MFA [Minister of Foreign Affairs] told us the Uzan affair was not discussed officially with the Jordanian delegation.
At the time of this writing, these three members of the Uzan family are still wanted in Turkey for prosecution, and all three are still at large.
The Uzans were the largest fraudsters who were also customers of Michelle Braun; but it was Mark Yagalla who was the fruadster discovered first, who was part of the most noteworthy plot, whose theft was the start of a path that led to murder and stolen rubies. It was the arrest of Yagalla which first brought the Michelle Braun ring into bright light, and it might give some hint of the disinterest, wariness, or fear about the possible consequences of shutting down an escort ring patronized by so many wealthy and powerful men, that even years after her exposure in the Mark Yagalla case, Michelle Braun was able to continue operations, with her business pulling reportedly pulling in over eight million dollars before she was finally stopped, far from L.A.41
It was all there in the best account of the Yagalla affair, published in 2001, six years before Braun’s arrest, “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace. Yagalla was an isolated Pennsylvania kid who stopped growing at 5’3″, who insistently wore khakis, button down shirts, thick glasses in high school, and who other kids called “Urkel”. He watched movies about the corruption of the eighties, Wall Street and Other People’s Money, over and over again, not as polemics, but heroic narratives. “Most young boys dream of being a professional athlete, or something like that. What were your dreams?” asked Peter Van Sant of Yagalla. “I wanted to be Gordon Gekko,” he replied. “He seemed to possess a Disney-manufactured filter that transformed every story into a fairy tale,” Wallace would write in “The Prodigy and the Playmate”. “Even when he watched morality plays like Wall Street, what he took away was the glamorous premise, not the unhappy ending.” Indecent Proposal was a love story, and so was the movie that was even closer to his heart, Pretty Woman. A love story involved making a fortune in business, finding a beautiful woman, then spending heaps of cash on her, after which she fell in love with you. “I had sortof developed this fairy tale from movies,” Yagalla said, “that if you get money, you get the girl.”42 And if you cut a few corners in business, if you maybe engaged in outright fraud, if you built a ponzi scheme that robbed people of their savings, that was part of the love story, too. Yagalla didn’t go to his high school prom. He stayed home, and made $23,000 trading stocks.
After graduating from the prestige Wharton business program, Yagalla would go on to found two hedge funds, Apex Investments and Ashbury Capital, with a focus on tech stocks and a goal of over a billion dollars in assets. Yagalla took the profits he got from these funds, and spent it on prostitutes. From “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, an interview with Yagalla by CBS’s Peter Van Sant (segment runs from 1:06 to 1:54):
PETER VAN SANT
And how old are you at this time?
And were you having a good time?
I was having a great time…it started with prostitutes.
How often did you do this?
Daily. Sometimes three, four girls a day. I was spending anywhere between six hundred to a thousand an hour at this time, for the girls. It was one day when I was on the internet, I came across a website that linked me to nicisgirls.com. I had a conversation with a girl [Michelle Braun43], and she had a pin-up model available, and I said, “Well, I’m going to Puerto Rico this weekend, I’d like for her to come with me.” And she said, “That’ll be $28,000 dollars.” And I looked at the girl’s picture, and I was like, “OK.”
Mark Yagalla, from “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”.
Yagalla put down a $5000 admission fee for the prvilege of paying another $10,000 to $20,000 to “Nici”, openly identified in “The Prodigy and the Playmate” as a madam, and openly identified by her actual name: “Nici was fast becoming the new Heidi Fleiss, L.A.’s reigning madam, and Yagalla, as a preferred (and relentless) customer, ended up befriending her and learning her real name: Michelle Braun.” “She was the first person to really use the Internet to offer prostitutes,” said Yagalla. One of the women he was set up with is a woman identified nowhere else as part of Braun’s harem, though it is a very big name that Yagalla drops here: “Eventually, he started flying to L.A. to rendezvous with Nici’s “specials,” including porn megastar Jenna Jameson.” This, however, was just a prelude to even more expensive merchandise44.
For $40,000, Yagalla got a weekend with May 1999 Playboy Playmate Tishara Cousino, a candidate for what Yagalla called “The Program”, which was something like the plot of Pretty Woman, which meant it was something like Pygmalion, where a young woman would be styled into something greater through the power of money. On her Playboy form, Cousino had put down that her ambitions were “To see how far I can go as a model and actress, while studying naturopathic medicine,” and that her turn-ons were “Intellect, a big heart, sensitivity and passionate energy.” On their first weekend together, in a 125-foot yacht sailing through the Florida Keys, Cousino reclined on the bed of this yacht leased by Yagalla, and asked, “Do you want to do anything with me?” Yagalla was repulsed. He wanted a fairy tale, not a business transaction. He wanted her only when she wanted him. That weekend, he bought her a new Mercedes anyway. “When I was dealing with the playmates,” Yagalla would tell Van Sant, “I was giving out Mercedes like they were tennis bracelets.”45 Cousino would deny that she met Yagalla through a madam or that Yagalla put her through “a program”.
Excerpt of a photo of Tishara Cousino from her May 1999 Playboy shoot, photo by Arny Freitag.
An excerpt from Cousino’s form in Playboy.
It was through Cousino that Yagalla met Sandy Bentley, one half of the Bentley twins, both of whom were supposedly Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. In the pictures and talk show appearances where the wizened satyr and the nymph duo appeared, it was a relationship that was romantic, but in the raw fact, the relationship appeared entirely contractual. Neither woman were supposed to have other boyfriends, though both did, each had to call in and touch base with the “old man” (as they called him) every day, and both were contractually required to appear with him at the mansion on Christmas and New Year’s. “Won’t Hef mind?,” Yagalla asked Cousino. “He wishes,” said Sandy. “The Prodigy and the Playmate” was cold in the details of the nocturnal rituals of Hef and the twins: “The heterosexual icon, Sandy had told Yagalla, had trouble finding satisfaction through intercourse; instead, he liked the girls to pleasure each other while he masturbated and watched gay porn.” The last detail made no sense to me until I read “The Playboy After Dark” by Sharon Waxman, where Carrie Leigh, a long-term girlfriend of Hefner’s from the ’80s, would say that she and other Hef girlfriends were “disturbed by Hefner’s propensity for sexual encounters with men. Leigh says she interrupted Hefner’s liaisons with men a couple of times.” And: “The irony that this symbol of heterosexual male virility was involved homosexually was not lost on her.” Hefner would deny that he was gay, while acknowledging that he’d slept with men. “There was some bisexuality in the heterosexual, swinging part of my life,” he said in Waxman’s piece. Yagalla would go with Bentley and Cousino to a Cher concert at the Las Vegas MGM. After, they went to The Crazy Horse Too, a strip club where Bentley used to dance, and Yagalla sat between Bentley and Cousino, the object of their affection, the gentle target for their kisses. A stripper at The Crazy Horse Too wondered what Yagalla’s secret was. “I’m fucking loaded,” said Yagalla. Sandy Bentley was a willing subject for “The Program.”
Sandy Bentley, with Hugh Hefner. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.
Sandy Bentley grew up in Vegas, with the various surgeries that helped make her a Playboy cover girl and Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend paid for by Herbie Blitzstein, a one-time mob enforcer who worked alongside mafioso Tony Spilotro, who was the basis for the figure of reckless menace played by Joe Pesci in Casino. After time in prison over federal income tax and credit card fraud charges, Blitzstein would die a used car salesman, shot in the head in his own home. “Blitzstein, 63, might have been robbed by someone he knew,” said an obituary. “Property was missing from his townhouse and there were no obvious signs of forced entry,” said Las Vegas Metro Police homicide Lieutenant Wayne Petersen46. This, is what’s referred to as dramatic foreshadowing.
A photo of Herbie Blitzstein, taken from a 1980 arrest. Photo was found at the page “The Mob in Vegas: Fat Herbie Blitzen”, a site promoting the book The Mob Files: The Illustrated Guide to the Mob in Vegas by John William Tuohy.
Yagalla would get Bentley and Cousino Platinum American Express cards and a monthly allowance of $20,000 to $25,000. He would buy Cousino a house worth close to half a million. He bought Sandy Bentley a six thousand square foot plus two floor Spanish Villa in Vegas for over a million and a half. He bought her a Mercedes SL 500, a red Ferrari FL 355 Spyder, a Range Rover, a black Cadillac Escalade SUV, a pair of fur coats from Bloomingdale’s, and two Rolexes. He bought her $190,000 worth of jewelry from Venetzia in Vegas. He bought her more furs, a shaved mink and a monogrammed chinchilla. Possessions meant nothing to me, Sandy Bentley told Yagalla. On one of their first dates, they watched Pretty Woman together at his Delaware home. She flew up from Vegas, though she refused to fly commercial; he chartered a jet. When they were in Vegas, they’d walk into a high roller room accompanied by two bodyguards, Sandy Bentley decked in furs and blinding jewels, and the croupier would casually say, “Mr. Y’s here,” sliding a million dollars in chips toward his place on the table. They’d met in August 1999. In December, they were already talking marriage. That month, Yagalla bought his girlfriend a white Bentley Azure convertible. On a piece of stationary at the dealership, Bentley wrote out: S. Yagalla. S. Bentley-Yagalla. That Christmas, Yagalla bought Bentley a necklace of rubies and diamonds modeled after that worn by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Fairy tales, sometimes, do come true. That fall, Yagalla told some Apex investors that their portfolio had grown by more than fifty percent in one month. Ashbury also showed extraordinary growth, with a return of more than seventy percent over the course of half of 199947. “And where was all this money coming from?,” asked Peter Van Sant of Yagalla about the millions of dollars of gifts spent on Bentley and Cousino. “I was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Yagalla. “I was taking client money to fuel my addiction,” said Yagalla. “I was running one big Ponzi scheme.” Van Sant: “How much money are we talking about…that you scammed people out of?” Tagalla: “All together, debt wise, I’m probably fifty, sixty million in debt,” Yagalla answered, years after the fact, years after Sandy Bentley left him and two people were killed48.
Close-up of the reproduction of the ruby necklace that was in Pretty Woman. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.
One of the only flaws of Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate”, is that it understated the length and breadth of corruption in Yagalla’s career. It was left to something like Armstrong v. Collins, a suit by Michael Armstrong, receiver for Apex and Ashbury against investors Ronald Collins and his family over assets transferred by Yaglla to Collins as part of his ponzi scheme, which laid out a life of fraud which didn’t spin out of any later moment of desperation, but began with the very start of his obsession with investing. “Prodigy” has Yagalla start out at fifteen getting a chunk of money from his mom that he’d made helping his dad, who drove a truck for a tree nursery. Yaglla would lose half, then decided to do more research before his next investment. He got five thousand from his cousin, and sunk it all into Dell. After that paid off, his cousin gave him more money, which he put into Microsoft and Intel. His investing streak presumably continued, with Yagalla buying a Corvette and a Chevy Blazer while in high school, his high school success capped by his prom day trading when he made over $23,000. That is all accoring to “Prodigy”. Armstrong v. Collins gives us a different picture.
“Carl and Pat Dias, the owners of a business near Weatherly, had the misfortune of being Yagalla’s first clients,” is the second paragraph under Armstrong v. Collins‘s “History of the Yagalla Scheme”, and the first devoted to his sorry investment history. “and in 1995, they invested approximately $15,000 with Yagalla.” The whole 15K was a wash. “Responding to a Canadian telemarketer’s pitch, Yagalla used the money to purchase what he believed were rubies. But the purported rubies turned out to be nearly worthless and Yagalla lost virtually all of the Dias’ money.” This all was according to Yagalla’s own trial depositions. He told the Diases that they’d actually made a profit, gave them a false statement, and then used money from other investors to give the Diases a fake return on their investment. That same year, according to Armstrong v. Collins, Yagalla got $15,000 from the same cousin mentioned in “Prodigy” who gave Yagalla the money for Dell, Intel, and Microsoft, a man named Francis Dolinsky. Yagalla invested the money in worthless rubies and worthless baseball memorabilia. Yagalla told Dolinsky that the investment was profitable, and paid him back with money from other investors. He invested $50K in Kentucky oil and gas leases, and lost it all. He invested $150K in stocks, and pulled in a $120K loss. He told the lucky investors that the investment was sucessful, and gave them fake profits, again taken from others.
All these investments were done at his hedge fund, Apex, and since the perception of Apex as a sound, financial success was so different from the fund’s actual performance, Yagalla founded another hedge fund, Ashbury Capital. Though Yagalla said that he intended to run Ashbury separately from Apex, and as an actual legitimate investment fund, Ashbury Capital investors ended up subsidizing the fraud at Apex. No effort was made by Yagalla to keep the funds of Apex and Ashbury Capital – or his personal funds – separate from each other. Again, this is all according to Yagalla’s own depositions, cited in Armstrong v. Collins. At some point, Yagalla would discover that the brokerage Kensington Wells was manipulating stocks. Armstrong v. Collins would explain what happened next (citations indicating that all statements come from Yagalla’s trial depositions have been removed):
After meeting the individuals he was told were manipulating stock, and until his arrest in October, 2000, other than some sporadic and minor day trading, Yagalla traded exclusively in stocks that he testified were manipulated. The manipulated stocks included: United Energy Group, Franklin Opthalmic, Delsoft Consulting, Logpoint Technologies, Page International, Hydrogiene, Intelliworxx and TravelNow.com. Yagalla explained that in each case he and his criminal partners would identify new private companies, merge them with public shells, and by controlling the float and paying off brokers, manipulate the price of the securities. According to Yagalla, he broke even on the United Energy Group and Franklin Opthalmic manipulations; made $500,000 on the Delsoft Consulting manipulation; made $250,000 on the Logpoint Technologies manipulation; lost $750,000 on the Page International manipulation; made $450,000 on the Hydrogiene manipulation; and lost a “substantial amount” of the $500,000 to $750,000 he invested in the manipulation. On his most profitable manipulation, TravelNow.com (“TravelNow”), Yagalla made over $6 million between August, 1999, and January, 2000. Yagalla, however, spent the money “[o]n airplane travel, . . . [his] former girlfriend Sandra Bently [sic], jewelry, cars, houses, [and] gambling.”
Yagalla was planning on asking Sandy Bentley to marry him that Christmas, the first Christmas of the millenium. He was going to have a connection shut the Eiffel Tower down, and propose to her at the top. They were going to have the biggest wedding New York had ever seen. In late July, he’d promised investors in Ashbury Capital that they could expect a fifty percent return, around the same time of the Republican Convention at Philadelphia, where he’d been the second largest donor from Delaware, right after MBNA, a regional bank that specialized in credit card debt, which would soon be bought up by Bank of America. The stock market was collapsing because of the dot com implosion, but no worries. “We have invested in stocks that have explosive growth potential and aren’t too heavily tied to the slowing growth of the economy,” Yaglla wrote to Ashbury Capital investors in a newsletter of that summer. His investment letter of September sounded an equally confident and sagacious note. “The days of the individual investor buying stocks blindly and making money are gone,” he wrote. “Our strategy has faired [sic] well during the markets’ topsy-turvy ride this year, and we think it will serve us well going into 2001.” September was the month he lost over half a million in the failed Intelliworxx manipulation. He bought the Intelliworxx shares through a margin account at Lehman Brothers. Three days after he promised to wire the funds, he showed up with a personal check of four and a half million dollars. That check didn’t clear. He then showed up with a check for over a million dollars. That check didn’t clear either49.
He flew to Bentley’s home in Vegas and told her he was in serious trouble. “As long as it’s just fines,” she said. He tried to make some money to keep investors happy by playing baccarat and blackjack. He lost another $800K. He had an emergency phone call with his right hand man, Frank Luppo. “Were all the statements phony?” asked Luppo. “Ah, last year was not,” said Yagalla. “This year was the problem.” Luppo: “So they were all phony this year?” No, said Yagalla, it’s just “within the last three or four months.” Before they ended the conversation, Yagalla said, “It’s a shame all this happened, because I really think six months from now we’re goin’ to be rockin’ and rollin’ with big money…I just got myself in a jam. I made a lot of mistakes.” It didn’t really matter what Yagalla believed and what he actually did, and it didn’t really matter here if he was lying or telling the truth about when the fraud and the phony statements began, because he’d already admitted to fraud and phony statements over the phone to Frank Luppo, and Luppo was an FBI informant, and this call was being taped. Yagalla was arrested five days later50. “Sandy stayed loyal to Yagalla,” wrote Benjamin Wallace in “The Prodigy and the Playmate”, “until she learned the government was going to take away all the things he gave her.”
Sandy Bentley would leave Yagalla, but she would hold on to all the jewelry he gave her, including the Pretty Woman necklace. After they broke up, she went to the Garden of Eden, a nightclub she’d gone to before, with Yagalla, with Hefner, where every celebrity and semi-celebrity went, and where she met her next boyfriend, the Garden of Eden’s doorman, Michael Tardio. She was with Tardio when she started to lose everything, when everything she had was being confiscated as proceeds of Yagalla’s ponzi scheme. “The judge ordered Sandy Bentley to hand over the house, the jewelry, the cars,” said Eugne Licker, the attorney in charge of hunting down where Yagalla had stuck his ill gotten millions51. “Playing With Fire” (transcript is at “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”), an episode of 48 Hours devoted to the murder of Michael Tardio, would explain what happened next:
Faced with losing everything, a desperate Sandy Bentley went to her new boyfriend, Michael Tardio, for help.
“So, Sandy literally had nothing now. They were kicking her out of her house,” Cox explains. “So, at this point, Michael says to her, ‘Well, why don’t you just take a little bit of the jewelry. Could sell it.'”
And that’s just what happened according to surveillance video a private investigator shot at Sandy Bentley’s Las Vegas mansion the week those two allegedly took those jewels.
It’s estimated that Michael Tardio and Sandy Bentley made off with nearly $1 million in jewels and furs.
“He was doing it for his girlfriend,” [Los Angeles Times crime reporter Andrew] Blankstein says. “He wanted to sell the stuff off, give her money, and obviously satisfy her.”
“Now, Sandy Bentley claims this was Tardio’s idea… but Tardio, of course, is dead,” notes [CBS reporter Peter] Van Sant. “Do we really know the ultimate truth there?”
“No, we don’t know the ultimate truth,” says [LAPD Detective Bill] Cox.
Eugene Licker was videotaped taking inventory of the jewels that were left behind after Sandy was evicted.
“The ‘Pretty Woman’ necklace wasn’t there. It was definitely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Licker says. The Canary diamond ring wasn’t there and I know [it] was at least invoiced at a half a million dollars.”
Police inventory of Sandy Bentley’s jewelry box. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.
Police videotape of the evidence after Yagalla’s arrest, which shows missing jewelry. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.
Bentley would originally tell Licker that the jewels must have been stolen by someone else, or were lost. “Sandy Bentley not only lied to us about what had happened to the so called missing jewelry, but she took it. She stole it,” said Licker. Bentley would eventually co-operate with police in the murder investigation of Michael Tardio, after being granted immunity on charges related to the theft of the jewels. Bentley said that Tardio had found a buyer for the jewels at the Garden of Eden. “Michael Tardio had been talking to a guy at the nightclub and the person said he knew someone was interested in the jewelry. So Michael Tardio asked to set up a meeting,” said LAPD Detective Bill Cox. September 1, 2002, nearly two years after the arrest of Mark Yagalla, was the night of the meeting, and the last day Michael Tardio was alive52.
Before he left for the meeting, Tardio gave Sandy Bentley a phone number. “If anything happens, call this number,” he told Bentley, according to Cox. The phone number belonged to a convicted felon named Michael Jacobs, and it’s believed that Jacobs was the man who introduced Tardio to a potential buyer, a man whose name remains unknown at this time, and who Tardio, along with his close friend Christopher Monson, travelled to meet on September 1, 2002. The closest we get to Jacobs is the attempt by CBS 48 Hours to interview him about the Monson-Tardio murders for their program, “Playing With Fire”. Jacobs would refuse to give a public interview to 48 Hours, or allow them to use his voice. From “Playing With Fire” (transcript is at “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”):
Jacobs confirmed that Sandy Bentley called him that night looking for Tardio, but refused an on camera interview. He also refused to answer any questions about the jewelry deal, except to say he had nothing to do with the murders and that he “sleeps well at night.”
“He’s the one who can actually, I feel, blow this case open,” Cox says. “But he just doesn’t wanna be cooperative.”
At the time of the murders, Jacobs was questioned extensively by police, but they never had evidence to charge him. For now, this investigation has hit a wall.
Michael Jacobs, who told Michael Tardio about the fence for the rubies. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.
For the meet, Tardio would rent a black Mercedes SUV and a cash counter machine. Detective Cox thought he had no idea of what he was doing. “Like, the guy you’re gonna sell this stuff to is gonna sit in the car while you feed money through the cash machine to count it?” he said. “I think Michael just either was a victim of too much television or too much reading.” Tardio and Monson left for the meeting at 9:30 PM, Sunday, September 1, 2002, the night before Labor Day. They met the buyer at a restaurant at Sunset Boulevard, an unidentified man, referred to on “Playing With Fire” as “Mr. Big”. “Do you have a sense of who this ‘Mr. Big’ is based on your own investigation?” Peter Van Sant asked Detective Cox. “No, not a clue,” said Cox. At 11:30 PM, Michael Tardio would call his girlfriend, Sandy Bentley. “Hey we’re driving through the Mount Olympus area,” he told her, and that was the last thing she ever heard him say. Less than two hours later, Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were in the Hollywood Hills, where they were shot dead in the black Mercedes SUV. “I think it was a surprise attack. These guys were caught completely off guard,” said Cox on 48 Hours. “And then the car is driven down to the North Hollywood area where it’s set afire.” What was left of the car after an attempt to set it on fire was found in the early morning of that Labor Day. “There was no identifiable fingerprints found on there – there was no really useable evidence,” said Cox. The necklace was, no doubt, cut up for its jewels. “It’s long gone. You can’t even trace it,” said Cox.
Re-creation of burning Mercedes in which Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were found.
The burnt out remains of the Mercedes in which the bodies of Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were found. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.
Without any arrests a year after the double murder, police would release new information and announce a $25,000 reward, as described in “Police Revisit 2002 Homicide Case” by Richard Fausset and Andrew Blankstein. Nearly a decade after the murder, police would again seek leads to the unsolved double murder, through the broadcast of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to the Monson-Tardio murders and the posting of a $75,000 reward53. From “Police seek help solving 2002 LA double killing” by Thomas Watkins:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Almost a decade after the bodies of two men were found in a burned Mercedes SUV, police detectives said Friday they need the public’s help in cracking the case, which has ties to designer jewelry, a Wall Street Ponzi scheme and a former Playboy cover girl.
The case dates back to the early morning of Sept. 2, 2002, when firefighters doused a vehicle that was ablaze in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. In the SUV, they found the bodies of nightclub doorman Michael Tardio, 35, and his close friend Christopher Monson, 31.
Both had been shot to death.
The men were well-known in the Hollywood club scene. Detectives said Friday they hoped former customers of the Garden of Eden nightclub, where Tardio worked, would come forward with information. A $75,000 reward was being offered in the case.
“We believe the nucleus of this case is around the Garden of Eden,” Detective Dennis English said.
The jewelry had been in the possession of Sandy Bentley, Tardio’s girlfriend at the time, who became a minor celebrity after appearing on the cover of the May 2000 Playboy with her twin sister.
Bentley previously dated Mark Yagalla, a Wall Street wonder kid who in 2002 pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for stealing $50 million from clients.
Yagalla lavished the money on girlfriends and expensive living, including spending more than $6 million on Bentley, buying her six cars, three Rolex watches, a ruby and platinum necklace, other jewelry, furs and a Las Vegas mansion.
English said Tardio persuaded Bentley to try to sell off her jewels, even though a court-appointed receiver seeking to recoup some losses for Yagalla’s victims had demanded that Bentley turn over the gifts.
It was not known how Tardio was trying to find buyers for the jewelry, but “word of mouth would go around, especially at a place like the Garden of Eden,” English said.
Sandy Bentley, said Detective Dennis English, has “moved on with her life”. At the time that this sentence is written, April 4th, 2015, the Monson-Tardio case remains open. “The case is definitely solvable,” said Detective Cox in “Playing With Fire”. “I would love more than anything to just have one little lead. It’s amazing what we can do with one little lead.”
Christopher Monson and Michael Tardio, taken from the 48 Hours episode “Playing With Fire”.
A poster advertising the $25,000 reward for information on the double murder, issued February 17, 2011.
The Braun escort ring wasn’t broken in Los Angeles, and it might never have been broken at all if Braun hadn’t expanded outside of the city. Anna David’s “The State Of Hookers in Hollywood”, published in 2004, would report that two different sources, “one of whom is an FBI informant, said that the agency is investigating Braun.” David’s “My Time With Less-Than-Hip Hookers” referenced a disc containing the “contents of a laptop which belonged to a pimp who’s now serving time in a Cuban jail,” and this sounded a lot like information taken from a laptop that only one other person seemed to have access to, and that was Mark Ebner, who wrote about the contents of the laptop and its owner, Dillon Jordan, an associate of Michelle Braun who served time in a Cuban jail, and who would end up suing Ebner over a chapter devoted to him in Ebner’s book about Hollywood’s sleazy underside, Six Degrees of Paris Hilton. The person who provided Ebner access to the information on Jordan’s laptop was Danno Hanks, who provided information to investigators related to Michelle Braun, and who might be the “unnamed informant” who handed over the Dane-Gayheart sex tape to investigators and Mark Ebner, and who might also be the unnamed informant in David’s piece54. Benjamin Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate” would explicitly state in 2001 that Michelle Braun ran a call girl ring, whose girls had been paid with the proceeds of a fraud scheme, while David’s piece in 2004 would mention that the FBI had an interest in Braun, but only in 2006 did things fall apart, far from L.A., perhaps because no one in L.A. actually wanted to break such a ring.
First, there was Braun’s sister, Mandy Gray, who Braun brought in to help her run the operation. When Gray left her husband, he went to the FBI and told them that Braun had a safe full of cash from her business buried eight feet deep in her garage. But it was in 2006, at the “Nici’s Girls” satellite operation in New York City, “Bella Models”, where things fell apart. An FBI Agent using the name George Tarpinsky paid the $2,500 fee to join the Bella premium club. In October of 2007, “George Tarpinsky” booked a Playboy cover model and a Playboy.com model in Boca Raton. The FBI raided Braun’s house, arrested her, and brought her in for questioning. “What do you do for a living?”, an agent asked Braun. “I think I’m here because you know what I do,” Braun answered. In 2009, Braun would end up pleading guilty to two prostitution related counts55.
Michelle Braun would forfeit her millions, and at the time of this writing, would never know such great fortune again. After the end of the escort ring, she seemed unable to make much money at all. A year after her arrest, she busted a boyfriend’s Rolls Royce, which cost over ten grand to fix. She paid for the repairs with a cheque, and the cheque bounced. The next year, she deposited a cheque in her account at a Boca Raton bank, and the cheque bounced. She ordered $16K in furniture from a furnishing company, putting it on her plastic, and her plastic was rejected. “We don’t deal with Ms. Braun anymore for obvious reasons,” said a spokesperson for the furnishing company. She had a bill for a little over five hundred dollars for moving and storing her possessions. She didn’t pay that. In 2010, Braun declared herself flat broke, unemployed, and in debt for over $700K56.
In February 2011, CBS would air “Playing With Fire”, on the Monson-Tardio murders, and featuring interview segments with Braun. Five months later, she was charged with the kind of stock fraud her past clients had engaged in. She was alleged to have run a company called Sterling Capital Trust, which was a boiler room that sold non-existent shares in an energy company. Braun and another Sterling Capital executive went to the energy company about selling shares to raise capital, the energy company declined the offer, but Braun and Sterling Capital sold shares in the energy company anyway, taking in over $400K. Marc Nurik, Braun’s lawyer for the prostitution charges, was her lawyer for this as well. “The amount of money she received is totally inflated,” said Nurik. “I’m confident once we get to the bottom of this, it will all be cleared up, at least as far as Michelle is concerned. This is not something she bears responsibility for.”57 In March 2013, Braun would plead guilty to operating a boiler room, and would be sentenced to a year of house arrest, plus four years probation58. Braun, listed as vice president of Sterling Capital, was facing twenty years in prison for the felony, but she might have gotten leniency by paying over $100K in restitution. Brian Dunlevy, another defendant in the scam, who had no money to pay any such restitution, got fifteen years. “Everyone else in the case who was able to provide restitution was given straight probation,” said Dunlevy’s lawyer. “You look at this and you say these people bought their way out of prison,” asked reporter Bob Norman. “It certainly looks that way,” said Dunlevy’s lawyer59. Terrence McCoy, the author of “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure”, a 2013 article which detailed Braun’s difficulties after her prostitution arrest, tried to contact Braun for the story. “Do not call me again, seriously. Don’t call me again.”60
Though Braun’s escort ring was broken, what looked like another elite escort ring had taken place its place in Los Angeles, and was stll in existence at the time that this sentence is written, May 8, 2015. Like Braun’s ring, it is another invisible colossus, one I would never have heard about were it not for research into links between Dubai and escorts, prompted by the convincing stories told by Kacey Jordan61. The Luxury Companion featured a harem filled with various name girls of the porn elite – Anna Bell Peaks, Jynx Maze, Abby Brooks, Brittany Banxxx, Puma Swede, Dana Vespoli, Helly Hellfire, Jada Fire, Sara Jay, Angelica Taylor – many of these names are unfamiliar to my virgin eyes, but those stood out. Though Molly Lambert’s “Porntopia” gives no mention to escorting, a brief mention of the banners hanging everywhere at the AVN Awards, “The banners for the AVN Awards hanging all over the premises feature promo shots of Alexis Texas and Tommy Pistol…along with life-size posters of starlets Mia Malkova, Tori Black, Riley Steele, and Veronica Rodriguez clad in red spandex hot pants, tube socks,” mention one woman, Veronica Rodriguez, who is also one of The Luxury Companions. Kacey Jordan, whose fascinating stories prompted this search, and Melanie Rios, the girl who invited Jordan to Charlie Sheen’s house, are part of the harem as well.
“What I was being paid for was an introduction…I never considered it prostitution,” Michelle Braun firmly emphasized, and the About page (archive today link) of The Luxury Companion was equally careful in the distinction.
An infusion of luxury and companionship begins here with T.L.C. where fantasies become your reality.
Meet your favorite adult star up close and personal. For those with a discriminating taste for Adventure, Beauty, Passion and Companionships will find themselves friends of The Luxury Companion. Whether it may be a night out on the town with one or more of our beautiful companions around your arms or spending a weekend or an extended evening stay with a true companion will surely make a difference and bring about memories of a life time.
All adult models and Adult performers are Independent contractors. All independent contractors understands they are not employees Of The Luxury Companion, TLC. Independent Contractors are responsible for paying any taxes earned as a Independent Contractor of The Luxury Companion, TLC. All Independent Contractors Makes their own schedules of availability. The Luxury Companion does not schedule specific days and Hours of availability.
Kari Ann Peniche would record a song, “You and me and Tiger makes three” (lyrics on pastebin), which made fun of the fact that she worked as an escort and her sex tape and Miss America scandals with a playfulness that seemed perfunctory. Her voice was autotuned, and her joyful mischief was autotuned as well. Her life since the videotape scandal has been a dispiriting series of TMZ headlines. Like “VH1 Star Checks into Non-Celebrity Rehab” (9/10/2010) and “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Bails on Real Rehab After 3 Days” (9/19/2010). “You keep on saying that it’s time for my therapy / All this sobriety is really freaking scaring me” sang Peniche in “You and me and Tiger makes three”. “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Preggo — Hubby Doubts Paternity” (7/7/2011): “TMZ has obtained the divorce papers, in which Justin Williams states that Kari Ann is pregnant — and wants a judge to order genetic testing to determine if “this is a child of the marriage.”” “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Exposed Baby to Meth … Says Husband” (7/25/2012): “Justin Williams has filed documents in L.A. County Superior Court…claiming he took his 10 month old son for a hair follicle drug test earlier this month after he began to suspect Kari Ann had fallen off the wagon and was using drugs around the kid…Williams says he was initially concerned because the baby “has a habit of sucking on Kari Ann’s hair and clothes and I became concerned that he could be affected by drug residue.”” “Hey doctor doctor / Think I need some help,” sang Peniche, “Sometimes I can’t seem to control myself”. “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Cheating Drug Tests with Bogus Urine” (12/4/2012): “TMZ has learned…Peniche’s friend filed a declaration in which he claims he accompanied the former Miss United States Teen winner to a drug-testing facility in July and witnessed her injecting the urine into her genital area…so she would “secrete the purchased urine” in the event a staffer at the facility followed her into the bathroom.” “When I say I’m ready, you don’t really want to help this girl,” sang Peniche, “I’m good for ratings in your made-up make-up TV world”. This story was about three women. It began with ridiculous dreams. It’s now over. “You are one interesting girl,” said Howard Stern when he interviewed Kari Ann Peniche.
IRVING WALLACE’S THE FAN CLUB: THE FAPPENING
(On April 2, 2015, additional material about Michelle Braun’s escort ring and the Uzan scandal was added. On April 4, 2015, material on the Mark Yagalla ponzi scheme, as well as the Michael Tardio-Christopher Monson murders was added. On April 5, 2015, additional material on Michelle Braun and the Sterling Capital Trust scam was added; some details were tweaked in the last paragraph of “Three Women”, devoted to to Kari Ann Peniche. On April 5, 2015, this post underwent a badly needed session of copy editing. On April 6, 2015, the interview excerpt with Gauge was added. On May 5, 2015, the excerpts from Howard Stern’s interview with Kacey Jordan were added. On May 6, 2015, footnote #34, explaining the certainty of the identification of “Fazza” Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum as the prince refered to by Kacey Jordan, was added. On that same day, the gif featuring excerpts from the sex tape which supplemented explanations of the tape being made up of segments shot at different times was added. May 6, 2015 was also the day that footnote #35, on Jordan denying that she worked with Braun, was added, and the footnote was expaned on May 7, with material from the Howard Stern Porn Star pageant. On May 7, 2015, the gif with the split screen comparison of the bedside table was added. On May 8, 2015, the excerpt from Mariah Milano’s editorial was added. On that same day, the material on The Luxury Companion was added. On July 10, 2015, the additional material about Peniche’s rape allegations was added to footnote #7.)
1 All five parts of the Kari Ann Peniche interview with Howard Stern are: “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 35 [part 3 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 45 [part 4 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 55 [part 5 of 5]”. Transcript for selected portions of this interview is on pastebin: “Kari Ann Peniche on Howard Stern Selected Transcript”.
From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, fragment runs from 0:56 to 1:35.
7 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, first fragment runs from 2:36 to 3:36, second runs from 3:50 to 4:43.
I find the allegations which Peniche makes here to be very believable based on the extent of her details, and her emotions throughout the interview; she does not collapse into tears, but tries to put a happy face on so many things, and then will suddenly become very withdrawn, as if she suddenly feels the pain again and doesn’t want to go on. All of this, to my mind, rings true. There’s also the fact that Peniche relates the same cases of molestation and rape in a December 2008 interview, a few months before this one, “Kari Ann Peniche talks about her rape: A steppin out interview” (archive today link) on the site Times Square Gossip:
ON BEING RAPED AS A TEEN MODEL/BEAUTY QUEEN:
I’m currently writing a book about my life called “Beautifully Abused.” I’ve been though a lot of sexual abuse in my life. I was raped twice before I turned 18. It happened while I was modeling. The first time I was raped I was just 13. I was living in Texas and it happened on by a stranger [sic]. The second time was by a Military guy while I was modeling in Korea. I woke up in a dumpster and I was just 14 years old. But I wouldn’t take any of it back because it’s made me who I am. My book is about empowerment. I’ve moved ahead in my life. I’m not a victim.
I was also molested by my next door neighbor from the time I was four to seven years old. I was living on Tasman Ave in San Diego. I’ve never shared this with anyone before. But I want to talk about it. I want to deal with it. All of these people are still walking around but what can I do about it now?
8 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, fragment runs from 5:41 to 6:03.
9 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, first fragment runs from 6:12 to 8:44, second fragment runs from 9:05 to the end, continues onto “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, from beginning to 0:16.
11 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, fragment runs from 1:25 to 4:36.
12 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 35 [part 3 of 5]”, from 2:26 to 3:32.
13 A full transcript of this third episode, as well as the other two, is on pastebin: “Mindy McCready Kari Ann Peniche Interview Transcripts”.
14 The main source for this revelation is “Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens” by Teri Thompson, Michael O’Keeffe, Nathaniel Vinton, and Christian Red.
15 Overviews of the life of Mindy McCready that were useful for this paragraph were her obituaries in the New York Times, “Mindy McCready, a Singer Long Troubled, Dies at 37” by N.R. Kleinfeld, and CNN, “The long, tortured journey of Mindy McCready” by Chelsea J. Carter.
16 Her guilty plea is noted in Country Weekly’s brief news item, “Mindy McCready Pleads Guilty”: “Nashville’s The Tennesseean reported that Mindy McCready pleaded guilty to prescription drug fraud in a local court on Monday. In exchange for her plea, Mindy will serve three years of supervised probation, perform 200 hours of community service and pay a $4,000 fine.”.
During the spring the singer, once engaged to Lois & Clark actor Dean Cain, became involved with a suspected scam artist named Jonathan Roda, 32. “He came to me under the guise of being some kind of record label owner-producer,” she says from Florida. “I didn’t realize he was a con man until they took him out in handcuffs.” But a witness told the police that Roda openly bragged about his schemes in McCready’s presence. Roda was arrested for identity theft and attempted fraud on June 24 in Tucson, and McCready was charged with hindering prosecution. “I am confident I will be exonerated 100 percent,” she says, adding that she actually supplied Arizona authorities with evidence against Roda. While the arrest warrant has since been downgraded to a subpoena, Arizona police say the charges stand.
From “Mindy McCready Leaves Hospital after OD” by Todd Peterson:
Country singer Mindy McCready was released Tuesday from a Florida hospital, four days after she was found unconscious in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in a reported suicide attempt.
The country singer was discovered in the Holiday Inn Harborside in Indian Rocks Beach on July 22. With her was her on-again, off-again boyfriend, William McKnight, who told the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office that McCready had consumed “large amounts of two unidentified substances” and drank a lot of alcohol, the Associated Press reports. McCready also left behind a four-page suicide note, the contents of which were not released.
Just days before she killed herself, country singer Mindy McCready called a friend and told him she couldn’t bear to live without her boyfriend David Wilson – who had died just weeks earlier after shooting himself in the head – and RadarOnline.com has exclusive audio of their heartbreaking conversation.
The grieving mother-of-two reached out to her longtime friend Danno Hanks shortly before she committed suicide herself on Sunday — and the level of pain and suffering she was attempting to deal with following her tragic loss is all too apparent.
“[The] point of me living is waiting to die so I can be with him,” Mindy admitted, in a chilling admission.
“Danno, this is a real love story. It is… I have been with people before. I have loved. I have done all kinds of things where I could say that I was in ‘something’ with that person.
19 From “Watching the Detectives” [archive link: https://web.archive.org/web/20180202142138/http://www.laweekly.com/news/watching-the-detectives-2134636 ] by Paul Cullum:
But probably the local story they had the most to do with was Heidi Fleiss. Because Hanks was the man behind the infamous Heidi Fleiss tapes.
“On the Heidi Fleiss thing, [Brennan] came to me, and he said, ‘You know, there’s talk about this Hollywood Madam,'” says Hanks. “I started putting Heidi under surveillance, and I saw all these celebrities coming and going. And then I decided to tap Heidi’s phone. The wiretapping was not for Hard Copy. Heidi’s competition had come to me — Ivan Nagy [Fleiss’ former lover and ongoing nemesis] — and he said he’d pay me to get tapes of her telephone activity. But he didn’t want it for anything other than he wanted her client list.”
When Hard Copy‘s parent company, Paramount, ordered them off the story, Brennan continued paying Hanks out of his own pocket. The story was finally broken in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Shawn Hubler, who later identified Hanks in an accompanying sidebar as “The Man With the Tape.” Hanks claims the Times paid him $2,000 to listen to all 13 hours and promised not to identify him in print.
“That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering. This league of rogues. They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area. But they were a hoot.”
Hanks later sold the tapes to Fleiss herself — for $5,000 — before turning them over to the FBI, after she subsequently threatened him as well.
“She called me up and said, ‘I’m going to cut your throat and shit down your neck.'”
Fleiss also had her enforcer — the mysterious Cookie, who director Nick Broomfield had been famously unable to identify in his documentary Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam — call Hanks and threaten him. He gleefully recounts his response:
“I said, ‘Is this the same Cookie whose real name is Jacob Orgad, who lives at 1311 whatever, whose Social Security number is et cetera? Because if this is the same Cookie, try to remember: I ain’t one of Heidi’s girls that you’ve beaten up.’ And I basically advised him that I’d been threatened by professionals. But just to cover my ass, I decided that just in case the guy did have the balls, I wanted to have a backup plan.” Hence, the FBI.
Hanks shows up in Heidi’s Arrest Is the Talk of Tinseltown : Vice: Celebrities are rushing to help or distance themselves from alleged madam to the stars. by Shawn Hubler and James Bates, on page four of that story, as well as in “Amid a Media Crush, Fleiss Pleads Not Guilty”, where he shows up on page three, where he is “THE MAN WITH THE TAPE”.
20 Hollywood Interrupted is brought up in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Two”, and Breitbart is discussed at great length in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part One”, and to a lesser extent in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Three” and “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Four”.
21 From “Scientology Secrets, Bill Cosby Rape Conspiracy + Hollywood Murder”, first fragment runs from 33:02 to 33:31, second fragment runs from 34:50 to 35:34.
When Time Warner merged with AOL in 2000, the idea was to use AOL’s internet muscle to exploit Time Warner’s media holdings. But the two companies had very different corporate climates, and struggled to foster the originally imagined cross-platform synergies. According to Jim Bankoff, then president of AOL (and current CEO of Vox Media), Bankoff hit it off with Paratore at a 2005 meeting between AOL and Warner Bros. executives designed to kindle increased collaboration. Paratore regaled him with stories of thousands of hours of unused Extra footage — the perfect candidate for an AOL collaboration. Neither Bankoff nor Paratore knew what, exactly, they wanted to do with that footage, save put it on AOL and establish a brand that was something other than “AOL Celebrity.” That vague, amorphous idea was enough to pique Levin’s interest.
Plus, following the historic summer of 2005, gossip was percolating at an alarming rate. A cottage industry of blogs, almost entirely run by women and queer men wholly outside the industry, were exploiting that interest — most visibly Perez Hilton, but also D-Listed, Lainey Gossip, Pink Is the New Blog, Just Jared — all of which were proving, to the somewhat startled old guard of gossipmongers, that the future wasn’t in syndicated television or print, but online. Constantly updated, dynamic, with a strong authorial voice; snarky, immediate, and originating outside the carefully cultivated celebrity sphere.
These bloggers were defined by their outsider status — and their very lack of access — but that outsider status (and lack of capital) also proved problematic. Hilton, for example, was sued multiple times — more than once for copyright infringement. What these bloggers lacked was infrastructure and capital to expand and bolster their operations, all while keeping the same all-important outsider ethic.
Which is precisely what an operation housed at Telepictures, with the larger launching pad of AOL (which, in 2005, still boasted an amplifying power of 22 million subscribers), could achieve.
Braun, who now lives in Florida with her two daughters, won’t name names yet. Of one very single TV personality, she said, “If I dropped his name to Page Six, I certainly wouldn’t be his idol.
“I only worked with famous girls, mostly Playmates. Hef couldn’t keep any of his girlfriends in the [Playboy] Mansion,” she said. “At one time, seven of the eight girls living in the Mansion were working for me. I had one of his girlfriends in the Mansion just to recruit for me.”
As a kid, Nici enjoyed the privileged lifestyle of a small-town California girl. Her Jewish parents owned a Baskin- Robbins franchise in Bakersfield, an oil and agriculture town, and showered her with gifts, like a purple Chevy truck that sported pink flames along its sides and the license plate YOOSEXY. After school, she worked at a gym and a tanning salon, hanging out in the apple fields at night to drink beer with her friends. A popular girl who loved wielding power over a clique of friends, she plastered her bedroom with posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and dreamed of moving to Hollywood. “I wasn’t going to stay in Bakersfield,” she says. “No way.” As a freshman at San Diego State University, Nici spent most of her time partying at frats. Her roommate got on her case for not having a job, but she never wanted for money: On one trip to Rosarito, Mexico, she entered a wet T-shirt contest and won hundreds of dollars. Her primary skill involved the computer – her father, an electrical engineer, taught her to build one for a school project. “From the beginning of the Internet, I was obsessed with communicating over the Web,” she says. “I was a computer geek with a party-girl persona.”
One day, while she was window-shopping for sequined miniskirts on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Nici was picked up by a handsome fashion designer 14 years her senior. She soon dropped out of school and moved to L.A. to be with him full time. When he dumped her, she took a job working the door at the Century Club, where a manager offered her extra money to find pretty girls to sit at the tables with the big spenders. Nici quickly proved to have a knack for separating girls from their dates. “We’re really busy tonight,” she’d tell people straining at the velvet rope. “I don’t know if we have room for all of you, but the girls can come in.” Eager to get into the club, the women would ditch their boyfriends without a thought. Then one night, a big spender asked Nici to set him up on a date with a girl she had befriended – and tipped her $500 for the privilege.
“That,” she says, “is when I realized this was a business.”
28 This partial list of women who worked for Nici Braun is compiled from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis and “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” by Mark Ebner. The names Ashley Massaro, Tina Jordan, Krystal Steal, Lanny Barby, McKenzie Lee, Naomi, Jody Palmer, Taryn Thomas and Angelique are taken from Grigoriadis; Patricia Ford, Christi Shake, Alexander Karlsen, Victoria Silverstedt, and Victoria Paris are taken from Ebner.
An accompanying picture from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:
29 From “Woman accused of $8.5 million porn star prostitution business” by Rachanee Srisavasdi:
Braun allegedly operated an online business through her corporation, Global Travel Network, Inc., with the assistance of her husband and sister, according to court records in a separate money-forfeiture case involving Braun.
The company was “disguised as a travel and security business and was used to facilitate the laundering of Braun’s prostitution proceeds,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank D. Kortum.
31 From “A-listers nervous as woman admits running Hollywood prostitution ring” by Helen Pidd:
Braun’s lawyer admitted the men who used Braun’s service did so to get sex. “I’m not sure people would pay money to meet a porn star and talk about Stephen Hawking’s newest book,” Nurik told the Daily Mail.
32 This name is taken from the excerpts of this black book featured at “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” by Mark Ebner.
33 Information on Gregory Turville Harry, his associate Daniel Sifford, and their pump and dump scheme is discussed in “2 accused of `pump-dump’ stock scheme” by Bloomberg News and “Man pleads guilty to inflated-stock scheme” by Salvador Hernandez.
34 We can make the identification that the prince Kacey Jordan refers to is Dubai’s crown prince, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, popularly known as “Fazza”, (wikipedia entry) without difficulty and great confidence. “We stayed at the world’s only seven star hotel,” says Jordan, and there is only one seven star hotel in the world, it’s in Dubai, and it’s the Burj Al Arab. This extraordinary hotel is owned by the Jumeirah Group, which is a subset of Dubai Holding (Jumeirah Group page on Dubai Holding site, archive.today link), whose majority shareholder is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Hamdan’s father (information taken from Dubai Holding FAQ page: “Who owns Dubai Holding?” “The major shareholder in Dubai Holding is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.”, archive.today link). “And it was okay, we just stayed at one of his hotels, that he owned,” says Jordan. “So, in other words, somebody hooks you up, you fly over to this arab country, they fly you, what, on a private jet?” asks Stern. Jordan: “Uh, well, he owns the airlines.” Though Hamdan does not personally own the airlines, his family does – from “A tale of two desert dynasties” by Christopher M Davidson references Ahmed bin Said Al-Maktoum, Hamdan’s uncle as the head of Emirates Airlines, and this is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one of the emirates, owned by the Dubai royal family. In “Charlie Sheen’s War”, Mark Seal would also state openly that the country of this prince – never explicitly said by Jordan in the Stern interview – was Dubai. The most relevant portion from the article is bolded:
“They call me the Whore Whisperer, because I’m really good at talking to these girls,” says the Bizzle, who went by his real name, Kevin Blatt, before Snoop Dogg crowned him K-Bizzle at a porn convention. Balding, with a soul-patch goatee, he is wearing a blazer over an open shirt when I meet him for lunch in February. He says he has hardly eaten since he met Kacey Jordan less than a week ago. “I really care about these chicks,” he continues, devouring oysters. “Most people consider them throwaway sperm receptacles, but these girls have a place in the world.”
Best known for peddling the sex tape of Paris Hilton and for representing Capri Anderson when she went public about her torrid night with Sheen, the Bizzle says he got wind of Jordan from “underbelly sources.” On January 27, she had barely unlocked the door of the house she shares with a friend in the environs of Los Angeles, which she calls “the sticks, Bumfuck, Egypt,” when her cell phone rang. It was the Bizzle, who said, “I know you were at Charlie’s house last night.”
He would also soon know that she was supplementing her work in standard porn films such as Rocco’s Bitch Party 2 with low-budget, non-titled segments for the Internet. Furthermore, he would learn that she was eking out an income by escorting, that she had just returned from eight days in Dubai, and that she had already blown through the $35,000 she had been paid by her client there, a prince. More important, he knew that the $30,000 check Sheen had written that night—which she had already cashed—was chump change compared with the bonanza she now had to sell.
“Is he gross?” asks Stern of the prince. “No, he’s hot,” answers Jordan, and Hamdan fully matches Jordan’s description of a very good looking man. A Fangirls Guide to Fazza, for example, is a tumblr that is a tribute to the man’s doe eyed beauty. The U.S. embassy cable from February 12, 2008 on Wikileaks, “Dubai Designates Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler” carries the information on the appointment:
Summary: On February 1, 2008, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MbR), Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, appointed his second eldest son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad Al Maktoum (HbM), Crown Prince of Dubai. The appointment of the 25-year-old heir apparent was not a surprise; MbR had been increasing his son’s visibility through high level government assignments and unofficial publicity campaigns over the past several years. Consolidating the Dubai government’s succession planning, MbR also appointed another son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammad Al Maktoum (MbM), as Deputy Ruler of Dubai. For now, MbM will share responsibilities as Deputy Ruler with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. (Hamdan bin Rashid is MbR’s older brother who was named Deputy Ruler of Dubai in 1995, the same year MbR assumed his role of Crown Prince. Sheikh Hamden [sic] also serves as the UAE Minister of Finance and Industry). End summary.
That Hamdan was made crown prince, rather than his older brother and the oldest son, Rashid, is given an unsettling explanation in the same cable. I bold the significant detail:
MbR’s oldest son, Rashid, does not play a public role in Dubai affairs. (Note: It is alleged that Rashid killed an assistant in the Ruler’s office, thereby forfeiting his opportunity to be heir. Post believes MbR has a total of 20 children from both his official and unofficial wives. End note).
35 In a later interview with Stern, Jordan would claim that she had no connection with Michelle Braun or her escort ring. From “Howard Stern – Pageant”, part of a 2011 show devoted to a porn star contest pageant (11:40-12:54):
Weren’t you sent over by that lady pimp who was in the, who was coming forward also, or you have a different person who puts you in charge with these parties?
I take care…it’s all through like, mutual acquaintances, like one guy, and then it’s their friend, and then it’s the doctor, and then it’s the dentist. Which…I fucked my dentist. Which is so hot.
You fucked your dentist?
My biggest fantasy when I was growing up, getting my teeth cleaned, I just wanted to fuck my dentist. And finally I have a dentist I can fuck. And-
How does that work? In other words, you-
Oh, I’m going to get a complete set, it’s like, forty grand worth of veneers for free.
Let me ask you, are those your real teeth?
Your teeth are gorgeous! Don’t put those veneers on, they always end up looking fake.
Nonono, this guy is amazing. And he’s-
Let me see, move to the side, and give me a smile. [JORDAN does so] Don’t touch those teeth!
What do you want!
Why would you do that!
I can’t achieve the whiteness.
Listen to me. These girls who get these veneers. They make these white chiclets, and they never look hot anymore. Don’t touch your teeth.
You’ll look so fake. You look so natural.
So what is it, the dentist agrees to give you veneers if you fuck him?
Yeah. Well, he had to fuck me in my ass the other day, because I couldn’t have sex yet.
Because of your abortion?
Yeah. It was a big fat load. I always see how long I can keep it in for.
This pageant was a contest between three women who’d known Charlie Sheen – Jordan, Amanda Rios, and Capri Anderson. Most of the hilarity comes from the hatred between Anderson and Jordan; Anderson had been invited to Sheen’s hotel room in 2011 when he wrecked it and allegedly threw a lamp at her, and it was this hotel room wrecking incident which prompted a call to the police and brought a spotlight to Sheen’s excesses. Jordan felt that Anderson was playing the card of a helpless victim, and she wasn’t buying it. Jordan was especially hostile to the idea that Anderson was suing Sheen after he apologized, which led to Jordan, one of those people a writer loves because they’re an endless fountain of quotables, coming up with one of the best lines I’ve heard in a while. From 39:12 to 40:28.
…as soon as he [Sheen] started getting physical with me, I got really nervous, I resisted, I started to get off the bed, and weasel my way away, and he picked up the lamp next to the bed and just tossed it, like baseball style…
Question for Capri.
…smashing everything around the room.
Go ahead, Kacey.
So, if he apologized and everything, why do you want to sue him?
He apologized two days later. Because people have to suffer the consequences and the repercussions of their bad actions.
He even offered you money, and you still want to sue him?
Yeah, I’m suing him to make a point.
Okay. That’s kind of mean.
Yeah, it is kind of mean. Somebody was kind of mean to me. A lot of people have been kind of mean to me. The paparazzi have been mean to my family-
What have they been doing?
So people have been mean to me too! That’s what comes along with this. It’s just-
I’m not complaining about people being mean to you. You asked me, so I’m answering.
But this is the problem, Howard. A lot of the girls don’t like the way Capri has handled all this. They say it’s part of the job.
Kacey, you think this is unprofessional of her, even though she was attacked physically, she claims.
Yeah. Well. Okay. I don’t blame him.
You think she’s in it just for the money.
Attacked physically, emotionally. My entire life. I mean, they went to Philly, to my sister’s, where she’s doing her internship-
You suck dick for a living. You’re afraid of a lamp getting thrown at you?
37 Details in this paragraph are taken from “Dial ‘D’ For Dummies” by Matthew Swibel, “Turkey’s Berlusconi?” by The Economist staff, and “Motorola’s fraud lawsuit a story of global intrigue” by Barbara Rose and Catherine Collins.
38 Information in this paragraph on Cem Uzan’s attempts at election are taken from “Turkey’s Berlusconi?” by The Economist staff, “Motorola’s fraud lawsuit a story of global intrigue” by Barbara Rose and Catherine Collins, “Neophyte status a plus for hopeful” by Catherine Collins; I found the best source for information on the fall of the Imar Bank to be the Hurriyet Daily News, among them “$5 billion lost in Imar Bank” (no author credit fro Hurriyet Daily News stories), “Share sale reminds of a dark chapter in Turkish banking”. A PR release on the judgement was released by Motorola on July 31, 2003, and published on PR News Wire: “U.S. District Court Issues $4.26 Billion Judgment Against Uzan Family of Turkey for Perpetrating Massive Global Fraud, According to Motorola”. Further information on this initial verdict can be found at “Uzan says he sought deals” by Catherine Collins and David Greising.
40 Except for the cited article from Today’s Zadan, all information on the exile of the Uzans here is taken entirely from Hurriyet Daily News: “PM accuses France on Uzan move”, “Uzan row may worsen Turkey-France ties, reports say”, “Turkish court issues another warrant for former media mogul” (a reference to Cem Uzan), “President Gül to ask Jordan to cooperate over Uzan case”.
41 The figure of over eight million is taken from “Woman accused of $8.5 million porn star prostitution business” by Rachanee Srisavasdi; in “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, her interview with Peter Van Sant, we get a slightly different answer, that she made over twenty million dollars.
He churned through strippers as if sheer numbers could fill the hole in him. But again he grew bored, and this time he turned to the Internet. It was there that he stumbled on Nici’s Girls, a website that was just then taking the online escort business to a new level. Men willing to pay a $5,000 “admission fee” could gain entrée to Nici’s “Millionaires Club,” billed simply and mysteriously as a harem of unnamed porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playboy Playmates. That was enough for Yagalla. He called Nici, who was herself just 21, and said he was young and had a lot of money. She matched him with a pin-up girl who came to his home and flew with him to Puerto Rico. The four days only cost him $28,000 plus airfare.
44 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace, except for the quote “She was the first person to really use the Internet to offer prostitutes,” which is taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.
46 Details on “Fat” Herbie Blitzstein’s life and death are taken from “Slaying of ‘Fat Herbie’ Evokes Mob’s Heyday” by Robert Macy. The association between Bitzstein and Bentley is taken from Benjamin Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate”: “Sandy, close to five-foot-nine, had hair extensions and breast implants (the latter paid for by a pre-Hefner boyfriend, slain Vegas mobster Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein), and ambitions centered on fame and fun and wealth.”
51 Details in this paragraph are taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.
52 Details in this paragraph are taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.
53 Information on the reward was taken from “Police hope new show, $75,000 reward will solve cold double slay case linked to pinup’s jewelry” by Nancy Dillon.
54 For legal reasons, information on Dillon Jordan is left out of this post. However, I have read the missing chapter of Ebner’s Six Degrees of Paris Hilton devoted to him. An account of the lawsuit can be found at Courthouse News, “Hollywood Blogger Accused of Defamation” by Che Akiba, and the effect can be found in a “Archive Note” (published April 1st, 2012) reprinted on Ebner’s site, Hollywood Interrupted: “All publications concerning Dillon Jordan have been removed due to a legal settlement agreement (with prejudice) reached in litigation with Plaintiff.” The detail that Danno Hanks provided investigators with information can be found at “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies up to federal agents” by Rush & Malloy: “Investigators obtained evidence from private investigator Dan Hanks, who got to know Braun while working for “Fox Undercover.” “Michelle would ask me to do background checks on potential clients and girls, which I did in order to find out more about her,” Hanks tells us.”
55 The details of the end of Braun’s ring and her arrest are taken from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis; the plea by Braun can be found at United States of America v. Michelle Louise Braun.
56 Details of Michelle Braun’s difficult post-madam life in this paragraph are taken from “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure” by Terrence McCoy.
57 Details on Sterling Capital and Braun’s arrest for fraud are taken from “Former California madam charged in South Florida stock fraud” by Peter Franceschina.
58 Details on Braun’s plea in the Sterling Capital fraud can be found in “Former Hollywood madam sentenced in Fort Lauderdale stock scam” by Jon Burnstein:
A Boca Raton woman who once ran Southern California’s most exclusive escort service was sentenced Friday to one year of house arrest for her role in a Fort Lauderdale scam that bilked investors out of more than $200,000.
Michelle Braun cut a deal with state prosecutors in January to avoid prison time in exchange for paying a sizable chunk of money in restitution and pleading no contest to a felony charge. She had served as vice president of a company, Sterling Capital Trust, that sold nonexistent stock to investors, according to court records.
She pleaded no contest in January to unlawfully operating a boiler room operation, a first-degree felony under Florida law punishable by up to 30 years in prison. A boiler room typically is a fraud operation in which telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics to lure the gullible and the greedy into purported investment opportunities.
As part of her plea deal, Braun agreed to house arrest followed by four years’ probation. She already has handed over $100,000 in restitution for the victims and will be on the hook for more if her co-defendants don’t cover the rest.
59 Details on the disparity between Michelle Braun’s sentencing and that of Brian Dunlevy are taken from “Did high-priced madam bought her way out of prison” by the great reporter Bob Norman.
60 Quote is obviously taken from “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure” by Terrence McCoy.
61 I was prompted into looking at The Luxury Companion from the sentence, “Jessie seems an odd choice to talk about the dangers of unprotected porn sex, when it’s well known Derek and Adonia sent her on the sheik tour of Dubai for unprotected prostitution sex,” a line I came across in a long thread devoted to retired adult performer Jessie St. Rogers (“Jessie Rogers Official Thread. New 18yo brazilian (page 43)”, thread content and ads are very NSFW). It was porn veteran Rob Black (see “Extreme Porn, Xtreme Wrestling and Solitary Confinement: The Life and Times of Rob Black” by Daniel Dylan Wray) who alleged the owner of The Luxury Companion was Karen Adonia on his podcast, “The Rob Black Show (2013/07/02)” (he makes the allegation at 1h52m, both the show and time I got from XXXpornTalk‘s “The Pornarium (page 8)” thread, contents and ads very NSFW). Derek is presumably Derek Hays of the porn talent agency, LA Direct Models.