Second of five parts
Dana Giacchetto's Secret Life
Dana Giacchetto — like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon — grew up middle class, in suburban Massachusetts. More precisely, in the modest Boston suburb of Medford, home to Tufts University. When he graduated from Medford High School in 1980, Giacchetto listed his fondest memories: "partying ... New Year's Eve ... car accident ... bondage ... coke ... whippets ... good times." Even if these were just the ramblings of a pumped-up teenager, he aimed to make them true.
It took him ten years to complete an undergrad degree, though, at UMass Boston. Though he fantasized of a Harvard MBA, the four extension courses he took at the Ivy League school included Fiction Workshop Skills. Otherwise he dabbled in college rock bands and worked on the fringes of the business world as a systems analyst. Later he lied and claimed he managed large personal portfolios at Shearson American Express.
When he moved to New York from Boston in 1993, the fantasy life began blurring with reality. He was determined to become one of the celebrities he met and to fit into their world — to keep up with them. Giacchetto infiltrated this world through a friendship he pursued with Marc Glimcher, scion of the Pace Art Gallery, which counted among its clients uber-agent Michael Ovitz.
Once inside this clique of very powerful Hollywood players, Giacchetto was like a contagion in a blood stream. He became obsessed, sources said, with actress Ann Magnuson whom he’d met at an event. He told friends he was planning to live with Magnuson and that he was in love. Magnuson declined to comment for this story, but sources close to her claimed that their relationship was confined mostly to phone calls and lasted only a short time in early 1999.
Giacchetto’s two other personal relationships were divided between Artemis Willis, the daughter of a wealthy Brahmin family, and Allegra Brasco, who was the secretary of Ted Hope, owner of Good Machine Productions, another company whose funds Giacchetto regularly dipped into during his last year in business.
But Giacchetto had also gained a strange reputation for the men he picked up in his life. One example: "Stan," now 29, a married Staten Island housing cop he met at a bar in 1999. Soap opera handsome, Stan said he subsequently moonlighted for Giacchetto as a bodyguard "doing security." Friends of Giacchetto say that suddenly "Stan the cop" was with Dana all the time, constantly.
A Hollywood screenwriter Allan Swyer, has optioned his life story. Why? Among other things, Stan says he used to dance in strip clubs "like Chippendale’s." He said that’s what he was doing when he met Giacchetto at a party at Flamingo East, a Second Avenue nightspot that’s open-minded about its clientele. Swyer, though, said Stan met Giacchetto when he was dancing at one of his strip clubs. Giacchetto had brought two women with him to watch. Afterward, Stan told Swyer he danced for the trio at Giacchetto’s loft.
"Dana didn’t like me dancing," Stan told me. "He wanted me to concentrate on my acting." Giacchetto’s ledgers and SEC records indicate that Dana wrote thousands of dollars worth of checks to Stan throughout 1999 for "security." Stan observed, "He was trying to compensate me for not dancing anymore." According to Swyer, Giacchetto was paying him up to $2000 (under the table) in cash per night for his work and gifting him with expensive clothes from Prada among other places.
Stan told me that Giacchetto took him on many trips including one to Las Vegas. He said, "When we were alone together, that’s when Dana said he felt like he was himself, that he could be real." On one trip his wife accompanied them. "She was suspicious that Dana was interested in me for other things," Stan said.
Stan, however, ardently denies a relationship other than friendship. In fact, said one former Cassandra employee, Giacchetto "had no sexual preference." He was the Talented Mr. Ripley. "He did what he had to survive."
Rumors abound about drugs at the Flamingo East parties, and sex parties that followed. Was it all just a realization of that high school yearbook entry? A former Cassandra employee said, "Whenever there’d be tough questions about the business, Dana would change the subject and tell us about the orgies and sex stuff that had gone on the night before." Stan said, "Dana didn’t use drugs," then added: "He had some kind of synthetic coke, that came in pill form. At least that’s what he called it."
Giacchetto’s interest in Stan was not his only reclamation project. On a trip to Florida in 1999 he met a mysterious young Hungarian emigre named Joszef Bali, and brought him to New York as his assistant. "Where do you think he met him?" asked one of the former employees. "In a strip club."
Described as "model ugly" by one ex-Giacchetto friend, Bali, who had no business training, soon went to work for Giacchetto as his assistant in the winter of 2000, succeeding four or five Cassandra employees whom Dana forced out as business got worse. "He wanted people around who knew nothing and wouldn’t question him," observed one of the team that left.
Bali collected at least $25,000 from Dana between August and November 1999 for his services, according to Cassandra ledgers. What the money was for remains a mystery. Bali may have had a fiancée, although both of them have subsequently disappeared. Nevertheless, Bali’s brother married June Fennell, one of the back office workers, and then divorced her before returning home with his brother. In September, Fennell — now a single mom on Staten Island — gave birth to twin boys. "Joe was like a homeless person who Dana found," one friend said. "We didn’t know what was going on."
Of all of Giacchetto’s secret relationships, maybe the strangest was with Montreal student Christopher MacLaren. According to Cassandra Group ledgers, Dana wrote checks to MacLaren in 1999 totaling $12,000. But no one remembers him, including Giacchetto’s closest associates. MacLaren, now 26, is a professional trainer who lives in Canada. He told me that he met Giacchetto while working out at the Crunch gym on Lafayette Street in 1998. MacLaren — who describes himself as six feet two inches tall and very fit — was in town visiting friends.
"Dana was wearing a bathing suit and Dolce and Gabbana shoes," MacLaren recalled. "He didn’t know what he was doing. He was trying to lift weights, but it wasn’t working. So I offered to help him."
The two became quick pals, although MacLaren swears the relationship was platonic. "We went to dinner a lot, not fancy places, just barbecue places." MacLaren said he never visited Giacchetto’s loft or office and never met his friends. But in 1999 Giacchetto took him for a weekend jaunt to Las Vegas. They gambled, and then Dana went on to Los Angeles.
MacLaren, who’s back in Montreal, could easily be described as a naïf. "He said he was friends with Leonardo Di Caprio. Was it true?" he asked me. "I thought he was my best friend, but maybe not after all." MacLaren declined to say what the $12,000 was for and insisted that he paid for all his trips to New York and to Las Vegas using frequent flier miles.
An SEC source, though, said MacLaren’s name comes up often on Giacchetto’s American Express slips. MacLaren also offered a peek into Giacchetto’s split personality. "He told me had a new girlfriend, Ann Magnuson," MacLaren recalled. "He was always talking about her." As with Stan, Giacchetto was telling MacLaren that their relationship was his only "real" one.
"We were just friends, you know, we could just talk." This, despite the obvious differences — MacLaren was a dozen years Giacchetto’s junior, came from a provincial background in Montreal and went to a small college there.
Even though he knew he was in trouble, Giacchetto showed no signs of worry — or any contrition. He continued to hire new staffers, including actress Chloe Sevigny’s brother Paul, to cut deals for Cassandra. At the premiere of Jim Carrey’s Man in the Moon, in December 1999, he chastised an ex-client for leaving him. "He had the nerve to yell at me and say I hadn’t been loyal. And he’d already signed a letter of confession to Phish."
Indeed, Giacchetto had very quietly signed a $3.9 million confession with the group Phish. (A few weeks later the group would send a truck to Giacchetto’s loft and take millions in art in lieu of cash.) Knowing this, he nevertheless gave interviews to clueless reporters from Vanity Fair and New York magazine proclaiming his innocence. But down deep he may have known his days were numbered and took out insurance. In addition to having Stan, a cop, on his payroll, he was making gifts to other police-related staff.
According to the SEC, Giacchetto plunked down $12,100 for a lease on a Mercedes for a "law enforcement official." Ironically, the money was wired into Manhattan Mercedes on February 2, 2000 — the same day, coincidentally, that Stan retired from the force after six years service with an "accidental disability" and lifetime pay of three-quarters salary.
The recipient’s name remains a mystery while the case is still being investigated.
The Mercedes money came from the account of Fred Schneider, whom Giacchetto idolized. "He loved Fred," said one staffer. "He loved the B-52s. He couldn’t believe he was friends with him."
There were others who were part of Giacchetto’s secret world, many of whom have disappeared. An Australian pearl merchant named Paul Braunstein, whose company — Nankai USA — is unreachable. One former Cassandra staffer pointed to Braunstein as Giacchetto’s silent partner, "the person who really got him started."
"They were all part of Dana’s mystique," said a former friend.