Fifth of five parts

Dana Giacchetto: The Saga Concludes

The people who were more in the dark than anyone — and more vulnerable to Dana Giacchetto — were the common investors, the real people, not the celebrities. 

Lara Harris, the Shepard family, Andy Sarno, Janet Surrey, Sherry Vigdor and Gordon Baird are all names that don't pop up in gossip columns. Yet these were the accounts Giacchetto helped himself to when the A list called in and asked for their money. 

Dr. James Shepard of Massachusetts had placed more than $700,000 in trust money with Giacchetto after his son, Dan, had met and been befriended by Dana. At one point, he'd even given Kent Damon a reference for Giacchetto. The Shepards have since recouped some of their money after threatening Brown & Co. with a messy public lawsuit. 

Sherry Vigdor has also suffered from Giacchetto's thievery. A single mom living in Soho, she inherited $500,000, only to see Giacchetto squander it. 

"I have 23,000 shares of Paradise that are worthless," she said. "He used my money to save the celebrities. It's pretty devastating. It was my future. It was a betrayal." 

Vigdor met Giacchetto through Robin Renzi, a New York jewelry designer whom Giacchetto had used as a countersignature on his loft sublease — because Renzi was an artist, which was required. Renzi, who declined to comment for this article, was subsequently sued by Giacchetto's landlord in a case that was only recently resolved after years of haranguing. 

Giacchetto's original sublease ran out more than two years ago. Giacchetto's neighbors were not fond of him and became less so after the New Year's Eve 1998 party in his SoHo loft, which resulted in lawsuits when revelers triggered the buildings' alarms at 7 a.m. New Year's Day. 

"Everyone in that building hated him," says a friend. 

The so-called Real People — most of whom were from the Boston area — didn't get to see movie stars urinating off Giacchetto's roof or any of the other shenanigans the money manager sanctioned."You would just hear him say to his assistant, 'Tell Ovitz I'll call him back,'" recalls Baird. "He made you feel like you were his only client." 

And those clients were not stupid people. Surrey is a famous Harvard doctor. Greg Reibman is a respected journalist. Robert Ginder is a well-known artist. Tina Andrade is a museum curator, Jody Goodman books big name rock bands. And so on. 

But even during his SEC audit — between December 14, 1999 and January 13, 2000 — with the government literally breathing down his neck, Giacchetto couldn't help himself. He stole $450,000 from another investor, Gordon Baird Jr., the founder of Musician magazine, on January 6 and 11. "The funny thing," says Baird, "is that I had been with him for eight years and I'd made money." 

Baird is also negotiating with Brown & Co. and hopes to recoup some of his loss. "I've heard that some people have gotten back 85 percent," he says. Baird, like most of Giacchetto's victims, is not a movie star. "I worked hard for that money," he said. 

Knowing his days were numbered, Giachetto took almost $300,000 from Fred Schneider, as well as funds from then-Talk magazine editor Gabe Doppelt. Between January 6 and February 17, he sent American Express $240,000 — all of it other people's money. 

On February 2, looting Schneider's account, Donna Wong wired the now-famous Mercedes money. 

Giacchetto also started traveling more. He went to Las Vegas on March 3, and then to Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 7. On March 10, he bounced a check to Peter Brown, the British New York-based publicist he'd engaged to help quell the rumors about him. Brown had overseen the New York and Vanity Fair articles and had no idea until this reporter called him in April, after Giacchetto's arrest, that he'd been conned. 

He sent a check to something called the New York Police Scholarship Fund for $5,000 on March 10 as well, though there is no such organization. And then, on April 5, the arrest. Followed by the second arrest on April 12, when authorities found him with a fake passport, 80 first class airline tickets, and $4,000 in cash. He'd gone to Las Vegas again, without permission, but with plans to leave the country. The gamble had not paid off. 

Giacchetto's parents came to that first court appearance on April 5 and put up their extremely modest home in exchange for their son's freedom. The Giacchetto's — who would later devote a Web site to Dana's professed innocence — looked bedraggled and fearful, like the parents of a Great Gatsby. 

Everyone in the press felt sorry for them that day. A couple of weeks later it turned out their other son, Russell, had just completed his own stint in prison — for illegal weapons possession and for arson. His parole officer wrote: "Parole denied. His explanation for his crime is incredible." 

The Parole Board also cited Russel Giacchetto's "serious heroin habit" and that he should be supervised for "Drug — and liquor abstinence." Sympathy for the Giacchettos disappeared, although U.S. Attorney David Lewis let them keep their house even when Dana jumped bail. 

And the Giacchettos weren't the only ones in the Cassandra group with chutzpah, however. Even with Dana behind bars, one of his former associates kept the flame alive. In July 2000, Donna Wong — who'd presumably stopped working for Giacchetto in April when he was arrested, petitioned Cassandra's court-appointed receiver for her Manhattan rent money. The request was declined. 

From jail, he writes letters to his old friends while he awaits his sentence. To some he quotes the Bible; a few old associates say he's gotten Jesus. "He's quoting scriptures now, as if that would help," says one. 

Brasco has remained devoted to Giacchetto, showing up at all his court hearings and even speaking to the press occasionally at their conclusion. It was she whom Giacchetto said he was going to propose marriage in Rome last April when he was re-arrested on suspicion of leaving the country illegally. 

In a form letter Giacchetto implores his old disciples: "I've always felt, since I was a little boy, that I was put on this planet to do good things. In the most basic terms, put here to be a good human being. Maybe you're asking yourself what happened to Dana? The Dana I know! I'm asking the same questions myself, yet God has blessed me with the will to effect my destiny — and perhaps more importantly — to effect the destiny of those around me."