Dana Giacchetto's Three-Hour Sentencing: He Gets
Three More Years
At a sentencing hearing that was more like an opera than an afternoon in criminal court, former celebrity-money-manager Dana Giacchetto was given 57 months in jail by Judge Robert Patterson.
The hearing lasted three hours and twenty minutes, ending after 7:30 p.m. It included a memorable, melodramatic statement by Giacchetto and performances by his attorneys worthy of Golden Globes.
Giacchetto, who's already served 10 months in prison, will more than likely only spend three more years in jail starting tomorrow. He will get a 15 percent reduction for good behavior, and will have nearly a year deducted from his time if he's accepted into a drug-and-alcohol prison rehab program.
In addition to his prison time, he'll have three years of probation afterwards and must repay nearly $10 million to creditors, clients, and banks.
Judge Patterson, chuckling, said, "You'll never get restitution."
But what went on in courtroom 24A starting around 4:20 p.m. on February 7, 2001 will be remembered for a long time to come.
The highlight came in the third hour when, with all his arguments for leniency exhausted, Giacchetto stood to address the judge, the press, and a few of his victims who had attended the session.
"Hi, your honor," he said flippantly to the straight-faced jurist to whom Giacchetto had faxed an incoherent nine-paged poem only a week ago.
"I'm not here to mitigate my guilt," he continued. "I'd like to note to all my clients — I am sorry. I started Cassandra Group to help artists. I never started a Ponzi scheme. There's been a quagmire of misinformation we've been exposed to. I know I'm not a sympathetic character now."
Then Giacchetto's voice rose and became shrill as he started shouting and pointing.
"I'm very sorry. If you don't think I was I doing a lot of drugs and drinking toward the end, ask anyone. I lost one of my best friends who hanged himself to drugs," he said, invoking for the few who knew what he was talking about the memory of the late talent agent Jay Moloney.
"This is a message to anyone on Wall Street," Giacchetto said, then flipped into a personal note as he sobbed. "My mother had polio. My father's father — I'm sorry, I have to say this — blew his brains out when he was young."
At this point, Giacchetto's father, a short older man with a full white beard, began to cry loudly.
"I looked everywhere for help," Giacchetto shouted angrily at the court. "I begged for help. I looked around and begged everyone for help! But no one would help me!
"Yes, I do lie. I've lived in a fantasy. I'm not a one-dimensional mendacious character. From the day I started Cassandra Group, I wanted to help artists. Please show me some mercy."
At that point, Giacchetto fell into his seat and — with his head on the table — began to cry.
His mother, Alma, who could be played by Elizabeth Franz, shouted out: "We love you, Dana! You're very honest!"
There was stifled laughter in the courtroom.
How Judge Patterson arrived at Giacchetto's sentence was the most interesting element of the non-hysterical part of the afternoon.
The judge again and again stressed two things about Giacchetto's case: that he wanted to deter others from thinking they could do what Giacchetto had done and get away with it, and that Giacchetto had also shirked the acceptance and responsibility for what he'd done by invoking the Fifth Amendment last week in front of bankruptcy receivers.
Patterson said, "You mean to tell me you're never going to cooperate with finding out what happened to the money?"
Giacchetto's attorneys, Ronald Fischetti and Roland Riopelle, had argued that Giacchetto could not cooperate without first getting full immunity from further prosecution should his answers reveal that he had stashed money in overseas accounts.
U.S. Attorney David Lewis responded by saying that there would be no chance for immunity. He also refuted Giacchetto's defense that some clients had been paid back by reminding the court that it wasn't Giacchetto, but the banks — Brown and Co. and Citizens Bank, formerly U.S. Trust of Boston — that had done so, as the judge put it, "in their own best interests."
It was revealed during the session that the two institutions have so far repaid $5,600,000 to former Giacchetto clients.
The courtroom was filled with reporters, onlookers, and some of Giacchetto's victims, including single mother Sherry Vigdor, who brought her ten-year-old daughter.
Vigdor, who initially lost nearly $300,000 to Giacchetto, spoke from a podium as a representative of his victims.
"You have devastated my life and my daughter's future," Vigdor said. "I trusted you, and you lied over and over again."
Giacchetto's parents sat in the front row with his fiancée, Allegra Brasco. At various points, Giacchetto turned around from the defendant's table and grinned at them.
Fischetti, who's famous for representing one of the New York City cops convicted in the Abner Louima abuse case, put on quite a show trying to defend Giacchetto. Even the judge was moved to tell Giacchetto at the end of the session, "Your lawyers did a good job for you."
But not good enough. Fischetti tried to show that Giacchetto had been a philanthropist, giving generously to charities. Unfortunately, Lewis was able to counter that by reminding the judge that Giacchetto's donations came from stolen money.
Fischetti also tried to convince the judge that Giacchetto's celebrity-obsessed lifestyle led him to make mistakes. He cited Giacchetto's friendship with Leonardo DiCaprio around the time of Titanic, and also pointed to friendships — which Fischetti exaggerated — with Ben Affleck and Winona Ryder, among others.
Fischetti said: "Mr. Giacchetto's had a huge fall from grace. He traveled with first-class airline tickets. He roomed with the most important movie stars. He had a beautiful apartment with wonderful clothes. He was a young Master of the Universe and nothing could touch him. And he has the soul of an artist."
The attorney then revealed that during the first few months of Giacchetto's stay in prison, he'd been put in solitary confinement after complaining about harassment from other prisoners. Since then, he said, Giacchetto was doing much better and had become more popular.
Fischetti also tried to make a case that Giacchetto had become addicted to liquor, Valium and Percodan in the last few months of his wild time as an investment broker. He conceded, however, that Giacchetto was clean and sober now, and that he has never sought treatment of any kind.
Judge Patterson was not impressed with any of this.
"I don't understand the world you live in," he said. "I don't understand the stars and they probably wouldn't understand me. There are better ways to earn a living. I enjoy the local artist and the plumber, people who work hard, more than people with a lot of money."
At the conclusion of the hearing, both Lewis and Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Alexander Vasilescu said they were happy with the judge's decision. Fischetti refused to comment to me and to the reporters from Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, saying, "Especially you," to this reporter.
Cosmo Giacchetto, Dana's father, said, "I know you're friends with [Jules] Crittenden," a reference to the Boston Herald reporter who was chased off the Giacchetto's front stoop last summer by Dana's brother Russell, who had just served five years in prison himself.
When I asked Mr. Giacchetto about the propriety of Dana mentioning his grandfather's suicide, Alma Giacchetto barked, "No, my son is not a murderer!"
Is it over at last? The answer is: No, it's never really over. We'll be hearing about Dana Giacchetto for some to come. He has the right to appeal his sentence, although it's unlikely it will be overturned. And then there will always linger questions about where all the money went, and if he has still has some of it stashed away somewhere.
As one courtroom viewer said today: "He must have three or four million hidden someplace. He's too calm about what's happened to him."