A New ImClone Soap Star

Have we got a treat for you! It's not even sweeps week, and guess what: A whole new character is making his appearance on "All My CEOs."

We speak, of course, of the Wall Street soap opera that's taking the country by storm, and the new character is just the best. He's young, handsome and looks vaguely like Ricky Martin. And he's going to be squirming in the spotlight all week! 

We'll tell you more about him in a minute, including some tips on the heavy-breathing close-ups to be looking for in the days ahead because they're going to be great. But first an update on the plot thus far. 

"All My CEOs" sent the Nielsen ratings into orbit this winter when it debuted with "Liars of Enron," coming live and unrehearsed from the floor of a congressional committee room. Then the story line shifted back to New York for "Tyco Tax-cheat," and now we're going with "Insider Trading at ImClone." 

The overnights have been great, as New York's cancer-cure social climber Sam Waksal gets caught financio-inflagrante, trying to profit as an insider trader while destroying mankind's last best hope for a cure to colorectal cancer. What a guy! 

And who among us can forget the knockout theatrics of America's dominatrix of domesticity, Martha Stewart, as she keeps stealing the show with her boffo performance as a suspected white-collar criminal. (Loved that moment last week when the film crew from CNN pursued her down a hallway seeking a comment, and she smiled furiously and kept walking. Was that acting, or what!) 

This week it'll get even better, as the new character takes over the spotlight. He's Merrill Lynch's fab young stockbroker to the stars, Peter Bacanovic, who brings with him a fresh and fascinating set of possibilities. 

One never knows, but if the facts shake out just right, we could find Bacanovic's entire client list - which probably amounts to half the Hamptons - making "All My CEOs" walk-on appearances by July Fourth. You think Heidi Fleiss' little black book was something? Well wait till we see who's in Pete's! 

Bacanovic is a rakish fellow with a radium smile and a knack for being photographed with wealthy older women. His name seems to crop up in just about every other column that Aileen Mehle writes for Women's Wear Daily. And he also gets mentioned and photographed a lot at various sorts of charity soirees. Maybe it's how he rounds up clients. 

For our purposes here, though, Pete is also notable for certain other things. As The Post has reported, he was a top official at ImClone Systems in the early 1990s, so he knows his way around the Waksal bunch pretty well. 

And The Post has also reported that Pete is currently a stockbroker for both Martha Stewart and one of Sam Waksal's two daughters, Aliza. And Aliza, in turn, has been named in print as one of two Waksal family members engaged with Sam in massive insider trading in ImClone stock on Dec. 27 of last year. 

Finally, and most important of all, Pete is said in press accounts over the weekend to be cooperating with federal investigators as they plumb the bottomless depths of the whole ImClone mess. In other words, folks, Pete's probably up to his cute little tush in this affair. The question is how. 

This week we'll probably find out. One line of speculation holds that he might have handled the ImClone sales of both Martha and Aliza on the 27th, which would place him at the absolute center of the entire scandal. 

WE can't yet be 100 percent certain that Pete did indeed handle the trades of both women that day - or even that any one person did. But the likelihood is mounting that he's the guy. 

It has already been reported that the trades of both women went through somebody at Merrill Lynch, and that, of course, is where Bacanovic works. Over the weekend, two separate newspapers went even further and specifically fingered Bacanovic as the broker who handled Martha's ImClone sale on the 27th. No one has yet publicly tied Pete to Aliza's sale specifically on the 27th, but that seems to be the direction in which the plot is moving. 

That would be hard cheese for Pete, to say the least, because any broker selling ImClone stock for both women on that day would have a big problem on his hands - which is where those sweaty close-ups may come in. 

The problem arises because of the sequence of events that unfolded on that date. In its charge against Sam Waksal, the government alleges that on the evening of Dec. 26th Waksal passed insider information to someone who has now been identified as Aliza, to the effect that the Food and Drug Administration was about to issue a ruling that would cause Imclone's stock to crash. 

The government's complaint also sets forth what happened early the next morning, Dec. 27, as Aliza telephoned her broker at Merrill Lynch and instructed him to dump every share of ImClone in her account - worth more than $2.5 million in all. 

Given what Aliza was thus asking be done, it is hard to believe that the broker would not have realized that something calamitous for ImClone lay just ahead - no matter what excuse she may have offered to justify her action. 

After all, there was no news of any importance at all regarding ImClone in the market that day. Yet here was the daughter of the company's CEO, phoning up from a hotel room in Sun Valley, Idaho, in the middle of the Christmas holidays, to order the immediate sale of her entire ImClone stake. 

And it's worse even than that because Martha Stewart is also on the record as claiming that sometime later that day she received a telephone call from her own Merrill Lynch broker, whocould well have been Bacanovic. And, says Martha, it was on the basis of that phone call that she, too, sold her ImClone stock. 

So stop and think: If the broker who called Martha was the same person who had earlier talked to Aliza, how will he able to argue that his call to Martha wasn't linked to what he'd already just learned from Aliza? 

Put bluntly, no one would believe him if he tried - especially when you consider that at precisely the moment Martha says her broker entered her sell order (1:43 p.m.) she placed a call to Sam Waksal, leaving a message that "something is going on at ImClone," and asking him to return the call. Why would Martha even know such a thing, except that her broker had just told her? 

Finally, there's the question of whether anyone else besides Martha might have been contacted by the broker. That, too, is a direction in which investigators will doubtless soon be moving if they aren't already. 

If Bacanovic turns out to have been the broker, as some now seem to think, there are obviously plenty of well-connected people he could have called up and alerted. Tons of them are probably out there in the Hamptons for the summer already - the East End social set to which Martha belongs, Sam aspires, and from which Pete makes his living. 

Meanwhile, with Pete now moving into the spotlight, it's a safe bet that any of those who sold Imclone stock in December - and especially during Christmas week - aren't feeling so hot about their adorable young broker at the moment. In fact, they're probably totally freaked out and scared to death. 

As for what's going to happen next, well, that's the great thing about soap operas - you never know. Offshore bank accounts? In "All My CEOs," anything's possible. So, as they say in TV-land: Stay tuned.