Thursday, May 23, 2024

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Former BFF Finds Crime Doesn’t Pay, Again


I really never thought I’d hear the name Dana Giacchetto again. But Leonardo DiCaprio’s former best friend and money manager is back in the news. Today he was arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court on fraud charges. He allegedly ran up bills of $10,000 on someone else’s credit card. This is small potatoes compared to the 2000 case in which he was ordered to pay $14 million in restitution. (That hasn’t happened.) After spending five years in jail, Giacchetto got married to Allegra Brosco, had two kids, and started a canned food company called Taste. Alas, Taste’s website is gone. So are the wife and kids. I’m told they live in Rhode Island. Dana’s living with his elderly parents in Massachusetts. The new case somehow involves his old friend, Steve Stanulis, a former cop-stripper who moonlighted as Dana’s bodyguard.

Here’s my story from 2001, “Dana Giacchetto: From Prada to Prison”:
“Stan the cop” was then used as an indentifier for Steve Stanulis, who was named in today’s complaint.

On February 7th Dana Giacchetto was sentenced for committing
fraud to which he pled guilty on August 2nd. He has been in prison
April 2000, so his sentence of 57 months will have ten months deducted
from it plus time off for good behavior. Back in August he wept openly
in court as he told Judge Robert Patterson that he’d become
“overwhelmed” by his business and that “as a child I was an artist” and
that he always thought he’d been “put on Earth to good things.”

Everyone wants to know, what’s the worst thing Dana Giacchetto did?
After all, the people he bilked were rich. They were celebrities like
Leonardo DiCaprio and Courtney Cox. They can take it, right?

At Giacchetto’s sentencing on February 7th in Federal court in
Manhattan, Sherry Vigdor put an end to the lie. Vigdor, a single mother
who’d inherited money, invested with Giacchetto through their mutual
friend, SoHo jewelry designer Robin Renzi. In one fell swoop in 1999,
Vigdor’s accounts—which Giacchetto had illegally taken control of—were
plundered. She lost $292,000.

Before Giacchetto stood to abase himself in court that, Vigdor came to
the microphone at a podium set up for Giacchetto’s victims. “You have
devastated my life and my daughter’s future,” Vigdor said in an
emotional outpouring. “I trusted you and you lied over and over again.”

Two bankers, one from Citizens Bank, formerly US Trust of Boston, and
the other from Brown & Co., the Boston clearing house, sat in front of
me. One of them wondered out loud if they shouldn’t point something out
to Ronald Fischetti, Giacchetto’s lawyer. “She was paid back all but $30,000,” one of them said.

Fischetti seized on this like water in the desert. When his chance came
to beg Judge Robert Patterson for mercy on Giacchetto’s part, he used
it. Judge Patterson was not moved. It didn’t matter that the two banks
had been paying back Giacchetto’s wronged clients. They’d still been
ripped off. This was a point somehow lost on Giacchetto, who would
never be able to pay anyone back the nearly $10 million he’d stolen from them.

I first spotted Giacchetto—the only money manager anyone knows with a
personal shopper at Prada– in the lobby of the Beekman Theatre on
December 15, 1999. He and a bunch of his friends including the R&B
singer Nona Hendryx were attending the premiere of Tim Roth’s movie The
War Zone. Roth was one of Giacchetto’s clients at his Cassandra Group,
an investment firm he ran “to help artists.”

In the two weeks leading up to the premiere, Giacchetto had already
been the subject of articles in the Hollywood trade papers and Los Angeles
Times which revealed that after two shining years of non stop gossip
items and publicity, Giacchetto was in trouble. His movie star clients
had abruptly left his fold. He was under SEC investigation. Leo, Tobey,
Cameron, Courtney, Ovitz—all of whom had lived with him, used him as
personal life adviser—were gone. Giacchetto, dressed head to toe in
Prada, didn’t seem to care. “Where’s the party?” he announced to his
merry band.

In the next two weeks several things happened: my investigation of him
in the New York Observer uncovered that he’d lied about his background,
his education, and his professional training to anyone who asked.
Instead of a Harvard MBA, he had a regular BA from a commuter college
in Boston—a degree that had taken 7 years to finish.

At the same time, in January 2000, the Securities and Exchange
Commission had launched their investigation. One would have thought
Giacchetto would ease up on whatever mischief he was doing. Instead, he
lied to the SEC during their audits, provided them with false
documents, and continued to move money around illegally among his clients

During his SEC audit — between December 14, 1999 and January 13,
2000—with the government literally breathing down his neck, Giacchetto
could not help himself. He stole $450,000 from another investor, Gordon
Baird Jr., the founder of Musician magazine, on January 6th and 11th.

“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 told
me, “and I’m pissed off.”

Knowing that his days were numbered, Giacchetto also took almost
$300,000 from Fred Schneider, as well as funds from then-Talk magazine
editor Gabe Doppelt. Between January 6th and February 17th, he paid
American Express $240,000 in back bills—all of it other people’s money.
He feared Amex more than he did the US government.

On February 2, looting B-52 Fred Schneider’s account, Giacchetto had
his associate, Donna Wong, wire $12,100 to Manhattan Mercedes for a lease
on a new car.

Detective Kevin Kelly, of the 24th precinct in Manhattan, took
possession of the Mercedes after Giacchetto wired $12,100 to Manhattan
Mercedes on February 2, 2000 for downpayment on a lease. Since
Giacchetto didn’t actually have the money, he stole it from the account
of one his clients, B-52s singer Fred Schneider. The car was not for
Giacchetto but instead went to New York police detective Kevin Kelly, a
32 year old cop out of Manhattan’s 24th precinct who’d done security
work for Dana in the past.

“Dana didn’t have a valid driver’s license,” Kelly explained to me. “So
he had to put the car in my name.” The Mercedes, which he described as
a sport version, charcoal colored, was also registered in Kelly’s name.
“The idea was that I’d be driving him and his friends.”

That never happened, according to Kelly, and the car was returned after
Giacchetto was arrested in April 2000. Meanwhile, the case against
Det. Kelly remains open according to the NYPD, which refuses to make any
other comment. And the wire transfer of funds, according to a police
source, may wind up involving the FBI. When I asked him Kelly if his
dealings with Giacchetto had gotten him into trouble with NYPD Internal
Affairs, he responded: “Not yet.”

A former Cassandra office worker told me: “Dana said he was trying to
make friends with a cop. I guess he did.” A month later, in March,
Giacchetto also made a $5000 contribution to something called the
Police Scholarship Fund.

Giacchetto’s winter of discontentment was not limited to sending
expensive gifts to cops. He gave interviews to gullible reporters from
both Vanity Fair and New York, proclaiming his innocence and denying
that the SEC was after him. Giacchetto also started traveling more. He
went to Las Vegas on March 3rd, and then to Cambridge, Massachusetts on
March 7th.

On March 10th 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.

And then on April 5th came the first arrest. A huge gathering of media
greeted Giacchetto and his then attorney Andrew Levander at the federal
courthouse. Giacchetto’s middle class, bedragged looking parents from
Medford Massachusetts came as well. It turned out the SEC and the US
Attorney’s office had cases against Dana Giacchetto.

They accused him of creating his own Ponzi scheme in which he regularly
moved money from his clients’ Brown & Co. accounts into the Cassandra
account at US Trust, then paid his own expenses with the money. When
the clients began to question what happened to their funds, he moved money
from other accounts into theirs. And so on.

Among the famous victims: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Courtney Cox,
Cameron Diaz, Michael Ovitz and his partner Rick Yorn. All of their personal
phone numbers were in Giacchetto’s little black book, too, along with
those of Julia Roberts and Michael Stipe. And they were all current
numbers too. They all worked.

Giacchetto was stripped of his passport, given strict orders not to go
anywhere, and put up his parents’ house—worth not quite $500,000—for
his bail. A week later, he was back in court. Authorities had arrested him
at Newark Airport after Giacchetto had been caught returning from an
unauthorized trip to Las Vegas. On him they found an altered passport,
$44,000 worth of first class airline tickets, $4000 in cash, and
another set of tickets to Rome.

Even though he was accused of jumping bail and had imperiled his
parents’ home, Giacchetto seemed non-plussed. He was led away in
handcuffs. He would spend the next ten months in federal prison until
his sentencing, with the added count of falsifying a passport added to
his securities fraud charges.

Dana Giacchetto’s friends thought they knew him, but they didn’t.
Giacchetto—like movie stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon– grew up in
middle class, suburban Boston. When he graduated from Medford high
school in 1980, Giacchetto listed his fondest memories: “partying…New
Years 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, and though he fantasized 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

When he moved to New York from Boston in 1993, Giacchetto infiltrated
the world of high art through a friendship with Marc Glimcher, scion of
the Pace art gallery, which counted among its clients uber agent
Michael Ovitz. Eventually he befriended Jeffrey Sachs, an adviser and friend to
the Cuomo family, and Christoper Cuomo, the son of the former governor,
who became his closest friend and paid legal adviser.

Once inside this clique of very powerful Hollywood players, Giacchetto
was like a contagion in a blood stream. He became obsessed, sources
say, 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 claim 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 the cop”, now 29, a married
Staten Island housing cop he met at a bar in 1999. Soap opera handsome,
“Stan the cop” says he subsequently moonlighted for Giacchetto as a
bodyguard “doing security.” Friends of Giacchetto say that suddenly
“Steve the cop” was with Dana all the time, constantly. Stan, who was
also a Chippendale’s type dancer/stripper, has already sold his story
to Hollywood screenwriter Allan Swyer.

“Dana didn’t like me dancing,” “Stan the cop” told me. “He wanted me to
concentrate on my acting.” And so he claims Giacchetto compensated him
financially for dropping the dancing. Giacchetto’s ledgers and SEC
records indicate that Dana wrote thousands of dollars worth of checks
to “Stan the cop” throughout 1999 for “security. 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 the cop” told me that Giacchetto took him on many trips. “stan
the cop” says, “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 the cop” says.

Giacchetto’s interest in “Stan the cop” was not his only reclamation
project. On a trip to Florida in 1999 he met and hired as his personal
assistant a mysterious young Hungarian emigre named Joszef Bali, and
brought him to New York. Bali—who had no business experience–
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. “Joe was like a homeless person who Dana found,” says one
friend. “We didn’t know what was going on.”

Of all Giacchetto’s relationships, maybe the strangest was with 26 year
old Christopher MacLaren, a personal trainer from Montreal whom
Giacchetto met at the Crunch gym on Lafayette St. On the Cassandra
Group ledgers, Dana wrote checks to MacLaren in 1999 totalling $12,000 and
wrote “Art Works” in the check memo. But no one remembers McLaren,
including Giacchetto’s closest associates.

“Dana was wearing a bathing suit and Dolce and Gabbana shoes,”
MacLaren recalled of their first meeting. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He
was trying to lift weights, but it wasn’t working. So I offered to help

The two became quick pals, dining and traveling together. But their
relationship appears to have been conducted in private since McLaren
told me he’d never heard of places like Balthazar—a regular Giacchetto
haunt—and had never gone to the Soho loft where Giacchetto mingled with
starts like Leonardo DiCaprio.

“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.

As with “Stan the cop”, Giacchetto was telling MacLaren that their
relationship was his only “real” one. “We were just friends, you know,
we could just talk.”

Dana Giacchetto’s “secrets” seemed pretty much revealed by the time of
his sentencing. All the stars who’d lost money had seen their names in
the papers. All the “real people” who’d lost money had been in
negotiations with Brown & Co. and Citizens Bank to get some, or part of
it, back. Giacchetto had spent the summer of 2000 in jail, and promised
through his attorneys to cooperate with a full accounting of where $10
million had gone. But he invoked the Fifth Amendment in mid January
2001, refusing to answer any questions at all without immunity.

One wondered how he would get out of this jam?

At the hearing, Giacchetto listened as Vigdor—a “real person”—wept.
When it came time to make his own statement, he apologized to her. But for a
compulsive liar and coward, that was not enough. He began yelling and
pointing in the courtroom.

“Hi, your honor,” he said flippantly to the straight faced jurist to
whom Giacchetto faxed an incoherent nine page 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.”

The 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. There were a couple of
secrets that no knew yet. He was going to play the guilt card.

“”My mother had polio. My father’s father—I’m sorry, I have to say
this—“ and with that those of us in the second row wondered what was
coming, and then Giacchetto said, it, “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!”

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
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 US Attorney David Lewis and SEC
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.

Cosmo Giacchetto, Dana’s father, barked at me in the lobby: “I know
you’re friends with Crittenden,” a reference to the Boston Herald
reporter who was chased off the Giacchetto’s front stoop last summer by
Dana’s brother Russell. Russell had just served five years in prison
himself for weapons possession and arson. 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 3 or 4 million hidden
someplace. He’s too calm about what’s happened to him.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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