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For those who need an introduction to him, Richard "Bo" Dietl is New York's private eye to the stars. The tough-talking ex-NYPD detective is a regular on Don Imus and the cable talk show circuit, where he has proudly turned his Queens street-guy act and purposely mangled English into an art form. If that doesn't ring a bell, then consider that clients of his Beau Dietl & Associates (the formal spelling is better for business, he says) range from Mariah Carey to the Saudi royal family, and from Michael Jackson to Pat Buchanan.
More importantly on the business end of things, many of the nation's top executives call Dietl a close pal, a group that includes former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Gateway chairman Ted Waitt, and investment whiz Warren Buffett. Members of this group can often be found dining at Dietl's regular table at Rao's, the exclusive East Harlem eatery where the rich and glamorous go to inhale a savory pasta sauce and a strong aroma of Cosa Nostra.
Dietl can get any of these big shots on the phone with ease, a boast he amply illustrates in his new book Business Lunchatations(Chamberlain Bros., $19.95; "Hey, long as you're writing about me, why don't you plug my book?" he said last week. Mission accomplished).
Last year, Dietl put those well-heeled connections to work on behalf of another friend, former Supreme Court justice Leslie Crocker Snyder, in her bid to become the next Manhattan district attorney. Dietl, listing his friend and business partner, real estate tycoon Steven Witkoff, as a co-host, mailed invitations to a March 30, 2004, soiree at the Rainbow Room to benefit Snyder's campaign. Suggested donations started at $25,000.
What happened next is a matter of dispute. Snyder said she was forced to cancel the event when her mother suffered a heart attack. Dietl said he didn't remember exactly. "I think we pulled the plug," he said. "We gave her whatever we raised." A few weeks later, however, Snyder was confronted at a meeting of the gay political organization Stonewall Democratic Club about her association with the ex-cop and his often outrageous banter on the Imus show. There, Democratic political aide Allen Roskoff read Snyder a few choice quotes, including Dietl's on-air reference to former national Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe as a "panty-wearin' faggot."
Last month Snyder called Dietl's comments "horrible" and said she severed all ties with him after she learned of them. "I knew him as a person in the criminal-justice system," she said. "But I didn't know that side of him." Hadn't she ever heard Bo's rants on the Imus show? "I don't listen to or watch Imus," she said. "Don't tell him."
But Dietl was an odd fundraising choice for a would-be D.A. for reasons other than his sometimes uncontrollable mouth. The former police detective has always boasted of having close ties on both sides of the law. He grew up near John Gotti and called him a friend, as he does many of the wiseguy regulars at Rao's. On the other side, he was also friendly with George Bush Sr., a relationship that he says won him the contract to handle security for the 1992 Republican National Convention. Another ally is Governor Pataki, who made Dietl the chairman of a state security guard advisory committee. He kept that post even after state officials fined him $67,000 when a post-9-11 audit found he had more than 50 unregistered guards on his payroll.
A more serious issue, however, surfaced in 2003 when Dietl was named in a federal securities fraud probe that resulted in the conviction of one of his former friends.
According to charges brought by both the Manhattan U.S. Attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dietl's pal Joshua Cantor, a business executive, got the private detective to sign a bogus, backdated letter affirming that Dietl's guards had witnessed the manufacture of holograms to be used for MasterCard credit cards at a New Jersey printing plant.
The phony letter was part of a plot, authorities said, to convince the giant accounting firm Deloitte & Touche that Cantor's company had earned nearly $7 million more in revenue than it actually had during calendar year 1997. The added earnings, officials said, were intended to make Cantor's American Bank Note Holographics that much more attractive to investors when it made its initial public offering on the stock market.
Cantor confessed his role in the scheme and agreed to testify against another top official of the company who went on trial in the summer of 2003. On the stand, Cantor described himself and Dietl as close friends, dining together at least twice a month and planning joint business ventures. Cantor spent so much time hanging out at Dietl's firm, he acknowledged, that he had an affair with the detective agency's controller. Cantor also admitted signing a letter to Dietl offering him an insider purchase price on his company's stock once it went public. "I miss you too," Cantor wrote in the note to his friend.
The business of producing holograms for credit cards is an intricate procedure that involves manufacturing rolls of the material and then splicing them into individual reels. Cantor hired Dietl's firm to stand guard at the plant to make sure nothing was stolen. But the job did not include watchdogging the production process, a task Dietl admits he would not have been qualified to handle. Nevertheless, when Cantor cooked up his scheme to inflate his earnings, he said he turned to his detective pal to make it look as if finished reels of holograms had been produced months before they actually had.
He had thought of Dietl, he testified, because "I knew that Bo was not a detail person."
Cantor said that after he dreamed up the plan he drove straightaway from his Westchester office to Dietl's headquarters in the old Daily News building on East 42nd Street. There, he had Dietl's secretary type up a backdated letter in which Dietl affirmed that his company had overseen the production of rolls and reels of holograms months earlier.
Cantor said he then walked into Dietl's office with the letter. "I said, 'Bo, do me a favor? Can you sign this?' He said, 'Sure.' He signed it and I walked out."
Dietl barely glanced at the letter, Cantor testified. "Dietl lied, but I don't know that he was aware of the date," said the witness.
On cross-examination, Cantor was grilled by former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Otto Obermaier, now a top defense attorney. Obermaier pressed Cantor as to how his friend could be so naive. "Was he awake when he signed it?" asked the lawyer.
Cantor said he later went back to see Dietl to ask him to fax the false letter, plus a fake report, to Deloitte & Touche, and to tell auditors there that his firm had overseen the hologram production. Dietl complied, according to Cantor.
Dietl was never charged in the affair, although his role was detailed in the criminal complaint, as well as in an SEC action filed against Cantor. Last week, Dietl insisted he was guilty of nothing but trusting the wrong guy.
"I honestly didn't know what the hell a roll or a reel was," the detective acknowledged. "I was never part of a fraud." Dietl said he had signed the bogus letter unknowingly, thinking it would help him collect a $50,000 bill for guard services that Cantor owed him.
The performance hardly jibes with Dietl's self-description in his new book. In a chapter headed "Success Is a Full-Time Job," Dietl wrote: "I'm always on. I'm a hands-on executive."
"Listen," he responded. "If you owe me $50,000, and you say, 'Hey Bo, just sign here and we'll get you your money.' That's exactly what he said. I didn't look at the thing."