The Partner - Page 18

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"THE ONLY CRIMES Stephano possibly com-JL mit¡Àed were the kidnapping and assault of Patrick, and convictions were unlikely. It happened in South America, far from U.S. jurisdiction. The actual assault was conducted by others, including some Brazilians. Stephano's lawyer was confident that they would prevail if pressed to trial.

But there were clients involved, and a reputation to protect. The lawyer knew all too well the FBI's ability to harass without actually prosecuting. It was his advice that Stephano cut the deal-agree to spill his guts in return for the government's promise to grant immunity to him and his clients. Since no other crimes were involved, what was the harm?

The lawyer insisted on sitting with Stephano while his statement was taken. The sessions would last for many hours over several days, but the lawyer wanted to be there. Jaynes wanted it done in the Hoover

Building, by his men. Coffee and pastries were served. Two video cameras were aimed at the end of the table where Stephano sat calmly in his shirtsleeves, his lawyer by his side.

"Would you state your name?" asked Underbill, the first of the interrogators, each of whom had memorized the Lanigan file.

"Jonathan Edmund Stephano. Jack."

"And your company is?"

"Edmund Associates."

"And what does your company do?"

"Lots of things. Security consulting. Surveillance. Personnel research. Locating of missing persons."

"Who owns the company?"

"I do. All of it."

"How many employees do you have?"

"It varies. As of now, eleven full-time. Thirty or so part-time, or freelancers."

"Were you hired to find Patrick Lanigan?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"March 28, 1992." Stephano had files packed with notes, but he didn't need them.

"Who hired you?"

"Benny Aricia, the man whose money was stolen."

"How much did you charge him?"

"The initial retainer was two hundred grand."

"How much has he paid you to date?"

"One point nine million."

"What did you do after you were hired by Benny Aricia?"

"Several things. I immediately flew to Nassau in the Bahamas to meet with the bank where the theft occurred. It was a branch of the United Bank of Wales. My client, Mr. Aricia, and his former law firm, had established a new account there to receive the money, and, as we now know, someone else was waiting on the money, too."

"Is Mr. Aricia a U.S. citizen?"

"Yes."

"Why did he establish an account offshore?"

"It was ninety million dollars, sixty for him, thirty for the lawyers, and nobody wanted the money to appear in a bank in Biloxi. Mr. Aricia lived there at the time, and it was agreed by all that it would be a bad idea for anyone locally to see the money."

"Was Mr. Aricia trying to avoid the IRS?"

"I don't know. You'll have to ask him. That was none of my business."

"Who did you talk to at the United Bank of Wales?"

The lawyer snorted his disapproval, but said nothing.

"Graham Dunlap, a Brit. A vice president of some sort with the bank."

"What did he tell you?"

"Same thing he told the FBI. That the money was gone."

"Where did it come from?"

"Here, in Washington. The wire began at nine-thirty on the morning of March 26, 1992, originating from D.C. National Bank. It was a priority wire, meaning it would take less than an hour for it to land in Nassau. At fifteen minutes after ten, the wire hit the United Bank, where it sat for nine minutes before it was wired to a bank in Malta. From there, it was wired to Panama."

"How did the money get wired out of the account?"

The lawyer was irritated by this. "This is a waste of time," he interrupted. "You guys have had this information for four years now. You've spent more time with the bankers than my client has."

Underhill was unfazed. "We have a right to ask these questions. We are simply verifying what we know. How did the money get wired out of the account, Mr. Stephano?"

"Unknown to my client and his lawyers, someone, Mr. Lanigan we presume, had accessed the new offshore account, and had prepared the Malta wiring instructions in anticipation of the money coming in. He prepared bogus wiring instructions from my client's lawyers, his old firm, and rerouted the money nine minutes after it landed. They, of course, thought he was dead, and had no reason to suspect anyone was after the money. The settlement which produced the ninety million in the first place was extremely secret, and no one, with the exception of my client, his lawyers, and a handful of people at the Justice Department, knew exactly when or where the money was wired."

"As I understand it, someone was actually at the bank when the money arrived."

"Yes. We're almost certain it was Patrick Lanigan. On the morning the money was wired, he presented himself to Graham Dunlap as Doug Vitrano, one of the partners in the law firm. He had perfect identification-passport, driver's license, etc.-plus he was well dressed and knew all about the money which was about to be wired from Washington. He had a notarized partnership resolution authorizing him to accept the money on behalf of the firm, then wire it to the bank in Malta."

"I know damned well you have copies of the resolution and the wire transfer authorizations," the lawyer said.

"We do," Underbill said, flipping through his notes and paying little attention to the lawyer. The FBI had tracked the money to Malta, and from there to Panama, where all trails vanished. There was a blurred still shot taken from the bank's security camera of the man who presented himself as Doug Vitrano. The FBI and the partners were certain it was Patrick, though he was wonderfully disguised. He was much thinner, his hair was short and very dark, he had grown a dark mustache and worn stylish horn-rimmed glasses. He had flown in, he explained to Graham Dunlap, to personally monitor the receiving and transferring of the money because the firm and the client were quite nervous about the transaction. That was certainly not unusual in Dunlap's view, and he was happy to oblige. He was sacked a week later and returned to London.

"So we went to Biloxi, and spent a month there looking for clues," Stephano continued.

"And you found the law offices to be wired?"

"We did. For obvious reasons, we were immediately suspicious of Mr. Lanigan, and our task was twofold: first, to find him and the money, and, second, to determine how he had pulled the heist. The remaining partners granted us access to their offices for one weekend, and our technical people picked the place apart. It was, as you say, infested. We found bugs in every phone, in every office, under every desk, in the hallways, even in the men's rest room on the first floor. There was one exception. The office of Charles Bogan was completely clean. He was fastidious about locking it. The bugs were high in quality; twenty-two in all. Their signals were gathered by a hub we found hidden in a storage file box in the attic, in a spot no one had touched in years."

Underbill listened but didn't hear. This was, after all, being recorded on video, and his superiors could study it later. He was quite familiar with these preliminaries. He pulled out a technical summary which analyzed, in four dense paragraphs, the bugging scheme installed by Patrick. The microphones were state of the art-tiny, powerful, costly, and manufactured by a reputable firm in Malaysia. Illegal to buy or possess in the United States, they could be purchased with relative ease in any European city. Patrick and Trudy had spent New Year's in Rome, five weeks before his death.

The hub found in the attic storage box had impressed even the FBI experts. It was less than three months old when Stephano found it, and the FBI reluctantly admitted it was at least a year ahead of their latest wizardry. Made in Hungary, it could receive signals from all twenty-two bugs hidden in the offices below, keep them separate, then transmit them, one at a time or all at once, to a satellite dish nearby.

"Did you determine where the signals were being relayed to?" Underbill asked. It was a fair question because the FBI certainly didn't know.

"No. It has a range of three miles, in all directions, so it would be impossible to tell."

"Any ideas?"

"Yes, a very good one. I doubt Lanigan was foolish enough to set up a receiving dish anywhere within three miles of downtown Biloxi. He would have to rent space, hide the dish, spend lots of time there monitoring hours of conversations. He has proven to be quite methodical. I've always suspected he used a boat. It would be much simpler and safer. The office is only six hundred yards from the beach. There are a lot of boats in the Gulf. A man could drop anchor two miles out and never speak to another soul."

"Did he own a boat?"

"We couldn't find one."

"Any evidence he used a boat?"

"Maybe." Stephano paused here because he was now entering territory unknown to the FBI.

The pause quickly irritated Underbill. "This is not a cross-examination, Mr. Stephano."

"I know. We talked to every charter outfit along the Coast, from Destin to New Orleans, and found only one possible suspect. A small company in Orange Beach, Alabama, leased a thirty-two-foot sailboat to a man on February 11, 1992, the day Lanigan was buried. Their rate was a thousand dollars a month. This guy offered twice that if the transaction could be done in cash with nothing in writing. They figured he was a doper, and said no way. The guy then offered a five-thousand-dollar deposit, plus two thousand a month for two months. Business was slow. The boat was insured against theft. They took a chance."

Underbill listened without blinking. He took no notes. "Did you show them a picture?"

"Yeah. Said it could've been Patrick. But the beard was gone, the hair was dark, baseball cap, eyeglasses, overweight. This was before he discovered Ultra Slim-Fast. Anyway, the guy couldn't make a positive ID."

"What name did he use?"

"Randy Austin. Had a Georgia driver's license. And he refused to provide more identification. He was offering cash, remember, five thousand. The guy would've sold it to him for twenty."

"What happened to the boat?"

"They got it back, eventually. The guy said he got real suspicious because Randy didn't seem to know much about sailboats. He asked questions, fished around. Randy said he was in the process of drifting south after a bad marriage in Atlanta, tired of the rat race, lots of money, that routine. Used to sail a lot, and now wanted to float down to the Keys and practice his skills along the way. Said he'd always keep the shore in sight. It was a nice story, and the guy felt somewhat better, but he was still suspicious. Next day, Randy appeared from nowhere, no car, no cab, as if he had walked or hitchhiked somehow to the dock, and, after a lot of preliminaries, he left with the boat. It had a big diesel engine of some sort and it would cruise at eight knots, regardless of the wind. He disappeared, going east, and the owner had nothing else to do, so he eased down the Coast, stopped at a couple of favorite bars along the way, and managed to keep an eye on Randy, who was a quarter of a mile out and doing a decent job of handling the boat. He docked it at a marina at Perdido Bay, and left in a rented Taurus with Alabama registration. This went on for a couple of days. Our guy kept an eye on the boat. Randy played with it, a mile out at first, then he ventured farther. On the third or fourth day, Randy took it west, toward Mobile and Biloxi, and was gone for three days.

"He came back, then left, going west again. Never east or south, in the direction of the Keys. The guy stopped worrying about his boat because Randy stayed close to home. He would leave for a week at a time, but he always came back."

"And you think it was Patrick?"

"I do. I'm convinced of it. Makes perfect sense to me. He was isolated on the boat. He could go for days without speaking to another person. He could gather his intelligence from a hundred different spots along the Biloxi-Gulfport shore. Plus, the boat was a perfect place to starve himself."

"What happened to it?"

"Randy left it at the dock, and simply vanished without a word. The owner got his boat back, plus the five grand."

"Did you examine the boat?"

"With a microscope. Nothing. The guy said the boat had never been so clean."

"When did he disappear?"

"The guy wasn't certain because he stopped checking on the boat every day. He found it at the dock on March 30, four days after the money was stolen. We talked to a kid who was on duty at the dock, and, to the best of his recollection, Randy docked on either March 24 or March 25, and was never seen again. So the dates match up perfect."

"What happened to the rental car?"

"We tracked it down later. It was rented from the

Avis desk at the Mobile Regional Airport on Monday morning, February 10, about ten hours after the fire was put out. Rented by a man with no beard, cleanshaven, short dark hair, horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a coat and tie and claiming he just stepped off a commuter flight from Atlanta. We showed pictures to the clerk on duty, and she made a very tentative ID of Patrick Lanigan. Evidently, he used the same Georgia driver's license. He used a phony Visa Card, one with the name of Randy Austin and a number he stole from a legitimate account in Decatur, Georgia. Said he was a self-employed real estate developer in town to look at land for a casino. So he had no company name to put on the form. He wanted the car for a week. Avis never saw him again. Didn't see the car for fourteen months."

"Why wouldn't he return the car?" Underbill asked, musing.

"Simple. When he rented it, his death had just happened, and had not been reported. But the next day, his face was on the front page of both the Biloxi and Mobile papers. He probably figured it was too risky to take the car back. They found it later in Montgomery, wrecked and stolen."

"Where did Patrick go?"

"My guess is that he left the Orange Beach area on March 24 or 25. He assumed the identity of Doug Vitrano, his former partner. We learned that on the twenty-fifth he flew from Montgomery to Atlanta, then first class to Miami, then first class to Nassau. All tickets were in the name of Doug Vitrano, and he used the passport when he left Miami and again when he entered the Bahamas. The flight arrived in Nassau at eight-thirty on the morning of the twenty-sixth, and he was at the bank when it opened at nine. He presented the passport and other papers to Graham Dun-lap. He diverted the money, said good-bye, caught a flight to New York, and landed at La Guardia at 2:30 P.M. At that point, he ditched the Vitrano papers and found some others. We lost him."

WHEN THE BIDDING got to fifty thousand dollars, Trudy said yes. The show was "Inside Journal," a slash-and-burn tabloid with solid ratings and, apparently, lots of cash. They set up lights and covered windows and ran wires throughout the den. The "journalist" was Nancy de Angelo, flown straight in from LA. with her own band of hairdressers and makeup artists.

Not to be outdone, Trudy spent two hours in front of the mirror, and looked absolutely glorious when she appeared. Nancy said she looked too good. She was supposed to be wounded, hurt, broke, besieged, handcuffed by the court, angry at what her husband had done to her and her daughter. She retreated in tears and Lance had to console her for half an hour. She looked almost as good when she returned in jeans and a cotton pullover.

Ashley Nicole was used as a prop. She sat close to her mother on the sofa. "Look real sad now," Nancy told her as the technicians checked the lights. "We need tears from you," she said to Trudy. "Genuine tears."

They chatted for an hour about all the horrible things Patrick was doing to them. Trudy cried when she recalled the funeral. They had a picture of the shoe found at the site. She suffered through the months and years afterward. No, she had not remarried. No, she had not heard from her husband since he had returned. Wasn't sure if she wanted to. No, he had made no effort to see his daughter, and she broke down again.

She hated the thought of divorce, but what was she to do? And the lawsuit, how horrible! This nasty insurance company hounding her like she was a dead-beat.

Patrick was such a horrible person. If they found the money, did she expect to get any of it? Of course not! She was shocked by the suggestion.

It was edited to twenty minutes, and Patrick watched it in his dark hospital room. It made him smile.



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