By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
"He just loved that we could go find out shit," says Hanks. "And he didn't care how. But when [the 60 Minutes] piece came out, it changed the way people looked at us -- even at Hard Copy. Basically, it kind of let people know that we were legit."
Eventually, Hanks and Valis would work for all the tabloid TV shows and print outlets: from Hard Copy and A Current Affair to the New York Post and the Enquirer. They have infiltrated suburban brothels and Glendale sex-slave rings run by the Russian mob, run surveillance cams on criminal home-care workers and sadistic baby sitters, bribed Elizabeth Taylor's floor nurse and the Menendez brothers' jailer. They have given cameras to street kids, junkies and train-hopping runaways, confounding their superiors by producing unprecedented raw and intimate footage. ("We said, 'Here's a FedEx number; for every tape you send us, we will wire you $200,'" says Valis. "Man, they were guarding these cameras with their lives.")
They did much of the investigation and surveillance for two Fox reports that were subsequently nominated for Emmys -- "Coyote Commandos," about smuggling Mexican nationals across the border, and "Billionaire Drug Lords," about the Arellano-Felix brothers in Mexico. (Benjamin Arellano-Felix was finally captured last month.) As the New York Post reported, they narrowed the search for the Unabomber to a list of 20 suspects (including Ted Kaczynski) by cross-referencing students and staff at UC Berkeley with a lack of credit history, before learning the FBI already had him under surveillance. And working from 200 local newspapers every morning at Hard Copy, which they would comb religiously for controversial material, they built the saga of Joey Buttafuco and Amy Fisher -- "The Long Island Lolita" -- from a three-sentence story in the Long Island Press into an international joke.
And then, says Hanks, there was the mother lode: "There wasn't a reporter or freelance cameraman in town that wasn't working on O.J."
"Anyone who wrote for a high school newspaper was working on O.J.," says Valis.
"If two people had to die so that thousands could be employed for 18 months," Hanks jokes, " it's a small price to pay. It became a cottage fucking industry for almost two years."
They were the ones who found Keith Zlomsowich, the Aspen Mezzaluna manager who had been the subject of O.J.'s impolitic observation in the background of the 911 tapes: "But it's okay to suck Keith's dick, huh?" They had Mark Fuhrman's psychiatric report ("He tried for years to shrink out on a full disability," says Hanks -- "'I'm a Nazi, you don't want me here.'"). And they were the first ones with the names of all 12 jurors, which, after exhaustive database cross-indexes that produced the names of two or three, they ultimately got by calling up a juror who had been dismissed, inviting him and his family down to the House of Blues, and feeding him free drinks. They claim they sold the entire list to Rupert Murdoch for a $25,000 exclusive, then sold it three more times for $6,000 apiece after a partial list ran in the Post.
But probably the local story they had the most to do with was Heidi Fleiss. Because Hanks was the man behind the infamous Heidi Fleiss tapes.
"On the Heidi Fleiss thing, [Brennan] came to me, and he said, 'You know, there's talk about this Hollywood Madam,'" says Hanks. "I started putting Heidi under surveillance, and I saw all these celebrities coming and going. And then I decided to tap Heidi's phone. The wiretapping was not for Hard Copy. Heidi's competition had come to me -- Ivan Nagy [Fleiss' former lover and ongoing nemesis] -- and he said he'd pay me to get tapes of her telephone activity. But he didn't want it for anything other than he wanted her client list."
When Hard Copy's parent company, Paramount, ordered them off the story, Brennan continued paying Hanks out of his own pocket. The story was finally broken in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Shawn Hubler, who later identified Hanks in an accompanying sidebar as "The Man With the Tape." Hanks claims the Times paid him $2,000 to listen to all 13 hours and promised not to identify him in print.
According to Hubler: "the Times doesn't pay for information. [Hanks] had approached another reporter and tried to sell us the tapes for $10,000. But I also wanted to hear them, so I went to his apartment in the Valley. He had video cameras rigged to the door so he could see who was approaching. Jeopardy was on, and the whole time he was compulsively answering Jeopardy questions. I didn't listen to all of [the tapes]. Everything was so hinky, I couldn't use any of it. I initially promised [Hanks] I wouldn't use his name, and I didn't. Then later, I called him back and said that things had changed and he [talked] on the record. But I was honorable with him.
"That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering. This league of rogues. They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area. But they were a hoot."
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city