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Hanks later sold the tapes to Fleiss herself -- for $5,000 -- before turning them over to the FBI, after she subsequently threatened him as well.
"She called me up and said, 'I'm going to cut your throat and shit down your neck.'"
Fleiss also had her enforcer -- the mysterious Cookie, who director Nick Broomfield had been famously unable to identify in his documentary Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam -- call Hanks and threaten him. He gleefully recounts his response:
"I said, 'Is this the same Cookie whose real name is Jacob Orgad, who lives at 1311 whatever, whose Social Security number is et cetera? Because if this is the same Cookie, try to remember: I ain't one of Heidi's girls that you've beaten up.' And I basically advised him that I'd been threatened by professionals. But just to cover my ass, I decided that just in case the guy did have the balls, I wanted to have a backup plan." Hence, the FBI.
"You know," Hanks adds, "it's a real sad thing to die unavenged."
VERMIN AND PESTILENCE
THESE DAYS, THE BACKSTREET DETECTIVES ARE still racking up coups, public or otherwise. (They recently broke up a ticket-scalping ring inside one of L.A.'s most exclusive annual parties, but refuse to talk about it out of deference to the client.) They still perform a fair amount of work for the British tabloids -- such as documenting Prince Andrew's sorties with high-priced hookers when he's in L.A. -- but the writing is clearly on the wall, as most of the domestic tabloids have inevitably learned about their proprietary databases and other trade secrets. And they estimate they have successfully optioned tabloid stories (generally as prospective made-for-TV movies) at least a dozen times through their own production company -- Hollywood Scam Artists Productions.
"I think this whole town is nothing but a scam," explains Valis. "It's truth in advertising."
Their Web site offers a dizzying array of services, many of which they once performed for the tabloids but now make available to the home consumer -- in a sense privatizing public surveillance. They will outfit virtually any household object to hide a digital camera, with which to supervise baby sitters, cleaning help, home-care services, children, etc. They now provide "sub rosa security" or "close protection" in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and last year they vetted all contestants for the ABC reality series The Mole. And then there are their CheckMate and CheckDate services, wherein a special women's auxiliary of ex-Playmates called the Backstreet Babes will test-drive the fidelity of a client's husband, boyfriend or potential date by showing up at the target's favorite bar and making themselves available for proposition -- a program they unofficially refer to as "Catch and Release."
But it's the possibility of a TV series, 10 years in development (through producer Gary Goodman and Goodman-Rosen Productions, in conjunction with producer David Permut), which currently preoccupies their enthusiasm. To be called Vermin and Pestilence, it will dramatize their undercover work for the FBI and DEA, beginning with the Ron Sacco story. (The name comes from their alleged underworld nicknames, as identified in the 60 Minutes report.) "It's a fictionalized series based on the stories we tell," says Valis, "but they're going to end up using our own names. Which is really nice if they do that, because it'll be good publicity."
The pilot will be written and directed by George Gallo, the man who ushered Robert De Niro into comedy with Midnight Run.
"Hollywood really seems to get a kick out of these kinds of people," Gallo says. "They are incredibly colorful guys. And they think like criminals. They were in rooms with lots of money, so they decided to take some of it. And the mob guy caught wind of this, and as a result, he loved them for it, because he knew they couldn't be with the FBI, because only another criminal would want to steal from him. And as a result, he brought them even more into the fold. They thought at one point they were gonna get whacked, because he took them for a ride, and he told them, 'I love you fuckin' guys. You stole from me, I knew you were all right.' You can't invent shit like that. I always said the show was like The Honeymooners with guns."
"You meet these guys for the first time," says producer Permut, "you say, 'Are they for real?' At first, I kind of thought it was all sizzle with no steak -- this business of weaving and spinning stories. These guys are funny and colorful and distinctive, but did this shit really happen? And for the purposes of my profession, whether it really happened or not is beside the point. If the story works, the story works. At least they make it feel credible, where you want to believe some of this stuff. But in actuality, I've come to realize that these guys actually are for real. They actually do live up to the sizzle."
"Plus they got me out of a couple of jams," confides Gallo. "I had a problem with somebody who I don't have a problem with anymore. They had a talk with him, and he just went away. They're great guys to have as friends and terrible guys to have as enemies."