THE SHANE OF IT ALL
Shane Stant spent the last weeks of his freedom literally shoveling shit. He'd taken a construction job in rural Oregon while he was waiting to be sentenced to prison. He was working for meals and not a paycheck, and one of his tasks was to dig the excrement out of an old outhouse pit.
"It has a lot to do with humility," he says. "Sometimes, you have to let your pride down to get by." And he throws his broad shoulders into it, for the first time in his life setting his sights on a conventional lifestyle back in Chandler with his fiance. "I don't want to have to attack figure skaters for a living," he quips, referring to his January 6 assault on Nancy Kerrigan. "It's not what I want to do or what I'm good at."
Ironically, the assault has made many thousands of dollars for other people--but not for Stant. Stant has only made himself a fool and a penniless prison inmate by making two mistakes in the last six months: First, he agreed to club Kerrigan for a measly $6,000 and the promise of a job as a bodyguard on the world figure-skating circuit.
The second mistake, he claims, was to hire for his legal defense a Phoenix attorney who had improperly solicited Stant's uncle and partner in crime, Derrick Smith.
Unbeknown to Stant and Smith, the attorney, Fredrick Merrill, and his paralegal assistant, Robert Silvert, had questionable backgrounds: Merrill was recently suspended from practicing law for 90 days by the Arizona Supreme Court; Silvert is on probation for a fraud conviction.
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Together, they generated as much as $100,000 peddling the Stant and Smith story, ultimately doing more publicity than legal work. And until pressed by New Times, they never accounted for where the money went. Then they provided that accounting as an addendum to a lawsuit charging Stant and Smith with breach of contract, civil extortion and making false allegations against them. Meanwhile, Stant's new attorney had already filed a lawsuit charging negligence on Merrill's part and demanding a piece of the profits.
Through the din of argument, the clouds of legal documents, both parties--Stant on one side (Smith has chosen to remain silent) and Merrill and Silvert on the other--speak so earnestly that it's hard to tell who's shoveling what.
@body:Shane Stant has a restless and dangerous look to him. He's five-feet-11, but pumped all the way up to 215 pounds that he carries proudly in his chest and shoulders. He has grown a reddish beard since his arrest in January, and for reasons of fashion or poverty, he favors grunge clothing: workmen's thermal underwear, flannel shirts and baggy trousers, with pirate-style bandannas over his crinkly, short, black hair. On his back, he has a tattoo of a lion's head and the words "Hawaiian Pride." Beneath the armor--the hard looks, the big muscles--Stant is a very likable, very scared kid who may be confused as to what the truth is. As one of his early defense attorneys said, "He's transparent; you'd be able to see it if he was lying." But substantiating all of his claims is nearly impossible, because many of the people close to him--including Stant's parents, his current attorneys and Smith--won't talk, partly because they've already been burned in the press and partly because they're not the talking sort. And some of what Stant claims is just not true.
The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding affair in January spawned a dizzy international pastiche of media misinformation and disinformation. Reporters scurried for stories and sound bites, seldom pausing to be confused by the facts, feeding off the common denominator of most tabloid scandals: that normal people don't get into these situations.
Harding and her husband, Jeff Gillooly, were driven by deceit and jealousy--as much jealous of each other as of Kerrigan. Shawn Eckardt, Harding's obese bodyguard, who arranged the attack, lived in a paranoid fantasy. Stant and Smith were loners--and you can't base an accurate profile on the recollections and insights of friends and acquaintances if the profile subjects have very few friends or acquaintances.
Because of all that sociopathic behavior, Kerrigan's clubbing was a cash-cow, three-ring spectacle that provided weeks of titillation leading up to the Olympics, not to mention a month's supply of Time and Newsweek covers. It spawned a made-for-TV movie, a comic book (Whacked! The Adventures of Tonya Harding and Her Pals) and a 900 number peddling memorabilia, which even Geraldo Rivera described as pandering.
Stant, Smith and Eckardt became three stooges to be joked about on Leno and Letterman. As the "whacker," Stant became the international villain of the year. Of course, people are always more complex than their simplistic depictions in the daily newspapers. And after several days of interviews with Shane Stant, he emerged as a bright and self-taught wanderer on a short trail to trouble.
He was staying with his "grandma" on a 15-acre homestead in the temperate rain forest above the mouth of the Columbia River gorge, just east of Portland, Oregon. There are a couple of ramshackle, wood-heated, plywood houses on-site, some dilapidated outbuildings and a pair of water tanks, shielded by mountain laurel and dwarfed by giant tree trunks.
Because the water tanks are surrounded by barbed wire to keep varmints and vandals away from the water supply, the property was characterized as an armed "survivalist compound" rigged with booby traps and barbed wire during the initial media feeding frenzy after Stant was first identified.
"Most people would consider the people who live on Larch Mountain to be survivalists," Stant admits. Because of its remote location and its backwoods population, houses out here are ripe for robbery, far from the police. It's the kind of place you might be shot for poking around. In fact, Stant tells a story: He and his uncle caught one such burglar and held him at gunpoint for 45 minutes, waiting for the state police to arrive.
And it didn't help Stant's public image that his grandma, Mae Loomis, confronted an invasion of television reporters with a shotgun, pumped a few warning rounds into the trees to send them scurrying back to their cars and shouted, "I'm a gun-toting grandma."
Stant has been characterized in written accounts as a bully and a loner with violent tendencies.
"They talked to people I went to sixth grade with," he says. They described how he became aggressive after taking steroids in high school, which Stant denies by saying he is so meticulous about his diet and health that he doesn't drink alcohol, and he doesn't even eat meat.
This chemical purity has been disputed, however, by Stant's estranged lawyer. Fred Merrill and his assistant, Robert Silvert, allege that Stant was a chronic user of anabolic steroids, had used them up to the day of the attack, and that Merrill had even considered a defense strategy blaming Stant's actions on steroid use.
But Stant doesn't have the manner of a thug. He seems more like a polite bouncer, full of "Yes, sir" and "No, sir." He's articulate and bright, if unpolished.
"I'm like the serial killer who everyone says was the nicest guy," he jokes.
Then he corrects himself. "I'm a good guy, not a nice guy," he says. "A nice guy walks by you and says, 'Hey, how you doing? Nice to meet you.' But when you drop your wallet, he slides it over with his foot and puts it in his pocket.
"A good guy might walk by and if you bump into him, he says, 'Hey, watch where you're going.' When you walk by, he says, 'Hey, asshole, you dropped your wallet.' He's not a nice guy--but he's a guy you can trust."
Even that description is suspect. One of his housemates in Chandler says, "Shane likes to project an image to people he doesn't know so that they're scared of him, so that they know they can't mess with him."
If Stant's physical presence is formidable, there are chinks in his psychological armor. He gives a faint suggestion of paranoia in his manner. He fixes a hard gaze on newcomers, as if trying to read their thoughts--though he never seemed to make eye contact when he talked about Nancy Kerrigan. He didn't eat or drink so much as a glass of water during seven hours of interviews with New Times, conducted over three days. He claims that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is investigating him--which seems unlikely, but cannot be confirmed--and that government agents came to his jail cell to tell him not to talk about his military record--which seems not to exist.
Stant claims that he's not bothered by what people think about him, but has called up reporters and editors to complain about stories he felt were untruthful. After he went to jail, he passed along to New Times word that he would be offended and betrayed if the newspaper wrote a negative article about him after the personable nature of the interviews.
He faithfully reads the Bible. He has a soft spot for stray dogs; last fall, he rescued a pair in downtown Chandler, locked them in his garage, then spent the evening on the telephone trying to locate their owners. He was delighted when he did, and was excited by hearing children cheering over the phone when he told them he'd found their lost dogs. When they moved from Oregon to Chandler last October, his fiance, Leslie Thomas, says, "It took us so long to get here because every time we stopped for gas or stopped to eat, someone would need help with his car." And Stant would offer it.
His biggest worry is that Thomas won't wait for him to get out of jail; he calls her from prison several times daily. This compassion, however, coexists with a part of his soul that could justify hobbling a beautiful young woman whose only crime was being a superb athlete. "I did it for money," he says bluntly, "the root of all evil, but I didn't do it for greed. If I'd done it to get my rocks off, that's a far more dangerous person."
Like yin and yang, "good" only exists in contrast to "bad," but they are not separate concepts. One oozes into the other, and Shane Stant floats somewhere in those murky boundary waters. He could justify the bad act because it would pay bills, and thus make him a responsible breadwinner and, by extension, a good person.
So he was a perfect stooge, agreeing to an idiotic assault on Nancy Kerrigan because it was a quick and easy way to make money. And then, while still reeling in bad judgment, he agreed to another quick and easy fix: a lawyer who said he could solve his legal problems and make money for everyone. Everything that had happened in Stant's life up to that point should have reminded him that nothing is quick and easy--or, for that matter, entirely good or bad. @rule:
@body:Shane Minoaka Stant was born in 1971 in Torrance, California, to an Anglo mother and a Hawaiian father. What follows is Stant's account of his life as he told it to New Times and to his fiance, Leslie Thomas. It's difficult to say how true it is; some of Stant's assertions have proven to be exaggerated or made up. His parents, his grandmother, his uncles might have helped sort out the truth, but they all chose not to talk. Former employers in Oregon would immediately hustle a reporter out the door at the mere mention of Stant's name.
Still, there is a sincerity to Stant that makes you want to believe him. This is what he claims:
Stant's parents married when he was 5 and divorced when he was 8. Because Shane's father, Gaylord Stant, was in the Navy, the family shuttled between San Diego and Hawaii. Gaylord drank heavily and beat the hell out of his wife and his son. When his mother left her husband, she was too afraid of Gaylord to try to take her child with her.
Gaylord Stant had been shot and stabbed; he'd ridden with Hell's Angels. He beat Shane with belts and with two-by-fours, even in front of his teachers at school. Once, while helping fix the family car, Shane made a mistake that he knew would anger his father, so before the father discovered the error, Shane ran to the bathroom to compose himself. He was so terrified that he passed out, and, as he fell, he put his head through the bathroom door. His father beat him for that. The top of his head is permanently scarred with knots as big as walnuts.
"I grew up with pain," he says. "That's why I was never afraid of anybody. I couldn't picture anybody meaner than my father."
When he reached high school age, Stant went to live with his mother, Linda Parmalee, in Corbett, Oregon, a small town 30 minutes east of Portland. She had remarried, and Stant did not get along with his stepfather. When Stant was 16, the stepfather gave away Stant's dog after an argument, and Stant moved out.
He dropped out of school and earned money passing out fliers and giving private martial arts lessons in a local park. When he had nowhere to live, he would find enough money to join a gym, and shave and shower there, then sleep on the streets. He got busted in Idaho for joy riding when his cousin picked him up and took him for a ride in a stolen pickup truck. He tried out for a semipro football team, then decided he didn't like it and quit. He did short stints as a bouncer, and, when they were speaking to each other, he worked security for California surf contests promoted by his father. Then he and his father would argue and Stant would move on. Stant was a lost and wandering soul with two interests: physical training and martial arts. And though he trained with extraordinary self-discipline, he would never submit to anyone else's disciplined instruction. He'd follow the biggest guys around the gym to learn how they pumped up, and he'd learn martial arts techniques by "trading stuff" and practicing full-contact, no-gloves sparring with like-minded friends.
When Stant was processed into jail in Oregon, he wrote on his intake papers that he was a "self-employed self-defense instructor." He claims that his father started teaching him to fight when he was 5 years old, that he "did a lot of judo," that he trained for five or six years in Muay Thai, a brutal martial arts style that resembles a Cuisinart of knees and elbows and short sticks.
He also claims that he perfected his knowledge of self-defense while in the military, that when he was 18, he enlisted in the Navy and went through basic training and Navy SEAL training. He says that his mother has certificates to prove as much, and Leslie Thomas claims to have seen them, but he was unable to provide copies to New Times. Then, he maintains, he was discharged from the Navy at paratrooper "jump school" at Fort Benning, Georgia, when it was discovered that he'd had knee surgery as a teenager.
A Navy spokesman, however, said there is no record that Stant ever served in that branch of the military.
"I trained for a year and a half on the Gracie competition team," he says, referring to a style of jujitsu grappling developed by the Brazil-born Gracie brothers, who are prominent martial artists. Later he scaled down the claim and said he had trained with the Gracies for five or six months in Torrance.
But Rorian Gracie says, "It's not true. I know we have a common acquaintance. He's never learned the system from us. I remember he came to visit the school one time, but he never registered. He never trained. He never took classes." Gracie goes on to say that the "common acquaintance" never attained appreciable rank at his school, either.
Stant pooh-poohs rank, claiming that he can take on the baddest black belts. And, indeed, just as one can win a Pulitzer Prize without going to journalism school, one can be a formidable fighter without going to a karate school. One can also be a formidable fighter and still not have the proper credentials to make a living teaching martial arts. A year and a half ago, Stant met Leslie Thomas at a scruffy bodybuilding gym in Portland where they both worked out.
Thomas, 23, is blond with blue eyes, and she has the kind of big, wholesome smile that sells milk and Wonder bread on billboards. The first time Stant approached her at the gym, she was wearing socks monogrammed with the Greek insignia of her sorority at Oregon State University, where she was a student. Stant asked if they were her initials.
She rolled her eyes in exasperation without looking at him and snapped back, "Those are Greek letters, like, duh . . !" and he retreated. A few days later, she saw him reflected in a mirror while he was coming out of the locker room and the pheromones kicked in--love at second sight. He realized she was gawking at him and recoiled, in case she was going to insult him again.
She was his first girlfriend. They moved in together with Shane's grandmother. Derrick Smith, who is married to Stant's mother's sister, was living there, too, and so Thomas and Smith became the first constants in Stant's life.
Smith had a plan to move to Arizona, buy property near Tombstone, and open an Outward Bound sort of survival school. But the school was to be decidedly more oriented toward surviving one's fellow man than surviving nature. He and Stant thought they'd market to the security departments of Fortune 500 companies or to regular Joes who wanted "a little bit of excitement for two weeks out of the year." They'd teach firearms and wilderness skills; Stant would teach rappelling and hand-to-hand combat.
In late October 1993, Stant and Thomas, Thomas' brother Lance and his fiance, Smith and his family--they all packed up and headed south.
@body:Stant had no idea who Nancy Kerrigan was when Smith first brought up the job that Shawn Eckardt wanted done; he still mistakenly believes that she was relatively unknown outside of the skating world before his attack. And although he claims that he only knew of Eckardt through stories that Smith told him, a lawsuit that Fred Merrill, Stant's former attorney, filed against him last week makes different claims. Part of that lawsuit, a chronology of events supposedly transcribed when Stant first hired Merrill, claims that Stant had earlier dealings with Eckardt, who was Tonya Harding's personal bodyguard. Smith, Eckardt and Harding all lived in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie. Stant was "Derrick's [Smith's] little muscle," at least according to Robert Silvert.
In April 1993, according to Merrill's chronology, Eckardt had called on Stant because Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding's husband, was angry with Harding, and wanted someone to steal or destroy her truck. Stant never did it. That summer, again according to the chronology, Stant procured 15 pounds of marijuana, which he sold to Smith, who passed it on to Eckardt, who gave it to Gillooly.
The plot against Nancy Kerrigan rose out of the distorted egos and intertwining ambitions of Eckardt, Harding and Gillooly. As Harding so bluntly put it after winning the U.S. Nationals, "What I'm really thinking about are dollar signs." She and Gillooly saw endorsements; Eckardt thought that if he could prove that skaters were targets and that security was lax at skating events, he could market his bodyguard services around the circuit. He called on his friend Derrick Smith, who brought Stant into the picture.
Stant claims that Eckardt's first request was far more serious than what he ultimately did. "My uncle said this guy needs a job done," Stant says. "I talked to [Eckardt] and said I'm not interested in doing it. First, he wanted me to cut her Achilles tendon, and I said, 'Yeah, it can be done, but I'm not going to do it.' I said, 'What's the least that has to be done?' and they said, 'She just can't skate at the Nationals.'
"I said, 'In that case, all that has to happen is she has to have a swelling of the leg, maybe a sharp hit. She doesn't have to be crippled.'"
Initial reports in Newsweek estimated the bounty on Kerrigan as high as $100,000, but it was really only $6,000 apiece for Smith and Stant, plus a promise of bodyguard work, since they were proving how bad security is at skating events. Paltry as that sum may be, it was more money than Shane Stant had ever made in a year, and $5,500 more than the rent that was due.
"Tuna fish and vegetables is what I eat," he says. "You can have $100 and live off that for three months. Six thousand dollars? Man, I can live off that for a year and a half."
He committed to the job. "Once I said I was going to do it, there was no turning back," he says. He went to the Spy Headquarters store in Mesa and purchased a 21-inch collapsible metal baton, a tool that can crunch down to a pocket-size tool and has no purpose other than as a truncheon.
When he left for Detroit, Stant told Leslie that he and Smith had been hired to keep an eye on Tonya Harding, because Gillooly thought she was cheating on him. Then, after the job was done, Stant told Leslie that once Jeff had arrived in Detroit, they were no longer needed, and he came home and watched the national skating championships with her. It was understood that Stant would soon be returning to Oregon in his new bodyguard job, which would last at least through the Olympics.
Stant has read that he carried a camera and media credentials at Cobo Arena to gain access to restricted areas. He did not. He simply walked past the security guards as if he knew where he was going, two days in a row. He would turn his face, figuring that it's hard to identify someone without seeing his eyes. He'd make his mind blank, so that no one would pick up on his vibes. Only once did anyone ask what he was doing backstage, and he earnestly replied that another security guard had pointed him in that direction to find the bathroom. The guard let him pass.
He measured the back and forth of the camerapeople and security personnel, figured who would be where and when. As Kerrigan stepped off the ice, he stayed out of view until a TV cameraman swept by in hot pursuit of her. As he passed through the curtain that blocked the light from the passageway into the arena, Stant snapped the baton to its full length. Then he fell in step behind the camera.
Later, when he saw the TV images of Nancy coming off the ice, he was startled. "It almost seemed like it was through my eyes, because I was half a foot behind the guy," he says.
When the cameraman set down his camera, Stant slipped around and struck Kerrigan on the lower leg, and because he kept moving, he never really saw her go down. Down the hall, the doors he'd seen open the day before when he'd cased the arena were now chained and locked. So he lowered his head beneath the crash bar and put his shoulder to the Plexiglas. It split with the impact, and he stepped out into ten inches of new snow.
A female reporter who had been interviewing Kerrigan when Stant struck then started screaming for someone to stop him. A man on the sidewalk outside moved to do so, then came to his senses and backed off, but Stant bowled him over, anyway, and rolled him into the curb.
Smith was moving with traffic, driving so as not to attract attention. Stant jumped into the rented car, and the two drove wordlessly in circles until they felt sure no one was tailing them. Then they returned to their hotel.
In a recent made-for-TV movie, the characters portraying Stant and Smith whooped and high-fived when they reached the car. In reality, Stant says, the two rode silently and grim-faced, and a half-hour later, when they were in their room, Smith finally spoke.
"Is the job done?" he asked, and Stant answered, "Yes."
This was theatre of the absurd played out on TV. Almost as soon as they were back in the hotel room, the heart-rending images of Nancy Kerrigan weeping and screaming, "Why?" in the hallway beneath Cobo Arena were playing on the screen. Stant knew already that he had done something monumentally stupid.
"Then I saw her father pick her up and carry her out," he says, "and that really had an effect on me, because I was never close to my father. I had thought I could talk myself into blowing it off, but I started putting people I love--my fiance, my mother, my sisters--in the picture. That's when it became more real."
He and Smith told themselves that neither would have done it if the other one had admitted that he didn't want to. They'd sat in silent manliness, convincing one another they couldn't let the other one down.
On January 14, Stant was watching TV again when he learned of Smith's arrest. He was eating dinner at a restaurant in Los Angeles, where he had gone to work out with martial arts friends, and the TV was on, soundless, but he knew instantly from the picture what had happened: Eckardt had confessed and implicated the two of them.
Smith surrendered immediately, because, Stant says, he was afraid that he or his family might be shot if police decided to raid their Ahwatukee home and take him by force. Merrill claims Smith was also afraid that if police searched his house, they'd find two fully automatic AR-15 assault rifles stashed under a bed.
Leslie first learned of Stant's involvement in the Kerrigan affair when one of Smith's teenage stepsons called her and said the FBI was at their house asking about Smith and Stant. Like most everyone, she had been heartbroken by the attack, and the thought that Shane had done it felt like a slap.
Stant drove straight back to Chandler that night and snuck in the back door of his house, because reporters and police had already staked out the front.
"I live in a predominantly Mexican and biker neighborhood," he says. "You look outside your window, you see a Ford Taurus with four or five suits sitting in it; I mean, even the kids know there's cops out there."
Leslie was beside herself. Stant wept. After talking on the phone to Smith, he snuck out the back door with Leslie's brother Lance, drove downtown to FBI headquarters in Phoenix and surrendered.
"They would never have caught me if it weren't for Shawn Eckardt," Stant says. Eckardt had openly bragged about arranging the hit to his classmates at a Portland community college, and one of them turned him in.
Stant's and Smith's roles in the assault may not have been as inept as has been portrayed.
For example, it was assumed that Stant had botched the job, because Kerrigan's injury turned out to be little more than a painful bruise. But it seems likely that he could have broken her leg if he had wanted to, especially if he had trained in stick fighting as he claims. Even if he hadn't, he's as strong as a horse, and the weapon he used is so perfectly weighted and expressly designed to inflict damage that a smaller, less-trained man could not have failed.
"You have to adjust for adrenaline," Stant says, for the adrenaline surge could make you hit all that much harder. "I knew it wouldn't take much strength." Perhaps as a salve for his conscience, he tells himself he's glad that he did it, because if someone else had been hired for the January 6 attack, that person might have seriously injured Kerrigan.
Stant and Smith have been called bumblers because they left an easily traced record of phone calls and credit-card stubs that made alibis impossible. Stant insists the paper trail was intentional and replies, "You're either going to get caught or you aren't. If you did this and I saw a photograph of you at Cobo Arena, and I asked if you were in Detroit and you said you were in Florida, they would know you're lying." Just because you were in Detroit staying at the Super 8 Motel, driving a rental car and phoning home wouldn't necessarily mean you committed the crime.
"My best defense is to say I'm stupid, and we're amateurs," he continues. How could the prosecutor say they were a menace to society and put them away forever after he had proven to the court that they were bumbling idiots?
@body:After Stant had spent three days in solitary confinement at the Madison Street Jail, a deputy came into his cell and said, "Your lawyer's here."
"I don't have a lawyer," Stant replied. But the deputy insisted that the visitor was persuasive, and Stant agreed to see what he wanted.
According to Stant's account, Merrill told Stant that he had been hired by Stant's family. Stant pointed out that his family had no money. Merrill reminded him of the possibility of spending ten years in jail, and Stant caved in.
Merrill admits that his law office contacted Derrick Smith's family, which, if considered improper solicitation, would be a violation of the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct of the Arizona Supreme Court, but the lawyer claims it happened by accident.
"When the story broke, I was talking to my paralegal [Robert Silvert] and I said, 'I know these people.'" Though Smith's family had always lived in Oregon, Merrill thought he had done business with Derrick's wife, Suzanne. "And unbeknownst to me, [Silvert] contacted Mrs. Smith just to see if there was anything we could do."
"I just asked if they needed legal assistance," Silvert adds. "And shortly thereafter, her sister [Shane's mother] called from Montana, and Shane's gal Leslie called and asked if we could do anything for Shane."
Leslie admits she called, but says that Silvert gave her the legally correct answer that because Leslie was not Shane's wife, they couldn't do anything unless Shane called himself. Merrill had come prepared. "He pulled out this contract," Stant says. "I'd stayed up days. By then I was exhausted." He signed.
Merrill's contract demanded $5,000 up-front to cover out-of-pocket expenses and $50,000 for legal fees. Paragraph seven of the two-page document explained how Stant would pay: "Mr. Stant hereby assigns, with total exclusivity, any or all rights, including but not limited to, film, TV, literary, print, as well as all ancillary rights, both internationally and domestically, to the Law Office of Fredrick D. Merrill until Mr. Merrill has received the $50,000 fee for professional services."
Smith signed a separate but identical contract promising Merrill another $55,000.
Because Merrill is not licensed to practice law in the state of Oregon, where the trial was to take place, he contacted a Portland attorney named Robert Goffredi. "I was minding my own business on a Friday afternoon" when the call came through, Goffredi says. Goffredi showed up for the arraignment an hour later, arranged bail, "made sure the guys shut up--but they'd already spilled their guts."
Goffredi was concerned that conflicts of interest could arise between Stant and Smith. Stant could be portrayed as the impressionable nephew who only did what his uncle told him to. If he decided to play that role, he could get off easier than Smith. Both men signed waivers of potential conflict, but Goffredi still thought the two should have separate counsel, and he called them together to talk about just that.
"They said they couldn't afford it," Goffredi remembers. Then the literary-rights issue surfaced: "One said, 'What about paragraph seven?' My jaw just hit the table. I had no idea of that arrangement." He resigned as their counsel, and the presiding judge insisted that Merrill withdraw, as well. Goffredi threatened to sue for his fee, and received $2,000 from Merrill, half of what he billed.
Merrill found new attorneys for the pair. Then the money started to roll in.
Merrill alleges that he initially did not intend to market the Stant and Smith story until the trial was over. He was then going to look at book and film opportunities, and he thought he could get around an Oregon "Son of Sam" law that says literary proceeds from crimes should go to the victims. Nancy Kerrigan's lawyers had assured Merrill that Kerrigan would not be demanding restitution; in that case, the money would go into trust for a period of years before reverting to the criminals.
"We advised them not to do Hard Copy," says Silvert. And, in fact, Silvert was able to produce letters from Smith and Stant, dated January 30, to verify that claim.
Stant's letter read, in part, "I realize that you have counseled me against doing any interviews, for it may hurt my case. You have also counseled me to listen to my public defender, Randall Vogt. He agrees with you and also counseled me against any interviews. However, I have decided on an interview with Hard Copy. It is extremely difficult to hear what is being said about me, Derek [sic], and our family." Smith wrote a similar letter. Both letters asked that Merrill continue to represent them in civil matters.
Merrill and Silvert cut the deal, and Smith and Stant sat through four interviews, for which Hard Copy paid an initial $40,000 to Merrill on January 29 (Leslie Thomas hand-carried the check from Portland to Phoenix to deliver to Merrill), with an additional $20,000 to be paid at the end of February. Though Hard Copy refused to confirm or deny such payment, Merrill produced his copy of an agreement with the TV tabloid show. Leslie Thomas and Suzanne Smith also received $7,500 each from Hard Copy as payment for use of personal photographs.
Then Merrill and Silvert started working on other moneymaking projects. "We were raising revenue for them," says Merrill, "so they could go into the Multnomah County [Oregon] prosecutor like Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly did and say, 'Here's $100,000, we want to make a deal.'"
Stant claims they also received $15,000 from the National Enquirer, and that when that publication contacted him, he said to the reporter, "I was just in the supermarket and saw a picture of heaven in [the Enquirer]."
Silvert denies any such interview took place--unless money was paid directly to them, in which case we know nothing about it." And Richard Baker, the articles editor of the Enquirer, also denied that any sums of that size were paid for Stant's or Smith's story. "We may have talked to him, but I don't recall any money," Baker says. "If we would have paid him anything, it would have been an insignificant amount."
Silvert did set up a 900 phone line on which Stant and Smith implicated Harding and Gillooly in the attack. In addition to the phone-charge revenues--which Merrill estimates as nearly $20,000, yet to be collected--the phone message sold memorabilia: tiny baton key chains that sold for $29.95, autographed photos and tee shirts that read "Save a Skater, Club a Gillooly."
While in Phoenix in March, they posed for the photos, but they were never printed, because Stant's and Smith's relationship with Merrill finally exploded.
The final detonator, according to Stant, revolved around another planned interview with Hard Copy, held in the hotel next door to Merrill's Clarendon Avenue office.
According to Stant, Silvert got into an argument with the show's reporter over a $10,500 payment for the interview. Silvert wanted to be paid in advance, which the reporter refused. Then, Stant alleges, he and Smith discovered that they were expected to tell the cameras that Tonya Harding had been present at one of their two meetings with Shawn Eckardt and Jeff Gillooly.
As Stant recalls, "They were expecting us to say, 'Yeah, Tonya Harding knew about it. She gave the thumbs up.' They wanted us to say, 'Yes, I know for a fact she was involved.' They came down to Merrill's office. We went down there and we were telling them what we knew. They're like, 'What is this? What are you talking about? We were under the impression that you guys were going to say that she was in the room during the meeting, and what the hell are you talking about?'
"Then Robert pulled Derrick outside and said, 'Look, if we get this done, there'll be an $85,000 reenactment deal, and it'll be $10,000 here.'"
They refused. Stant maintains that "Robert came up with, 'Well, if we do this, we'll get the money and you won't owe us any more.'"
Stant and Smith left, and the cameras packed up. Hard Copy would not comment on whether the encounter took place.
"Maybe it's their imagination," Silvert counters. "The only thing we ever told them was to tell the truth, and that's it." But he offers as explanation his understanding that Tonya was in the house during the second meeting, if not in the room where it took place.
Stant claims he would not perform a reenactment in any case. "I couldn't say, 'I made a mistake, now give me 85 grand and I'll do it again.' When I did it, it was easier because I didn't have to see her. Then, when I got back to the hotel and saw her crying on TV, I thought she didn't deserve that."
While in Oregon awaiting sentencing, Stant picked up a copy of Easy Rider magazine and found an article that said his 1955 Harley-Davidson motorcycle had been purchased by a Phoenix motorcycle shop. He was more than a little surprised because, he claims, he had not intended to sell it.
Lance Thomas, Leslie's brother, alleges that Silvert approached him about the bike, and said it would be prudent to hide it in case the government tried to confiscate it under provisions of racketeering law.
"The only thing we did was follow through on a request to sell his motorcycle to pay legal fees," Silvert says.
He got $3,500 for the bike as partial down payment for the $5,000 his contract called for. Fred Merrill admits he was, in fact, concerned that if charges were filed related to Stant's alleged drug transaction with Eckardt and Gillooly, the bike would be taken.
And so Merrill took it. "[Silvert] had me take it to a place that was going to hold it," Lance Thomas says, and so he put it in Suzanne Smith's truck and drove it to a bailbondsman's office in Phoenix. Thomas delivered the title to Silvert, and he and Stant both maintain that it was unsigned. (Stant's new lawyer, Michael Fairbairn, says that it was signed, but not notarized in Stant's presence.)
However, David Fulcher of Highway Choppers in Glendale, who served as a middleman in the sale, says, "It had a clear title, notarized, with Shane Stant's signature on it." And among the papers filed in Merrill's lawsuit is a copy of a Montana title that had been issued to Stant's uncle, Scott Loomis, signed over to Stant and, indeed, bearing a signature that appears to be Stant's.
@body:In a letter dated March 30, Shane Stant requested that Merrill provide him with accounts of hours and expenses relating to his case and also an itemization of monies received from the media. He indicated in the letter that he had requested such accounts on five earlier occasions. Stant and Smith filed a formal complaint with the Arizona State Bar.
Merrill says he planned to document everything for the bar, that he requested fee arbitration from the bar, and that Stant and Smith refused that request in order to make false allegations.
"Criminal attorneys call it being gooned," says Merrill, and he contends that Stant and Smith turned bitter because their marketability was waning.
Others came to different conclusions. Robert Goffredi, the Portland attorney who first handled the case, characterizes Merrill and Silvert as "everyone's nightmare of sleazy lawyers. If he wanted to do publicity for them, he should have gotten them to sign an agent's contract, not claim to do legal work."
Shortly after New Times contacted Merrill, he and Silvert made a legal strike on their accusers by filing a lawsuit against Stant and Smith charging breach of contract, civil extortion and false light--namely, making allegations to New Times. In their accounting of monies relating to Stant and Smith, they claimed revenues received of $83,500, less expenses of $42,363--including $10,000 to the two Oregon defense attorneys who actually handled the case, $2,000 each to Stant and Smith and $7,500 each to Leslie Thomas and to Smith's wife. Merrill charged $40,050 for his and Silvert's fee; the suit demands an additional balance of $26,500 and damages to be determined by the court. The $20,000 yet to be collected from the 900 number, Merrill says, will be put into the hands of the court pending the outcome of his suit.
"That accounting doesn't mean anything," scoffs Stant's and Smith's new Phoenix attorney, Michael Fairbairn. "Forty thousand dollars in legal fees? He was off the case in a week."
Fairbairn points out that the original agreement Merrill made with Stant and Smith was to be their criminal defense attorney, not their agent. It is worth noting that the Oregon attorneys who ultimately handled the criminal cases for Stant and Smith were both paid flat fees of $10,000, far less than the $55,000 each called for in Merrill's contracts.
Fairbairn filed suit against Merrill on Stant's and Smith's behalf, charging negligence, misleading his clients on facts pertinent to the case and overcharging; he notes the possibly improper solicitation, the possibly fraudulent motorcycle sale. He demands a minimum of $50,000 in damages and repayment of monies from the media deals.
"Merrill's divulged some information he shouldn't have," Fairbairn continues, referring to the allegations of Stant's steroid use and drug trafficking, which appear to have nothing at all to do with the dispute over Merrill's ethics.
@body:Fredrick Merrill, 46, has the cool and easy manner of a small-town lawyer. His office is hung with hunt prints. He lounges back in his desk chair while he takes questions as to his law practice; he answers in a sincere tone. David Robert Silvert, 40, is edgier and flashier. He wears ostrich-skin cowboy boots and designer jeans. Like Merrill, he's a six-footer. Looking out from beneath hooded eyelids, he ardently proclaims his innocence--and has reason to worry if that innocence is questioned.
Shane Stant and Derrick Smith are not the first people to accuse either Merrill or Silvert of taking their money. "Every single lawyer I talked to knew someone who had had the same experience with Fred Merrill," says Stant. "When I called the lawyer referral line [while looking for someone to consider his claims against Merrill], they laughed when I said it was Fred Merrill."
Merrill has been sued several times since 1986, at least four times successfully, and many of the suits, successful or not, concerned clients or business contacts who felt he had not delivered what had been paid for.
"How does anybody get into these situations?" he offers as explanation. "I've been in practice since 1978, and I think when you're out there doing things like this, there's always people who are going to take a shot at you. There may be people out there who say, 'Mr. Merrill, we believe you may be an active participant in this, therefore, we're going to sue them, and you're going to be sued, too.' Should that stop me from representing those people?"
Late last month, the Arizona Supreme Court handed Merrill a 90-day suspension from practice for failing to account for $10,000 he'd taken from an elderly woman who had retained him for estate planning; $4,000 was allegedly taken to have some of the client's paintings appraised, and the rest comprised two loans that Merrill failed to memorialize. He paid the money back when the bar began making inquiries.
Silvert's court record is overwhelming: Between 1984 and 1988, he was sued for thousands of dollars of merchandise and services he had purchased but allegedly never paid for.
In 1986, he was successfully sued for $5 million for obtaining fraudulent loans. He was never charged in more than 30 real estate deals in which he was alleged to have acted improperly. Most of those cases were dismissed or written off when Silvert declared bankruptcy.
Silvert then started over again. In 1990, he was convicted of fraud, was sentenced to seven years of intensive probation that forbids him to leave Maricopa County and ordered to pay nearly $4 million in restitution. The next year, he spent two months in jail for passing bad checks.
Now he swears he's changed his ways, that the spending and deal-making are behind him.
"When I got out of college, I got involved with individuals that were in real estate," he says in his own defense. "I was with a group of people who were doing business in a sort of fast-and-footloose-fancy method, and it was wrong. I agree with the conclusion that it is wrong, and I'm not doing that anymore. I was hoping that chapter of my life is over."
And as for any wrongdoing that may be determined regarding Stant's and Smith's claims, he pleads subservience to Merrill. "Do you understand that I'm an employee of Fred?" he asks. "This is not my business. I'm working as hard as I can to support a family. I'm making monthly payments, as the judge ordered me to make."
In explaining his employment of Silvert, Merrill offers only that Silvert works long, diligent hours. "What Bob did was wrong in his past activities," Merrill says. "He was charged with crimes, and he is in the process of serving his time."
As for Stant and Smith, Merrill sadly says, "I had genuinely thought up until a couple of weeks ago that these were nice people. I thought they were drawn into a situation where they were naive. Right there at the last, when they could see their worth declining, a real hostile attitude started developing."
An outraged Silvert dismisses Stant's allegations as "complete bullshit, and they are alleged for the sole purpose of monetary gain. And they're the same conduct that resulted in him smacking a skater on the knee. It was for money."
Stant claims that he doesn't want money from Merrill; he wants justice.
What is truth, and what is merely perception? Stant and Merrill and Silvert all strike sincere and offended poses--and may actually believe their own claims.
And what is legal, regardless of how cynical or greedy the underlying motives may be? In the end, it comes down to the signatures on a contract and the word of a suspended lawyer and a convicted swindler against the word of another convicted felon. The lawyer, in this case, has signed contracts and documentation in his briefcase. And so Stant may be left with nothing but amazement at how so much money was generated because of his own bad judgment, and how so little was left for him when the smoke cleared and the mirrors were taken down.
Stant pleaded guilty to second-degree assault last month and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. After a couple of weeks in a Portland lockup, he was shipped out to a state prison in Salem, Oregon.
His fiance, Leslie Thomas, still lives in Chandler, and when Stant gets out, he expects to return there and find a construction job, get married and have children. He's given up on his martial arts dreams.
"What I've been thinking lately is, 'What is the sense of it all?' I dedicated my life to something that, as far as society goes, doesn't have much use. I dedicated my whole life to training, and there's not much call for it to make money.
"A year and a half from now, and I get out, you won't hear from me. I'll grow my hair down to my shoulders. I'll grow a beard down to my belly. No one will even recognize me.
"What bothers me is I'll be the guy who attacked Nancy Kerrigan; that's what I'm going to be known for. Not for developing a new fighting style, helping people to have fun, being a good father. I'm going to be known as the hit man who hit Nancy Kerrigan.
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