Glad-Hander No More

On a good day, David Hans Schmidt is a name-dropper, glad-hander and hobnobber extraordinaire.

But this is not a good day.

He sits in a visitation room at Maricopa County's Towers Jail. He is wearing the striped uniform of an inmate, and he is choked up, weeping.

It's a pathetic scene.

Minutes earlier, he had been pitching me on my need to obtain the "exclusive rights" to his story of personal persecution.

Schmidt is being held in the maximum-security wing, charged with aggravated harassment and voluntary adult child abuse. Because he is on probation for prior offenses, he is not eligible for bail.

Schmidt, 40, is normally a hot-headed PR flack who boasts of his chutzpah. He claims to have represented celebrity centerfolds, sirens and assorted other bad girls. Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Tonya Harding. He claims to have brokered nude layouts for Flowers and figure skater Katarina Witt.

He burst -- some would say slithered -- into our collective consciousness nearly a decade ago, when he ran a full-page ad in the Arizona Republic. The ad featured a photo of Schmidt, bare-chested, under the screaming headline, "Meet a PR Practitioner Who Has a Pair." He crowed that his brash style would make his clients rich.

He was blatantly touting himself as a PR whore, a shameless self-promoter, which was as obnoxious as it was refreshing.

The public relations community shunned and condemned him, said he was unethical and gave the PR profession a bad name. That, in my mind, bestowed him with at least one redeeming trait.

These days, however, Schmidt could use a good PR man of his own.

The charges against him are the latest chapter in a long-running battle over custody of his two young daughters. The docket alone in this domestic relations case runs to 12 single-spaced pages.

He was picked up last week for violating a protective order held by Janice Lee Olson, the mother of his daughters. She and Schmidt never married.

He is also accused of somehow injuring the toe of his 11-year-old daughter. That crime allegedly occurred on March 17, during his bimonthly five-hour unsupervised visit with his daughters. He heard about the injury three days later, he says. He was arrested days later -- the seventh time he's been arrested since August 1999.

He pleads ignorance of how any such injury could have occurred. When he dropped the girls off at a visitation center, the three of them beamed for a photo -- they wore balloon animals on their heads. They had played Wiffle ball before that. There were no complaints about injuries, he says.

I smell a foot fetish.

The daughter he is accused of abusing is a competitive skater, and Schmidt tenderly recalls how he arranged for her to get lessons from one of his clients, Tonya Harding.

"I used to fly Janice's family to [his daughter's] skating events," he says. "I pay this woman $2,400 a month in child support. I bought her her braces. I bought her her breasts. I bought her a Mercedes. I gave her everything."

Schmidt's braggadocio is never far beneath the surface. But the enormity of his legal dilemma and the accusations against him have chased it away for now, and tears stream down his cheeks.

"All I've ever wanted in this whole thing is reasonable access to my children," he says. "I would cut off one of my feet to thwart any pain for my daughters. I am not a violent person. I have never even spanked one of my kids."

He quickly regains his composure and spouts conspiracy theory against the ubiquitous "they." Olson has been "setting me up like a bowling pin." Olson declined to comment.

He rails against a county prosecutor, calling her an "overzealous femi-Nazi" who "does not like the fact that I broker beautiful women into Playboy and Penthouse." A spokesman for the county attorney declined to comment.

"They just don't like who I am," Schmidt says. "They think I'm arrogant and conceited, and I'm not. I never forced a woman to pose for Playboy or Penthouse at gunpoint."

He's spent 210 days in jail in the past 16 months. His PR business is in tatters.

"It's hell to try and run a business out of here," he says, gesturing to the dingy surroundings. "I'm very close to bankruptcy. I've got to be on jets to L.A. and New York and Chicago."

A bus to Florence seems more likely.

David Hans Schmidt undoubtedly is a master of spin. He's the flack's version of a shock jock.

As he sits in jail, his fear is palpable and his remorse seems genuine at times. Yet he can be counted on to lapse into PR-speak.

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Jeremy Voas

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