The handwritten birthday card seemed so sincere.
"My music is an expression of my inner self," it started. "It was a true honor and delight to share it with these incredible musicians. 'Somewhere Along the Way' was written as an expression of searching along the path, the Way--as my studies of the Tao have taken me. Truth is found along the search and recognition of one's path--destiny."
The September 4, 1993, missive ended with a simple request: "Enjoy my music--it's me."
Its author was Andrew Ling, a Phoenix attorney in his mid-30s. He also handed his girlfriend a cassette tape. Ling told Michel Allen that this was his birthday present to her. He titled the tape "My Soul."
Inside the tape box was more handwritten information about the recording. The text said Ling and some jazz superstars had recorded two of the tape's four tunes a few weeks earlier in Oslo, Norway. The other selections, he wrote, came from a May 1988 session at a New York City studio.
The text stated that Ling had co-written three of the selections with jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker. The Ling/Brecker team had produced the recording session and performed on each tune, with Ling on keyboards and Brecker on tenor sax.
Ling added that he'd co-written one song, "Pleasant Surprise," with renowned guitarist Pat Metheny. Metheny had performed on two songs, with Ling's brother, Tim, playing guitar on the other two selections, the notes said.
"Thanks to the incredible musicians who directed schedules, flew across for two days, gave me ideas and tolerated my incessant enthusiasm," Ling concluded. "Special thanks to Michael Brecker, without whose help this project would not have been possible. Thanks for believing in me."
Michel Allen was not impressed by the gift.
"He'd kept saying, 'It's going to be great. You can't get it in any store; you can't buy it in the States,'" she says. "Then he gives me this cheesy tape. I was mad. Then it was, 'Do you know how much it costs to make an album? I'm broke.'"
Allen, a Phoenix woman, had been dating Ling for months. During that time, she says, she'd been amazed by his achievement, the breadth of which he reminded her of daily.
Ling had told Allen and others that he was an agent of the Secret Service, on a first-name basis with presidents. He was a jazz artist who'd hobnobbed with the world's greats.
Michel Allen says Ling attracted her because of whom she thought he was--a physically fit Renaissance man who could be a lot of fun.
She didn't develop doubts about Ling's Secret Service claims until they'd dated for months. After all, he had all the trappings--the distinctive key chain, duffel bag, tee shirts.
None of it is true, and Michel Allen is just one of many people who have been bombarded by Ling's fantastic tales.
He told four people contacted by New Times that he had been on the 1980 U.S. Olympic tae kwon do team. His dreams of competing, however, had been shattered by the U.S. boycott of the Moscow games.
He told a Tucson woman he'd come to George Bush's aid as a Secret Service agent after the early 1992 vomiting incident in Japan. Six other people told New Times that Ling had bragged about being a Secret Service agent.
But Andrew Ling has never been a member of the Secret Service. However, the agency has investigated him for impersonating a Secret Service agent. (For the record, Ling denies ever telling anyone that he has been a member of the Secret Service.)
Ling never was a member of the Olympic tae kwon do team, says a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee. (Again, he says he never told anyone he was on the team.) The U.S. didn't compete in that sport until 1988.
Ling never composed or recorded with Pat Metheny or Michael Brecker, the musicians' managers say.
Andrew Ling is not a Walter Mitty--not an ordinary, timid individual given to adventurous daydreams as a way of glamorizing a humdrum life. His falsehoods go far beyond the banal, and he has gone so far as to create phony documents--the music liner notes--to bolster his fantasies.
Yet Ling has accomplished many things in his life--and that makes his outlandish stories seem even more inexplicable.
Friends say he does play a mean piano. He speaks at least three languages--English, French and Taiwanese. He is executive producer of an unfinished documentary about the life and times of ex-secretary of state James A. Baker.
And Andrew Mung-Li Ling is an attorney at law, licensed to practice in Arizona since 1985. He works for his father's firm in Phoenix.
Ling appears to be fashioned from the same mold as Darrow "Duke" Tully, an ex-publisher of the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette. Tully resigned in disgrace a decade ago after his elaborate claims of fighter-pilot heroics were unmasked.
"This gentleman may have been living in his mind on a grandiose level," Phoenix-based Secret Service agent David Moore says of Ling. "But to prove criminal intent and to make a case against someone for impersonation, you have to prove financial or material gain. We didn't get to that point."
In his interviews with New Times, Ling at first reveled in his purported musical relationships with Brecker and Metheny.
"Yes, sir, I've played with them," he said in December. "In my opinion, it was more of an honor than anything else. But my main gig is international law."
When entangled in his own web, Ling seamlessly slips from one explanation to another. He'll characterize a glaring contradiction as an unfortunate misunderstanding. If pressed, he apologizes profusely and carries on.
For example, after New Times queried Ling last week, he first denied he'd ever said he'd played with the famed musicians. Then, confronted with a transcript of the earlier conversation, he glibly explained he'd meant to say he wanted to play with them someday.
Andy Ling apparently hasn't spun his yarns for financial ends. He seeks to benefit by impressing friends, strangers and, apparently, himself.
But his lies have hurt people, especially friends and lovers who had grown to admire and trust him, only to be betrayed.
"I'm not a disgruntled ex-girlfriend who wants to get back at him," Michel Allen explains. "I'm not into that at all. I still want him to get help. It's that he has lied to a very major degree, and other women need to know that. . . . He never needed to do any of this. I just don't think Andy can love anyone but Andy. And he doesn't even do that."
Others, including the musicians and their managers, are incredulous and chagrined.
"We don't take kindly to this," Michelle Craig, special-projects coordinator for Metheny's management firm in Boston, says of Ling's purported collaboration with the jazz-guitar impresario. "For someone to invent liner notes and a tape that he supposedly recorded and composed with someone like Pat, who has worked his whole life at his music, is very wrong."
Many acquaintances of Andy Ling describe him as an intelligent, eager-to-please fellow who grew up under the thumb of a demanding father. He is erudite, a sterling conversationalist.
Ling works as an attorney for GTX Corporation, a computer-related firm that does business internationally and is owned by his father.
He's a fixture in the Scottsdale/East Camelback corridor social scene. A fitness buff, he works out religiously at the Village Racquet and Health Club.
With his lively patter, nonpareil "credentials" and trim appearance, Ling has had little difficulty meeting women.
But there's been a troubling pattern in Ling's romances. Several women say his tales grew taller as their relationships progressed.
One woman whom Ling dated briefly years ago recalls how his fantastic yarns compelled her to investigate.
"Andy told me about being on the Olympic tae kwon do team in 1980," says Esther Slater, a Scottsdale woman who was one of many people contacted by the Secret Service last year.
"I questioned it because of other things he'd told me. So I did some checking. It was just lies. Last year, I told him I was going to Kyoto, in Japan. He said, great, that's where his temple is. I asked him, 'Oh, what's the name of it?' He didn't know. Just lies. It's sad."
Few, female or male, have been immune from Ling's barrage.
"He would spew on with me about being in the Secret Service, about this and that," says Betsy Banovac, a former neighbor. "I never took him seriously. I just saw him as this really troubled person who needed help."
In early 1992, the March of Dimes prepared for its annual Bid for Bachelors event. Local bachelors strut their stuff on a stage for eager, single ladies, then go out on dates with the highest bidders.
The whole thing is for charity. New Times spoke with two of that year's bachelors. The pair, who don't know each other, attended a pre-event session in which bachelors to be auctioned told each other about themselves.
Both men vividly remember Andy Ling. He described himself as a well-connected international attorney and a most busy fellow. He disclosed that he'd soon be flying to Washington, D.C., for an important meeting with George Bush and the president's Cabinet.
One of the men, a Valley medical doctor, recalls being agog.
"This guy knew the president, for God's sakes," says the doctor, who requested anonymity. "His political ties were incredible. The Lear jet, the whole thing. All I could say was, 'Holy cow, what competition!'"
Michel Allen attended the event, held at Westcourt in the Buttes, as a volunteer worker. She saw Ling there, but didn't meet him until about a year later.
"We did have some good times," Allen says. "I just trust in people, okay? I'd tell him, 'Andy, you have accomplished so much in life. Why do you want to date me? I'm nothing fancy. But here you are telling me you just landed another $250 million deal or whatever.'"
Ling's web became steadily more complex, Allen says.
"One time," she says, "the first thing he said to me when I saw him was, 'There's been another attempt on the president's life.' He'd tell me about counterfeiters, about wearing the black garb, the black stuff under his eyes. He told me Barry Goldwater had gotten him elected to the War Council, whatever that is. He told me he'd gotten shot wearing a bulletproof vest. I remember him moaning--`Oh, the pain, the pain!'"
Though the two never lived together, Allen says she and Ling spent many nights together. She noticed he often slept fitfully, grinding his teeth.
Allen's recollection: "Andy told me, 'Do you know what it's like to have to send men off to their deaths? That's why I have these nightmares.' I tried to console him."
In September 1993, Ling gave Allen the birthday present he'd been touting for weeks. It was the tape "My Soul," which he told her he'd made with some of the world's finest jazz musicians.
The names of the musicians--Metheny, Brecker, Omar Hakim--meant little to her. But when she told friends about the tape, many expressed doubts about its bona fides.
Months passed. In 1994, Allen still was dating Ling, but the relationship was fading.
"I just got tired of him and his nonstop stories," she says. "I realized how pathetic he is."
One night in mid-1994, she says, she introduced her roommate to Andy's brother, Tim, at a concert.
"I introduced Tim as having toured with [reed musician] Branford Marsalis," Allen says, "because that's what Andy had told me. Tim told me he didn't even know Branford Marsalis. That led us to Andy's tape. Tim--who's very honest, very nice--said he didn't know anything about a recording in Oslo. I told him Andy's liner notes said he was on it."
Then, last July, Allen was stunned to receive a phone call from Agent David Moore of the Secret Service, who asked if she would mind answering a few questions about Andrew Ling. Confused and a bit frightened, she phoned Ling after Moore questioned her.
"I did not buy Andy's explanation," she says. "I finally knew for sure that I'd been had."
Soon after the Secret Service interview, Allen continues, she confronted him about everything--the impersonation, the Brecker/Metheny tape--at a kind of last supper.
"I told him, 'Andy, tell me the truth about everything, please,'" Allen says. "He looked me in the eye and said he'd made up the Secret Service stuff because he's insecure and he's afraid people won't like him. About the tape, he said, 'Okay, I lied about Tim playing guitar on it. But I'm on it. Really.'" David Moore says his investigation into whether Andy Ling was impersonating a Secret Service agent led him down intriguing paths.
"I spoke with a lot of people about this gentleman, and found the situation very interesting," says Moore. "But to prove criminal intent--to show, quote, a 'thing of value'--can be a fine line. A person can legally wear Secret Service shirts or cuff links or whatever. [Such items are available at government gift shops.] If someone chooses to believe they're an agent, that's their problem. I get lied to as a profession, so I just don't believe anybody."
One of those Moore interviewed was Phoenix businessman Craig Rock, a longtime friend of the Ling family. Rock says he knew nothing about Andy Ling's oft-stated Secret Service connection.
"I've known Andy for years," says Rock, "and I never heard him say anything about being an agent. I think he's a great guy. He's not shy about talking about himself, but there are a ton of people in this town who shoot out a load of crap. I'd like to think he's not one of them."
Another Secret Service interviewee, Esther Slater, was the woman who'd done her own sleuthing about Ling's claim of being an Olympic athlete.
"I told Andy after the Secret Service interviewed me," Slater says, "`Get a grip, guy. Everything you tell me is lies.' He said, 'You guys stick with me and I'll get help.' 'Yeah, sure, Andy.'"
Agent Moore also contacted Jean O'Hara, who had dated Ling briefly a few years earlier.
"Andy told me almost from the time I met him that he was in the Secret Service," recalls O'Hara, a saleswoman from Tucson. "He came across like an American James Bond. He told me he'd rescued Bush after that vomiting thing in Japan. He also talked a lot about his music. He gave me a tape one time, said he was on it with Pat Metheny and a guy named Brecker."
O'Hara says she stopped dating Ling after a few months: "I stopped because he was a liar, he was pompous and he was cheap as the day is long. Is that enough? And I told the Secret Service all that."
After her Secret Service interview, O'Hara says, she left a phone message for Ling asking for an explanation.
"I got this return message from Andy thanking me for my concern," she says. "He said, sounding very official, that he was in D.C. and he'd debrief me when he returned. He didn't, but then I bumped into him at the club about a week later. I said, 'Andy, you're so full of it.' He came back with, 'Jean, this is confidential, top-secret stuff. Some of my people are in trouble with some of their people. That's what this is all about.'" Under federal law, impersonating a Secret Service agent may bring up to three years in prison and a fine. Moore says his investigation led him to seek guidance from assistant U.S. attorney John Stevens.
"We didn't formally open an official file on Mr. Ling," Stevens says. "Agent Moore ran the facts by me, and the statute dictated what we did. We just didn't have grounds to pursue a criminal prosecution. My suggestion was to tell the guy to cut it out and that if we come up with more, we'll pursue it."
David Moore says he later met with Ling and with Ling's attorney, though he declines to discuss specifics.
"He's an attorney, and he's obviously practiced at talking to people," the agent says, referring to Ling. "But I would say it was a productive meeting."
New Times first contacted Andy Ling just before Christmas 1994. The questions put to him were limited to his alleged musical exploits.
One question: Have you played music and recorded with Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker and other jazz bigwigs?
"Most of what I did with those guys was eight or nine years ago," he said then, "though I did a casual recording in Oslo, Norway, about four years ago with Michael."
His relationship with Brecker and the gang began in the early 1980s, Ling said in the first conversation.
"Chick Corea introduced me to Michael Brecker back in '84," Ling said then, "and it went from there. What an honor!"
But after the first interview with Ling, New Times contacted representatives of Michael Brecker and Pat Metheny.
Michelle Craig of Metheny's management firm said the guitarist "has absolutely no memory of playing or recording with an Andrew Ling, ever. It didn't happen."
Peter McCallum, manager's assistant for Michael Brecker, said from New York City that the saxophonist "has no recollection of anyone named Andy Ling."
Ling had varying responses when confronted with this information in his second New Times interview, conducted last week.
"Remember when we spoke about your recordings with Pat Metheny and Mike Brecker?" Ling was asked.
"You mean my desire to record with them," Ling immediately responded.
"No, your recordings with those men."
"There must be some kind of misunderstanding. I'm sorry. I said I would like to record with them, and I'd like to take a year off to do that. I've met Michael a few times, that's all. If I saw him, he'd probably recognize me."
New Times then read to Ling from the transcript of the first interview, which was tape-recorded.
"I'm sorry I gave you that misinformation," Ling replied, not missing a beat. "I meant to say that I would like to play with them someday and it's always been a personal goal of mine."
Ling also responded to the subject of his elaborate "liner notes."
"I prepared a tape for a friend that exemplified what I would like to put together someday," he said, "what it would be like if I had the chance to record with these guys, because this friend wanted to be introduced to jazz. We all have our dreams that we try to express in different ways."
Ling also tried to downplay the brouhaha with the Secret Service.
"What happened was basically a rumor that surfaced," he said. "When I work out, I usually wear a Secret Service tee shirt. I've worn it quite a bit. Some rumor started in the gym that I was in the agency. So what I did was to meet directly with the agency, and I cleared it up. It's a rumor that got blown way out of proportion. It's a small town."
Ling repeated three times that he's never told anyone he's ever been in the Secret Service.
"There's no reason for me to do that," he said.
Ling was eager to talk about a documentary he has been working on with a high school buddy named Townley Paton.
"I'm the executive producer," Ling said proudly, "and it falls under the theme of leadership and statesmanship, with the purpose of inspiring younger generations to enter public service."
Ling had mentioned the James Baker project in the first New Times interview. Then, he'd compared the documentary with his musical projects.
"The secretary of state bestowed the honor upon my buddy and I to do the documentary," Ling had intoned in December, "just like Michael [Brecker] and the guys gave me the honor to do something with them."
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Ling insisted that the Baker project, titled James A. Baker III--A Statesman's Story, is the real deal.
"It is, honestly," he said.
This time Andy Ling is telling the truth.
A Washington, D.C., spokeswoman for James Baker says, "Secretary Baker is aware of Andrew Ling and is cooperating."
Ling's collaborator, San Francisco videographer Townley Paton, says he and Ling devised the idea for a documentary during a high school class reunion--at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts--five years ago.
"This has been the most important thing in my life," Paton says, expressing dismay that Ling's unmasking may impede the project's completion. "I mean, Andy has not given me any indication of any of this stuff. This is very bizarre.