Perched atop a flagpole at One Times Square sat the New Year’s Eve ball, ready for its traditional drop. For this drop, marking the end of the millennium, the famous orb had been sold to Waterford, legendary Irish glassmakers, and re-spangled. It was now the Waterford crystal ball. Such advertising was emblematic of the 1990s: from Tiger Woods’s hat to movie titles on NASA rockets, panoptic exposure seemed valuable at any price. Awaiting the Waterford’s fall, bodies had backfilled midtown Manhattan all day until, at 11:59, nearly one million gleeful voices began counting down the ball’s light-pulsing descent, synchronized to the (now-forgotten) “Anthem for the Millennium.” In that moment, most revelers believed the Y2K scare was bogus and the new year would arrive intact, granting not so much a new age but, what was truly hoped, continuity with the one passing, its incontinent dot-com profits a testament to the prodigal investor. Everywhere people were betting that the American good life had another good act to go.
Earlier that day, ten blocks east of Times Square, San Diego mortgage lender Michael Joseph Fanghella was readying to part with a small portion of his 1990s easy money. In his executive suite at the Palace Hotel, Fanghella (his pronunciation stresses the second syllable — Fang-hell-a) was phoning an escort service, Nici’s Girls, for a New Year’s Eve date. Nici’s “Millionaire Club,” of which he was a member, promises girls “for an intimate evening, a romantic weekend, or maybe even a lifetime. The introduction rate for these spectacular ladies begins at $10,000.” Fanghella used Nici’s often and liked, in particular, their “high-profile porn stars.” As one of San Diego’s nouveau riche, the 48-year-old, with his wife Patrice and the company’s chief executive officer, Keith Grubba, owned a subprime mortgage lending business in Carlsbad called PinnFund, USA, purportedly processing and profiting from $4 billion in home loans each year. Such bounty allowed Fanghella his pick of Nici’s petals as well as other women he met at his multi-city “party-centrals,” the Spearmint Rhino Adult Cabaret in Las Vegas or San Diego’s Deja Vu strip club, where he was known to spend $10,000 per week. He lavished on escorts, prostitutes, porn stars, and their coterie whatever they desired, from jewelry to Las Vegas junkets, from fine wines to limo rides. The massive amounts of monies PinnFund was moving to fund home mortgages would cover it all.
An hour later, ascending in the Palace elevator, came Kelly Jaye Cook. A former Atlanta Hawks cheerleader and one of Playboy’s “Girls of the NBA,” Cook had made adult movies for Sin City and Vivid Video, where, as Kelly Jaye, she starred in Blonde Angel and Bad Girls 4. After a dozen films, she quit hard-core for more lucrative pursuits: magazine spreads and a Playboy strippers pictorial; modeling in bathing suit and high heels at car shows; appearances on Saturdays at adult video stores, earning $2300 by signing “slicks,” posters of her movie boxes (“She looked good on a box,” said one Vivid star); dancing (porn wages pale next to stripper’s tips); and being an escort, the professional date.
Cook herself was not unattached. For one, her divorce from Ken Cook was not yet settled. For another, she was, during the fall of 1999, living in an apartment on West 90th Street, which she and her boyfriend, Charles Spagnola, rented. Cook had been living in Laguna Niguel, a bedroom community above Laguna Beach, with Spagnola, a Garden Grove criminal defense lawyer. Then, after 18 months together, they had separated, apparently due to a fight and because Cook wanted to work in New York. Cook let Spagnola stay in her house on Westfield Drive in Laguna Niguel.
For his part, Fanghella had more than a few worries.
According to his wife Patrice, his personal life had been on a “downhill spiral” for several years — and it was getting worse. After 16 years of marriage, living since 1996 in Rancho Santa Fe, Patrice described the violence that led to their separation in late September 1999. She stated that her husband “has verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted me,” at one point threatening to kill himself and her in front of their daughter. “He has,” she continued, “consistently shoved me, pushed me, slapped me, [and] spit on me.” (She also admits to her “downfall” — being in love with him and thinking he’d change.) In July 1998, an intoxicated Fanghella wrecked his Jaguar and spent a night in jail. In 1999, arrested again for drunk driving, he landed in jail for four nights. His license revoked, from then on he traveled by limo. In September, Patrice initiated an “intervention” at PinnFund’s offices to force him into treatment for his drug and alcohol addictions; his response (though he finally agreed) was to trash his office. During his subsequent 24 days in rehab at Scripps McDonald Center in La Jolla, his conduct was so “volatile and belligerent” that he was “kicked out” of the program. His doctor at Scripps warned Patrice that her husband “posed a very real physical threat and danger to [his] family” and she should “obtain police protection.” Finally, Fanghella’s favorite pastime — the pursuit of sexual stimulation — had mushroomed to a third addiction. Patrice separated from him after this admission of his promiscuity — that, while in New York, he was living with Lisa Spagnuola (no relation to Charles Spagnola); that he was seeing a woman named Denise Marohl; and that he was “cavorting” with “four regular prostitutes.”
Icing on the dysfunctional cake, PinnFund had grown so big, so fast that he was continually anxious about its finances and jettisoned the anxiety by indulging in female toys whenever he wanted.
Unaware of her date’s disorders, Kelly Cook entered Fanghella’s hotel room that New Year’s Eve afternoon: a passerby might have heard a Roy Orbison–like grrrrrrrowl. What did Fanghella see? A perfectly sculpted body. Waist belted tight. Hips like boards, that is, not much of them. Large, hard-jellied implants, anti-gravity floats. Wild mane, cornstalk yellow blond. A glistening, just-wet look. She was elevated: four-inch heels were de rigueur. Perhaps she wore one of her favorite alluring outfits: python-print leather dress, audibly tight; python-print silk blouse, fingertip soft. Sexual enclosure, needing liberation. Would you mind walking in again, Miss Cook?