Skates, Lies & Videotape: Lillehammer & all that jazz
"Would you kill somebody for $65,000?"
That was the question Russell "Rusty" Reitz faced from Eckardt one night in late December. Reitz, a student in a paralegal class that Eckardt was also enrolled in at the local college, had dropped round to see Eckardt in order to collect a computer disk. Instead, he was faced with an offer he very quickly refused.
"Would you break somebody's legs for $65,000?", persisted Eckardt.
"Well, no, Shawn, I'm not really that sort of guy" said Reitz.
"Well, I guess I'll just have to send my team", replied Eckardt self-importantly. "I've got a job in Detroit".
Reitz paid no attention. He was well used to Eckardt's blowhard posturing, and dismissed it as more of the same. Even on the Saturday after the whacking, Reitz still didn't immediately catch on. "Did you hear the news about Kerrigan?", Eckardt announced to him after class. "Who's Kerrigan?", said Reitz. "We got her!" said Eckardt. "She's the job I had in Detroit".
This Tape Will Self Destruct...
Rietz was not the only one to whom super-agent Eckardt felt necessary to brag about his adventures to, however. Shortly after the whacking, Eugene Saunders, a minister at the Celebration New Song Church and another of Eckardt's classmates, was approached by a very nervous Eckardt with another strange tale. Eckardt had arranged to pay a hitman from Arizona "$100,000" (according to Eckardt) for the hit, but Eckardt didn't have the money and was worried the hitman was going to come after him. Eckardt then proceeded to play his tape for Saunders. Parts of it were of very poor quality, so Eckardt had to translate. Four men were in the throes of plotting a dastardly crime. "Why don't we just kill her?" said one voice. "Nah, we don't need to kill her - just hit her in the leg" replied another. Eckardt was going to turn the tape over to Saunders for safekeeping in case anything happened to him, but at the last moment changed his mind. Saunders immediately approached Gary Crowe, a private investigator who was the course tutor, with his concerns. Crowe in turn approached his father Alan. Alan Crowe was cautious - "I'm not going to go spreading accusations against a distinguished national sports figure without evidence" he told Saunders. But he knew Saunders to be a straight arrow sort of guy and contacted the DA, the FBI and a reporter at the "Oregonian", Portland's daily newspaper.
Sarah Bergman, another one of Eckardt's classmates (and who was also a skater) was also honored with tales of the exploits of Portland's portly James Bond wannabe. While Bergman was at Eckardt's house, he railed about how he had given "$55,000" to another pair of hitmen who had run off with the cash. But none of these people were the first to implicate Eckardt. The day that Tonya won Nationals Detroit police detective Benny Napoleon received a call from a very frightened woman, later identified as Patty Cook, who had received a call from Shawn's father Ron Eckardt boasting about the crime. This same woman also sent a letter under the pseudonym of "Jane" to the the FBI, the Multnomah county DA and the local CBS affiliate outlining her story.
On the 9th of January, Gillooly and Tonya arranged to meet a couple of FBI men at their local headquarters in Detroit. The Feds asked about security; Gillooly dutifully put in a plug for Eckardt's World Bodyguard Services. "Who's Derrick?" one of the G-men asked, out of the blue. Gillooly felt the blood drain from his face. He ummed & ahhed that the name didn't ring any bells. It was clear that something was up, however, and Gillooly called Eckardt to tell him of his concerns. The next day, he and Tonya received another visit from the FBI at the hotel and spent several hours answering more questions. Afterwards, they were driven to the airport.
In Portland, Jeff and Tonya were met by Eckardt and a handful of Fan Club members at the airport. At a press conference, questions were already being asked about involvement of the Tonya camp in the attack. Eckardt dismissed the reports as "absurd". "I would never do such things - it would jeopardize my career" he said. Tonya was also obviously annoyed at suggestions she might be involved. "You guys know me better than that", she replied. Tonya and her father Al then drove to Gillooly's mother's house in Al's truck with Eckardt and Gillooly following with the luggage in the Mercury. There they watched a tape of Tonya's winning National's performance. By the time they reached home in Beavercreek, Gillooly, Eckardt (and Gillooly claims, Tonya) had come completely unglued and were all terrified they would soon be going to jail. Gillooly claims that Tonya participated in cooking up an alibi and that if questioned everybody was to say that Derrick Smith had gone to Detroit to solicit clients for Eckardt's bodyguard service.
The Fat Guy Sings
But the pressure was growing. After a visit the next day from the FBI asking if he knew Gene Saunders, Eckardt coughed. It was all Jeff's idea, he alleged. The scheme was now in tatters. Within days, Stant and Smith, now back in Arizona, would be in the custody of the police, Stant turning himself in voluntarily. Although he alleged Gillooly was involved, however, Eckardt still maintained that Tonya had nothing to do with it. Gillooly also protested his innocence when questioned by reporters from the "Oregonian". "I have more faith in my wife than to bump off the competition", he said. There was at this point still nothing other than Eckardt's accusations to link even Gillooly to the crime. The Feds realized they needed more hard evidence. On the morning of the 12th, Eckardt met with Gillooly for breakfast at Elmer's pancake house. The FBI had wired up Eckardt hoping he could get Gillooly to incriminate himself on tape but Gillooly became suspicious and left the meeting almost immediately. The next day, Eckardt was arrested.
On the 19th of January Gillooly was also arrested. That same day, however, Eckardt, now out on bail, changed his story and now also implicated Tonya in an interview with the "Oregonian". Early in the wee hours of New Year's Day, he claimed, Tonya had spoken to him at a practice at the Clackamas Town Center ice rink, expressing the view that she was "pissed off and disappointed that these guys weren't able to do what they said they were gonna do. And why hasn't it happened yet?". By this stage, speculation was increasing that Tonya herself had been involved in the plot. At a press conference on the 16th, Tonya's coach, Diane Rawlinson, affirmed that Tonya still believed that Jeff was innocent. "If Tonya discovers otherwise, she will distance herself from him". Tonya had also hired Diane's husband Dennis Rawlinson to act as her attorney, and had moved out of the house she was sharing with Jeff and was now living with her father. In a further attempt to avoid the media she would subsequently move in with her best friend Stephanie Quintero and her husband John. Many were arguing that Tonya should pull out of the Olympic team even if innocent, to avoid causing an unseemly fuss. Polls taken at the time though seemed to indicate most were still prepared to give Tonya the benefit of the doubt, with a bare 51% saying Tonya should be allowed to stay on the team.
After a ten-hour grilling by the FBI in late January, Tonya admitted that she had known for several days that Jeff was guilty. Close to tears she admitted to having been tardy in reporting things she knew. However, to this day Tonya denies having any prior knowledge of the attack or its planning. She has claimed that her delay was solely because she was scared of Gillooly and doubted the police could adequately protect her.
Gillooly was furious. He now changed his story and like Eckardt claimed Tonya was in on it from the start. He also made further damaging allegations against Tonya, claiming that she had suggested doing Nancy over in a bar on New Years Eve, to tarnish her goody-goody image by making it look like she was hanging out with a rough crowd. Ron Hoevet, Gillooly's attorney, launched a scathing attack on Tonya, which resulted in 29 complaints being lodged against him with the state bar association. Still no charges were laid against Tonya. Increasingly her place on the Olympic team, though, looked shaky.
Despite no charges having been laid against her by the legal system, the USFSA made a preliminary investigation and notified Harding that she was to face a disciplinary hearing to determine whether she had acted in a manner injurous to the sport of figure skating. Under USFSA rules, skaters accused of such charges have a 30 day period to make a response, which would have in Tonya's case expired AFTER the Olympics. The USFSA therefore could not throw Tonya off the Olympic team. The USFSA, though, did hand a copy of it's report onto the USOC which decided to hold it's OWN hearing in Norway on the 15th of February, BEFORE the Lillehammer Games. Now Tonya was expected to not only prepare for the Games but also to defend herself against not one but two disciplinary hearings! In addition, it had also become clear that Nancy Kerrigan would be competing at the Games after all: Stant had bungled the kneecapping and what had at first seemed to be a crippling injury had in fact turned out to be only a large bruise. Using a little-known clause in the rules the USFSA had bumped second place finisher Michelle Kwan to put Nancy on the team.
Determined that she would skate at the Games, Tonya did the only thing she could: using money generously donated by Philip Knight of the Nike corporation for legal expenses she filed a $25 million lawsuit against the USOC. A judge ruled in Tonya's favor, deciding that the balance of convenience favored postponing any disciplinary action until after the Games and ordered both sides to negotiate. The USOC dropped its proposed hearing, and Tonya dropped her lawsuit.
Nightmare in Norway
With it now obvious that there would be a Tonya/Nancy showdown on ice at the Games, the already fierce media frenzy escalated to the point where it would make shark feeding time at the local aquarium look like an exercise in good table manners. What had started off as a tabloid story was now front page news around the world - even the big networks were now giving the story intense coverage. ABC even rented an apartment in the Quintero's building so that they could spy on Tonya. By early February FOUR quicky paperbacks about the scandal (two about Tonya, two about Nancy) had appeared on bookshelves, eager to cash in on a public desire for ANYTHING related to these two skaters. Unpleasant stories began to circulate about Tonya, such as suggestions she had organized a hit and run accident that had killed a half brother of hers in 1989 (whom Tonya had accused of molesting her) despite a total absence of any evidence. So-called "journalists" plumbed new depths in trashiness even worse than that seen during the Amy Fisher scandal over a year before in an attempt to get the latest Tonya "scoop". As Tonya jetted into Norway in mid-February the saga took another bizarre turn with the release of what has now become known as the "Wedding Night Video", a home-made porno movie Jeff and Tonya had made when they had first been married. This was a huge embarrassment to Tonya but reportedly made Gillooly $100,000. Meanwhile, Nancy was also cashing in on the publicity, thanks to her agent Jerry Solomon, whose skilled wheeling and dealing led to a deal with Disney that netted Nancy millions (though it would later backfire on both of them). Within hours of the attack Solomon had received 35 offers to make Nancy's life into a TV movie. Tonya was also reportedly paid several hundred thousand dollars by the tabloid show "Inside Edition" for exclusive coverage of her at the Games. It would have been much more had she not given an interview to Connie Chung.
The sleaze was not just confined to the tabloids - even supposedly "respectable" news organizations scraped the bottom of the barrel. According to the Dallas Morning News, reporters for the Detroit Free Press, New York Times and San Jose Mercury News were caught by another journalist hacking into Tonya's e-mail account on the Olympic computer system. Nor did the ISU help things when for some inexplicable reason it decided that she would have to share the same ice as Nancy at a practice. Tonya was under tremendous stress. It was therefore no surprise when Tonya botched the first jump in her Short Program and ended up in tenth place, much to the delight of millions of Americans who had already made their minds up that Tonya was now Public Enemy Number One. There was now no danger of that trashy girl from Portland embarrassing her countrymen by winning a medal.
Tonya's Long Program was to be her final humilation. Backstage, Rawlinson and US Skating Team Leader Gale Tanger were desperately trying to find a shoelace to replace a broken one in one of Tonya's skating boots. Tonya had replaced the hooks commonly found on skating boots with eyelets to better withstand the pounding of her triple Axels, but this had the side effect of requiring longer than standard shoelaces - and in the heat of the scandal no-one had remembered to bring any spares. Finally, with seconds to go before disqualification, Tonya was shoved out onto the ice. Popping her first jump, a tearful Tonya skated up to the judges and requested a reskate due to equipment failure. When Tonya did skate, she managed to pull up to eighth place, but her concentration was lost and the damage was done. Nancy Kerrigan went on to take Silver. But while Kerrigan was skating the best performance of her life, Tonya's Olympic nightmare was coming to a close with a massive asthma attack and her throwing up into a trash can back stage. It was an ignominious end to Tonya's Olympic dream.
Back in Portland in March, Tonya pleaded guilty to a charge of "hindering prosecution", and was sentenced to a $100,000 fine, ordered to pay $50,000 to the Special Olympics, and $10,000 in costs to the Multnomah County DA's Office as part of a plea bargain. In addition, she was ordered to do 500 hours of community service, undergo a psychiatric assessment, and resign from the USFSA. An unprepared Nicole Bobek hurriedly took Tonya's place on the World Team alongside Michelle Kwan, Nancy Kerrigan having turned pro earlier that month rather than face what she assumed would be a rematch against Tonya at Worlds. But Kerrigan's silver medal was already tarnished; by then the public had woken up to Solomon's slick media manipulations and were growing tired of them. A few thoughtless comments about Oksana Baiul at the medals ceremony, followed by another outburst from a now exhausted Kerrigan a couple of days later at a parade at Disney World were all the ammunition the media needed to stick the knife into Nancy. Months later, Kerrigan was again the subject of scandal when it was revealed she was having an affair with Solomon, who was technically still married even though he and his wife had been separated for months.
That her rival was now also undergoing the same media grilling as she had experienced would be Tonya's sole consolation out of the affair. A few days after her return from Lillehammer, two of Portland's fine upstanding citizens showed their appreciation for Tonya's attempts at winning a gold medal for their country by beating her up in a Portland park one evening. They were never caught.
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