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The Digital Detectives

The Burgeoning World of Corporate Security Has Gone From Cloak and Dagger to Computers and Databases
Daren Fonda
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 5)

Dietl's staff includes former New York City police detectives, retired FBI and DEA agents, and organized-crime busters. Like most private eyes, his operatives have taken their share of matrimonial jobs: hunting for undeclared assets or snapping the proverbial caught-in-the-act shot of an adulterous spouse. But in the past few years, the corporate market has exploded. More than 70 percent of the firm's revenues now stem from white-collar crime investigations such as fraud and embezzlement, he says.

In a case for a major brokerage house, for instance, Dietl's sleuths discovered a massive fraud ring operating out of the firm's wire transfer department. "We uncovered a scheme where someone was working in the wire room who was connected with an organized crime family in New York," he says. "This guy had set up a $25 million off-the-books wire transfer to a European bank. We uncovered the evidence and notified the FBI."

Another big job came with a 1995 lawsuit against Banker's Trust, in which the bank's clients sued to recover billions of dollars lost in bad derivatives trades. Dietl was hired by the bank to investigate the plaintiffs' claims and backgrounds. He came back with a 35-page report showing that more than 30 other banks were involved in the sale of the securities and that Banker's Trust's clients were well aware of the risks. "Our investigation proved there was over $1 trillion in losses with other financial institutions," he says. "We deflected much of the liability from our client."

This year, Dietl formed a partnership with a hologram company to offer a high-tech tracking service for apparel manufacturers concerned about black market sales of their goods. The holograms, placed inside clothing labels, contain information about the product's point of origin, its distribution route and intended market. It's a system, Dietl says, that will enable companies to investigate corrupt links in their manufacturing facilities and sales networks. The holograms, he notes, are like an "authentic seal of approval."

Like the kind he gives to real Cubans. If his clients are smokers, he will often close a deal over a good cigar. He developed a fondness for cigars four years ago when longtime friend Frankie Pellegrino, the owner of Rao's, offered him one that he now recalls only as "some Caribbean brand." Dietl started playing golf and found he enjoyed a smoke between rounds. Now he smokes at least two cigars a day, usually after meals. When he moved his office into Manhattan last year, he ensured the windows opened in his 35th-floor suite before signing the lease. "I don't smoke in my office," he says. "But I think I should have that right."

Lighting up in public is another right Dietl defends. "I was at the U.S. Open," he recalls, "and I had magnificent seats. I'm outside and I can't comprehend how come I can't smoke a cigar in an open stadium. The breeze is blowing. Hey, it's offensive to people? How could it be offensive if the wind's blowin'? What about my rights? I mean give me a break."

Dietl doesn't temper his speech when talking to reporters, which has made him a media darling. He comments regularly on Don Imus' morning radio show. And he's appeared in 10 movies, often playing--what else--a homicide detective. "I'm a natural," he quips. In his latest, Dead Man's Curve, the producers wanted Dietl to smoke a cigar. "They offered me some shit cigar, but I turned it down," he says. "I said, 'If I'm going to smoke on-screen it's going to be a good cigar.' So I pulled out a Cuban and took the label off."

Dietl maintains that he only smokes Cubans. Montecristo No. 2s are a favorite, but he's also fond of Partagas Lusitanias because "they're very big and very strong." At Rao's, Dietl hands out Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas to his guests. He knows they're the kinds of guys who discriminate against a cheap cheroot. "The worst thing in the world is if I give you a cigar and you fuckin' take two puffs and put it in the ashtray," says Dietl. "I'll take it, snip off the end, and put it back in my pocket. That bothers the crap out of me."

Thankfully, no one at the table is so obtuse. The Monterreys are fresh and robust. They have a smooth draw and a slightly nutty aroma. The tall blonde, now perched on Dietl's lap, takes a few puffs from his half-smoked Corona and sighs throaty approval.

"I ain't got much," Dietl says with a laugh as the party breaks up. "But one thing I got is juice!"


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