Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee in , the year their private sex tape was stolen from a safe. And being held at gunpoint by a megalomaniacal rock star? Not when the rock star has spent the past three months, the entire spring of , living a fantasy life right in front of you, sipping martinis and passing a joint around at 11a. Lee made Gauthier feel small, and Gauthier had spent his entire life feeling small. Here was a guy who, on his 18th birthday, lost his virginity to a Vegas hooker. Here was an L. Most people dismiss him as a doofus, a conspiracy theorist who likes fast, powerful cars and dating porn stars.
He even did some scenes himself, and spent his time hanging around an adult-film studio, building sets and chatting up starlets. A studio troll, they called him. It screwed with my head. Now he wanted revenge. He wanted the drummer to feel vulnerable, to realize that he was just a human being, not an invincible rock god, even if he had sold 20 million records by the age of He had no idea that the safe also contained a homemade tape that would promise him dazzling riches and then ruin his life.
But Lee might not see it that way. Two years ago, Gauthier received a Facebook message from a page bearing the name Tommy Lee. Starting in the spring of , as information trickled out about what was on the tape, everyone wanted to see it, whether to gawk at the home life of two superstars or condemn the empty-headed, sex-addicted narcissists who presumably leaked it themselves. The couple already had a reputation for carnal and pharmaceutical indulgence, but peeping on their love play offered an entirely new level of dirty, thrilling violation, as we leap-frogged PR flacks, centerfold photographers and even the paparazzi to land squarely in the most private of worlds.
But what the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape taught us is that an unassuming individual could acquire a piece of content, offer it up to the Internet and watch it ricochet around the planet. How, exactly, this footage traveled from a locked safe to screens and store shelves worldwide warns of everything that was coming in the next two decades, everything that would shift in technology and culture and celebrity.
So how did the person who stole the safe manage to evade the police, the lawyers, the media and the biker gangs, but never see a cent?
This is the story of a man who staked his livelihood on a video in the hopes that it would save him. His plan was to throw a white Tibetan yak fur rug over his back and crawl to the garage on his hands and knees in the middle of the night, so the security cameras, which Gauthier himself had installed, would seem to show a dog like the one the couple had.
Lee and Anderson lived in a three-story Spanish-style house, with a garage that had been converted into a recording studio on the bottom floor. Unfamiliar trucks, vans and cars were often parked outside the house, so no one suspected anything. The property was adjacent to state-owned land where the paparazzi would lurk, and the couple sometimes saw boom mics hanging over the fence. At one point Lee was arrested for pointing a sawed-off shotgun at a camera he spied while he and Anderson were kissing in the garden.
Photos went for a high price, as the public was obsessed with the pair, who had married in February after a four-day, Ecstasy-enhanced courtship in Mexico. Anderson, with her leather dresses and her notorious double-D breast implants, seemed a better match for a guy who was known for mooning the audience. In April , stolen Polaroids of the couple in bed made their way to the French and Dutch editions of Penthouse and an American skin mag called Screw. In the end, who cares? Swing also makes a cameo in the tape, running down a hotel hallway in a bucket hat.
Meanwhile, Gauthier was lying in wait. About five days before Halloween, Gauthier decided to make his move. The details of what exactly happened on the night of the burglary are sketchy at best, as Gauthier seems intent on painting himself as a strongman daredevil and obfuscating details that could point to potential accomplices. He acknowledges that one other person knew about his plan beforehand but insists he carried out the deed himself. According to Gauthier, it was 3 a.
He came in over the fence with the yak fur on his back and a U-Haul dolly trailing behind him. Suddenly, he says, the metal in the safe triggered the gate, startling Gauthier as the noise of the doors creaking open broke the silence of the pre-dawn hour. It was hard. Neither Tompkins nor Sardell could be reached for comment. What happened once the safe left the home, however, is less ambiguous. Gauthier took it to a secure location and spent an hour cutting into the back with a borrowed demolition saw outfitted with a composite diamond carbide blade.
Gauthier brought the tape back to the North Hollywood porn studio where he worked, and watched it with the studio owner. I n the mid-Nineties, the porn business was booming. The two moved in together after only six weeks, and she convinced a few directors that her new boyfriend had done adult films before so Gauthier, who had stripped in college but had no experience doing porn, could join her on camera. I have to come back and be really serious next time.
Gauthier grew up in Toluca Lake, across the street from Dick Van Dyke, with divorced parents and no access to pornography. He is the kind of person who insists that early rabbis sodomized year-old boys and believes in a mystical connection between the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, bones in the human skull and years in the solar magnetic cycle all are On the back of one hand, he has a tattoo of a Freemason symbol; he claims the group once wanted to give him a machine gun and train him as a soldier.
Gauthier says the actor was quick to lose his temper and only brought him and his two sisters over to show them off. First, after making a few copies, they destroyed the original Hi8 cassette, melting the casing and cutting the tape itself into hundreds of little pieces, which they dispersed in a desolate area near Six Flags Magic Mountain. Always schmoozing. One of the first people Ingley approached was actor and director Ron Jeremy, a friend since the late Seventies, when Ingley used to perform under the name Michael Morrison.
Jeremy had recently put out a reality-style porno featuring John Wayne Bobbitt, whose penis was famously surgically reattached after his wife cut it off. Ingley approached a handful of other companies, but no one wanted to take on the risk. According to Gauthier, a wealthy foreigner offered them a million dollars for the tape, but Ingley felt it was worth many times that amount. Back when pornography was illegal nearly everywhere in the United States, the Perainos were the Medicis of the adult world, having financed and distributed the classic film Deep Throat.
By , the younger Peraino ran an adult video business called Arrow Productions and was close friends with many of the biggest players in porn. At this point, only 25 million Americans and 40 million people globally had Internet access.
Most websites were eyesores, and there was no such thing as streaming video. But the web, with its seemingly anonymous transactions, seemed like the perfect black market to get the tape to consumers. Ingley used about a quarter of the money Peraino had given him to run off thousands of copies and to hire someone to put up a few websites: pamsex. Fasanella advised Gauthier to do the same, to make some cash in case Ingley screwed him over, but Gauthier remained loyal.
Two months had passed since the heist. I n the middle of January , they noticed. Horrified, they filed a police report and hired Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano to suss out what had happened. Swing and a friend were hanging out at his 2,square-foot bachelor pad when Pellicano showed up one night, wearing a white suit, and immediately shoved Swing down onto the ground. We know you took the tape. After a short interrogation, Pellicano determined Swing knew nothing and left.
Pellicano is currently serving 15 years in federal prison for charges ranging from wire fraud to identity theft. All of a sudden, they heard motorcycles revving outside, and then five or six big bikers burst into the room. The bikers had a VHS box cover from a porno that Gauthier had done a few years back. Both Fasanella and Gauthier were buff and looked vaguely Italian.
The bikers debated amongst themselves whether Fasanella was the guy in the photograph. Gauthier, however, insists the bikers were a Mexican gang called the Bandidos. The bikers started coming by the studio every few days, sometimes twice a day, looking for Gauthier and Ingley. If Gauthier was there when they heard the motorcycles coming, he and Fasanella would run to the roof and jump down onto the top of the auto body shop next door.
Fasanella lived two blocks away, so if they could make it out a side door, they were safe. According to Gauthier, Lee even sent one of his porn-star pals, Candy Vegas, and one of her friends over to his house to try to seduce Gauthier into giving back the tape, but so many copies of the tape existed by then that her efforts were fruitless.
With so many people after him and the stolen tape, Gauthier grew increasingly paranoid, hardly sleeping. Just as Lee and Anderson began to realize that the tape was spreading faster than they could contain it, word came from New York that Penthouse had acquired a copy. A sex tape had been stolen from one of the most famous couples in the world? Everyone wanted to know more. In August, a different L. However, because Anderson and Lee shot it themselves, the couple did still retain copyright over the tape — a legality understood by all of the adult film producers whom Ingley had approached — so Penthouse held off on printing stills or selling the tape, even after winning the case.
Meanwhile, no one else named in the suit formally acknowledged having a copy. That case was dismissed in So he headed to the Netherlands, for more prostitutes, more drugs and more time crouched over computers, posting thousands upon thousands of ads in adult-oriented forums and newsgroups.
A wave of copycat websites began appearing in late , including naked-celebs. Profits slowed, and Ingley grew desperate. He had Gauthier oversee the sale of his studio, and had his daughter come up to Los Angeles from Texas to sell off his props and gear. And in an attempt to stop the piracy hydra from growing any more heads, around the late spring of , he stopped shipments and posted an announcement that all pending orders would be sent out on September 27th, But Peraino still needed to be paid.
Gauthier says that Ingley managed to get the initial loan back to him, but he still owed the interest. Ingley knew that Peraino had cancer, and he thought that if he waited in Europe for long enough, Peraino would die and the debt would simply disappear.
So one night, Gauthier says, Peraino had him over for dinner. Then, after dinner, he brought out Bing cherries soaked in Everclear. Before long, Gauthier was wasted, and Peraino was firing question after question at him. Unfortunately for Gauthier, Peraino decided that he needed to work to pay back the money that Ingley owed him.