America at Night Files


FILE #21
Sensi Recruits Hirschfeld for the CIA

In the May 1989 Washington Post article "The Intriguing Richard Hirschfeld," John Mintz reports Robert Sensi saying he had recruited Hirschfeld to work for the CIA. The article is shown below. .

The Washington Post
May 18, 1989
Author: John Mintz; Washington Post Staff Writer
Edition: FINAL
Section: STYLE
Page: c1
Index Terms:
Estimated printed pages: 4
Article Text:

Richard Hirschfeld is no ordinary lawyer. His Charlottesville office isn't listed in the phone book, and he rarely visits his workplace. He has overseas clients, but the only people he represents in the United States are Muhammad Ali and an American he won't name
His most famous foreign client has been Ferdinand Marcos. Their relationship ended unhappily in 1987 after Hirschfeld secretly tape-recorded the former Philippine president plotting an invasion of his homeland. Hirschfeld took the tapes to a congressional committee that made front-page news out of them.
Marcos later denied trying to mount an invasion and said Hirschfeld taped him to try to get a reward from the current Philippine government; he also said the taping violated their lawyer-client relationship. Hirschfeld denied any impropriety.
Almost everywhere he goes, Hirschfeld seems to generate conflicting impressions. And almost everywhere he goes, he carries a portable phone, over which he appears to conduct much of his business.
Hirschfeld had the portable phone in his white Rolls-Royce recently when he picked up a reporter at a Charlottesville restaurant to drive the 20 miles to a 50-acre farm he shares with Ali. Dressed in sneakers, bluejeans, a red plaid shirt and a blue down vest, Hirschfeld asked his guest to wait while he gave five horses a brief workout. Later, interviewed in a downstairs den, he rarely stopped talking, even as he jumped up to add logs to the fire and to play with a yo-yo.
Hirschfeld speaks with the lilt of his native Norfolk, but the velocity of his delivery is pure New York. He hints at plots against him and by him, his political pull and his indifference to politics, his enemies, international intrigue he's known, fabulous deals he's been involved in -- and exclusive stories a reporter will get if he holds off on certain other stories.
Hirschfeld also cultivates an air of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, hinting that he's done work for the U.S. intelligence community. But ask him about it directly and he offers what he says is his stock response: "Nobody's ever heard of a Jewish James Bond."
For someone who says he's not newsworthy, he has a flair for PR. He recently faxed to a reporter a brief 1969 newspaper article mentioning his having helped rescue a boy in a car wreck. He also volunteered a 1982 news article about his wife Loretta's appearance on a "Donahue" show called "Wives at the Top: Coping With His Success." A Richmond newspaper said Hirschfeld's been described as "brilliant, creative, ruthless."
But don't ask Hirschfeld to represent your company before the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In 1986 the SEC permanently barred him from practicing before it. The decision followed three cases in which the SEC accused Hirschfeld or his various companies of improper business dealings. He settled two charges without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
The third charge resulted in a federal judge in Manhattan finding in 1984 that Hirschfeld violated federal securities laws by giving "false and misleading" information to potential investors in a company he set up to run a boxers' training camp.
In a separate court action, Hirschfeld pleaded guilty in 1986 to criminal contempt for failing to disclose his SEC problems to investors in another firm he helped run.
The ongoing investigation of Hirschfeld's income taxes is being conducted by the FBI, the IRS and a federal grand jury in Norfolk. They have examined, among other matters, a deal several years ago in which Hirschfeld arranged for the purchase of a Tidewater publishing firm -- partly by check and partly with $115,000 cash carried in an attache' case.
The firm's seller was George S. Cooper, who pleaded guilty to perjury and filing false income tax returns in connection with the sale, and is now cooperating with authorities. Cooper testified that Hirschfeld told him he needn't report the $115,000 to the IRS. Hirschfeld denies saying that and doing anything wrong. He says Cooper set up the deal. Prosecutors say the sale involved a complex series of transactions with Saudi money moving through Switzerland. Cooper's attorney said in a federal court that his client had been "snookered" by Hirschfeld "in a grand scheme that I don't understand." Said U.S. District Judge John A. MacKenzie, "I don't think there is any trouble, Mr. Cooper, with the fact that you have been had."
Long before the government knew who he was, Hirschfeld seemed capable of reaching any height in the business world. The son of a college dentistry professor, by age 27 he had laid plans for his own bank -- to be called the Hirschfeld Bank of Commerce. But the bank failed to open, leaving a trail of debts -- most of which Hirschfeld says he's paid back.
In 1977 Hirschfeld declared personal bankruptcy in Nevada and set up shop as a lawyer in Los Angeles. Soon he was representing some of L.A.'s well-known and wealthy, or at least meeting them (unasked, he produces photos of himself with Linda Evans, Mr. T, Kenny Rogers). Hirschfeld first met Ali while he was in California, as well as some members of the Saudi royal family.
Hirschfeld moved back to Tidewater in 1980. Soon he was throwing parties that the Norfolk papers called "Gatsbyesque," and was squiring Ali and friends in limousines and a corporate jet all over the world.
Hirschfeld friends and some on Capitol Hill suspect that Hirschfeld did more than talk business on those overseas trips -- that he has acted as a U.S. government operative. For example, Robert Sensi, a Hirschfeld friend and former CIA operative, says that he "recruited" Hirschfeld into CIA work in the early 1980s because of Hirschfeld's contacts in the Mideast.
Hirschfeld usually sidesteps questions about his ties to U.S. intelligence agencies, but he does it tantalizingly -- mixing hints, denials and refusals to answer. At a 1987 congressional hearing about the Marcos affair, when asked if he was currently involved in covert operations, he declined to answer, saying, "I respectfully believe the Department of Justice should be given an opportunity to invoke the privilege on that question."
Last year, Sensi was convicted, in a Washington federal court, of stealing $2.5 million from Kuwait Airways. During the trial, the CIA acknowledged having a "relationship" with Sensi from 1983 until his arrest in 1986 in London, on his way to Iran. Sensi testified that much of the money was spent on a CIA-backed plan to recruit spies in Iran.
Other testimony showed that Sensi had met with William J. Casey, then CIA director, before Sensi's aborted Iran trip. Hirschfeld has been heard to say that after Sensi's arrest, Casey arranged for Hirschfeld to visit the jailed man in London to tell him to remain calm.
Hirschfeld seems to thrive on an image of a swashbuckler with friends in high places. But at the farm, he said, friends who call him "Mr. Clout" are overstating things. "I'm not a mover and a shaker," he says. "It's a matter of getting access to the movers. It's all perception." Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report
Ferdinand Marcos and Hirschfeld.
Copyright 1989 The Washington Post
Record Number: 212745