The Washington Post
May 18, 1989
THE INTRIGUING RICHARD HIRSCHFELD
Author: John Mintz; Washington Post Staff Writer
Estimated printed pages: 4
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
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
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