Stanton has even become a go-to talking head on security issues for Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. When Elián González was scooped up by the Feds, there was Bill Stanton on Good Morning America explaining the tactics used in that kind of operation.
Stanton is so tight with the city's top cops that he often has dinner with Bill Bratton; he has a line to new commissioner Bernard Kerik; and department chief Tom Fahey is a good friend. He's so much a part of this inner circle of celebrity cops that he even got former NYPD deputy commissioner Jack Maple to become his partner. And to accept second billing: the firm is called Stanton & Maple, P.I.
"Billy's certainly not everybody's cup of tea," says Bratton. "But he's very creative; he's always thinking. And that's probably why he and Maple get along so well. Both of them are characters. Dreamers who're always coming up with what seem like crazy ideas. But every once in a while one of them works. Both are also deceptive in terms of appearance, and you've got to get beyond the façade to realize how smart they are."
Among the many things Stanton has cleverly picked up from Maple and Bratton and their fraternity is the idea of a kind of restored 1940s romance about police work. The notion (which they very successfully put forth when they ran the NYPD) that there is glamour and honor in fighting crime: the impossibly quaint but appealing picture of real men protecting people and doing good work during the day and then hanging out together drinking in saloons at night.
"The key thing in this business is knowing people," says onetime star cop and now matchless celebrity P.I. Bo Dietl. "I haven't been home for a family dinner between Monday and Friday in probably fifteen years. You need to be out there every night circulating and meeting people. You need to be networking, and that's really something Billy has used to great advantage."
Dietl is the Bill Gates of celebrity private eyes, the 800-pound gorilla, the archetype against whom everyone else measures himself. Including Stanton, who has feuded on and off with Dietl over the years and was actually fired by him four times in the early nineties. "I really like Billy and I gotta give him a lot of credit," Dietl says, "for coming as far as he has. Believe me, nobody's as surprised as I am. 'Cause to tell you the truth, as a detective, he still couldn't find a black person in Harlem."
Mike Ciravolo, who runs Dietl's operation, laughs when I ask him about Stanton. "I sent him out on a routine surveillance six years ago, and I'm still waiting for him to come back. Billy's got a black belt in bullshit. He could charm the balls off a brass monkey."
"I had to get into Elaine's if I was going to be a player. That was the watering hole. That's where the buffalo and the rhino went: the top cops, the actors, the writers, the news people, and the producers."
Like Dietl, Stanton is a shameless self-promoter -- everything springs from the force of personality. Stanton is good-natured, laughs easily, and makes others laugh as well. But there is nothing cool or sophisticated or subtle about the Stanton charm. By current standards, he is pure caveman or, perhaps more accurately, a graduate of the Frank Sinatra-Arnold Schwarzenegger finishing school.
He's disarming and often shockingly blunt, and on a bad day he can look and sound like a guy who's dream in life is to be a male stripper. But there is also something innocently adolescent about him. He gives off a clear sense that he's a guy who likes to have fun.
"Bill appears to be genuinely fascinated by women, which is the key difference between a womanizer and a romantic," says New York Times media reporter Alex Kuczynski, who has known Stanton for several years.
"I've cried on his shoulder and gone to him for advice," says Fox's Laurie Dhue. "And he always makes time for me. He's a real friend. And as brash and outspoken as he is, women find him attractive because he appeals to their needy side. He makes women feel beautiful."
Men respond to Stanton as well. There is a long list of guys who call him and almost plead to go out with him because, as he would probably put it, using one of the endless movie references that dress up his conversation, at night, he's like Maximus striding into the Colosseum.
One night at Il Mulino, Stanton was doing the Stanton thing, chatting up several attractive women he'd just introduced himself to at the bar while everyone was waiting for a table. There was some mildly suggestive, playful teasing, and everyone was all smiles. A little while later, when the women had been seated at a table next to Stanton's, one of them got up to go to the ladies' room.
She stopped and said something innocuous to Stanton about her after-dinner plans. He smiled, picked up the pepper mill from the table, and said, "How 'bout I get some batteries for this and we have a party?" Rather than smack him or look horrified, she smiled, leaned over, and began stroking his ample chest.
"If I walked into a room and did some of the stuff he does, I'd probably feel the force of somebody's fist against my jaw," says ABC's Miller. "But he's so good-natured, he has a way of pulling it off."
And he's always on. In the morning, at night, on the phone, in his office, at lunch. Tirelessly networking, Stanton draws people into his universe and starts connecting them with one another. And along the way, anything he can do for them he does, from a simple introduction to a job to concert tickets.
It's unspoken, of course, but all these things are chits that go into the main computer of the great favor bank that makes New York turn. "He has this constant desire to do something for the other person," says Dominic Barbara.
Keeping the swirl in motion is an extraordinarily high-energy enterprise. He spends two hours a day working out at the Reebok Sports Club NY, which has, of course, become a client and is where he cracked a health-club theft ring that was stealing things like $15,000 Rolex watches from lockers.
More critically, he averages 5,000 minutes a month on two cell phones used mostly in his maroon Durango, which he refers to as the "war wagon." It is specially equipped with a global-positioning navigation system; Nextel two-way radio; radar scrambler; video camera with a night-vision lens; a hand-activated, touch-sensitive safe (it opens by identifying his fingerprints); a full-size, lifelike dummy in the backseat wearing a straw cowboy hat; and a remote starter.
Even a short ride in the truck means getting immediately sucked into the vortex. One afternoon, we were on the L.I.E. in a blinding downpour on the way to inspect a murder scene critical to one of his cases. As he munched on a whey protein bar (his food intake goes from the sublime to the ridiculous; one morning at seven, he was eating leftover sausage and peppers and an hour later a beef jerky), he talked on both cell phones, repeatedly checked his pager, and feverishly poked his Palm PC.
Ignoring the weather, he worked the phones nonstop during the two-hour round-trip, talking to his investigators and two lawyers; he promised to get someone else 'N Sync tickets; he made arrangements for a five o'clock appearance on Fox; he discussed the previous night's mischief with a cohort, as happily as an adolescent; and he promised a corporate client on his way in from Chicago that he'd make arrangements for them to go out that night.
despite all the gloss, the showmanship, and the hell-raising nightlife, Stanton remains, in many ways, the quintessential private eye, the guy who handles routine surveillance and tawdry cheating spouses. Beyond that, however, Sam Spade wouldn't recognize much of the work -- computer security, for instance, and corporate due diligence, which includes everything from background checks on prospective employees to unraveling sexual-harassment cases.
"We're working for a company," Stanton says, "that's interested in how one of its competitors keeps coming up with hugely successful products. Our job is to find out who's generating the ideas and how they're doing it. Once we identify the genius, they can try to steal him."