At the height of her career, Maggie earned upwards of $20,000 per fashion show, doing up to 80 shows a year. Her photo-shoot day rate started at $30,000. As the checks flooded in, Maggie and Maureen realized they couldn’t keep everything organized. So in 1998, Maggie, then 20, hired a money manager in New York who would oversee her finances in exchange for 5 percent of her income.
“I had started making money, which in Watertown terms was an enormous amount. And a lot of people were telling me to get an accountant,” says Maggie. “And I went home for the beginning of the summer, and I just remember my parents screaming at me—mostly John—kind of like, ‘What are you doing? You’re throwing money out the window.’”
John told Maureen he was hurt that Maggie hadn’t asked him to manage her money. Though he was an insurance man, he prided himself on his financial sophistication—he could certainly handle paying Maggie’s Con Ed bill and put some of her money in mutual-fund accounts.
At first, Maggie was confused. “I remember lying on my bed and crying because I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I just remember thinking, Don’t mix business with family, but then thinking, Am I wasting money? Am I being foolish? Do I need a financial planner to take 5 percent of my money?”
“So I just said, ‘Okay.’ And I didn’t think much of it,” says Maggie.
John loved being the stepfather of a supermodel. “He didn’t have pictures of his three youngest children in his wallet, but he went around with the latest fashion magazines,” says Maureen. John always had a few of Maggie’s five-by-seven model cards with him, which he’d pull out and show to strangers. “He was always having her agency send him stacks more,” she says.
John came to New York often to visit Maggie—the two were close. “There was always something big missing from my life,” says Maggie. “You see other people with their dads and you’re kind of jealous.”
“I used to take people for their word,” says Rizer. “It’s like, if you’re a bad person, you’re supposed to be ugly and scraggly and mean.”
John filled that role. “It was great. He loved it,” says Maggie. “The way I look at it is, he was so amazed by what I was doing—well, not amazed but proud, and you could see it in his face. He was almost, like, envious of me in a weird way, which sounds a little sick, but I just think he was really proud and enjoyed seeing me like this.”
Despite the fact that Maggie knew that John had had a drinking problem in the past, they would go to the Tribeca Grand Hotel for cocktails when he was in town. “It just wasn’t even an issue,” says Maggie. “Him having a couple of drinks wasn’t him drinking again. It was like, ‘Hey, we’re celebrating my VH1 nomination for model of the year, have a couple drinks.’”
But what looked like social drinking in the big city was, back in Watertown, a serious alcohol problem. Maggie’s fame and success had caused John to lose his bearings. And in fact, he was leading a double life. He’d drop the kids off at school, and then go to a bar where he’d drink until it was time to go home for dinner.
At the Speak Easy, a bar he frequented that’s owned by the mayor of Watertown, John had become fascinated with a keno-like, state-run lottery game called Quick Draw. A Queens state senator called it “video crack,” which is what it became for John. Day after day, he sat at the Speak Easy, filling out Quick Draw tickets, drinking vodka, and slowly detaching himself from the father and husband his family knew.
Each ticket has a $10 maximum bet per game, but the game starts over every five minutes and John would play 50 tickets at a time. His bank account dwindled quickly, and it didn’t take long before he started writing checks he couldn’t cover. Before the Speak Easy or some other bar could file a bad-check claim, he’d write checks from Maggie’s account made out to “cash” or himself. He’d put the money back as soon as he won big, he told himself. Some weeks, John would run up $60,000 tabs. “Every night that I finished gambling, I’d say, ‘That’s it. I’m not going to do this anymore. It’s gotta stop,’ ” says John. “And the next day, I’d get up and just drive right back to it.”
The mayor, Jeff Graham, was a longtime friend of John’s. In 2000, he appeared in a television special about Maggie. According to Maggie, the mayor would sometimes call John at home to tell him about Quick Draw specials.
Eventually, John stopped working. “It got to the point that the best week I ever had in the insurance business wouldn’t even make a dent in what I was doing,” he says. Notices of overdue electrical bills started appearing attached to the front door of Maureen’s house. John told her she’d better rein in her spending.