The Loyalist

Photo: Patrick Arrasmith

Peter Bacanovic and I have been close friends for sixteen years, and we speak six times a day. For the past twenty months, he dreaded reading newspapers and watching TV news, so he called me every morning for a précis, which I tried to deliver gently. It’s been tough. On Friday afternoon, I realized that ritual was over. In the melée outside the courtroom, his parents and friends all hugged him. “I’m so sorry,” his lawyers whispered.

On June 14, 2002—two days after Sam Waksal was arrested in his pajamas—Peter and I were in London visiting friends when the Times’ business section identified him as Martha Stewart’s broker. I overheard him on the telephone to Merrill Lynch lawyers telling his story, which has never changed and, despite the verdict, I still believe: He and Martha agreed to sell her ImClone stock if it fell below $60. And his rookie assistant, Doug Faneuil, was the one who had spoken to Martha and had placed the trade. Not Peter.

A few days later, the jittery Judas went to Merrill lawyers and shifted the blame to Peter—a move that would destroy my friend’s life. Not to miss an opportunity, that same night Doug took his boyfriend to the ballet using Peter’s tickets.

Since then, Peter has become a celebrity piñata. To avoid the paparazzi staking out his Upper East Side townhouse, he slept for months on a friend’s living-room couch on Sutton Place. A dog walker dropping by one day to pick up his friend’s pooch asked, “Hey, aren’t you Martha Stewart’s broker?”

“Are you kidding?” Peter replied. “That guy’s much older than me—he’s in his forties!” He’s actually 41, but youthful enough to get away with such subterfuge.

To avoid the attention, he’d been living in L.A., where he blended in as just another handsome movie star. Grounded in New York for his trial, he gave up fancy restaurants, opting instead for cozy suppers at a little Greek joint in his neighborhood, where a steady succession of old friends made the pilgrimage to cheer him up, including the TV producer Doug Cramer, of Dynasty. Peter used to insist on picking up the tab. Now it was his friends’ turn, and they were happy to oblige.

Some threw him quiet dinners and lunches. The list of hosts included Nan and Tommy Kempner, Rufus and Sally Albemarle, and Louise Grunwald, who says the support for Peter has been unbelievable.

For five weeks, Peter’s and Martha’s friends and family had been crowded into the front left row of the courtroom, which was reserved for guests of the defendants. It’s a privilege we had to share with various worthies like Bill Cosby and Brian Dennehy. One compensation for the lack of space was the supply of discreet navy cushions, provided by Martha, which an assistant gathered up at the end of each day into canvas tote bags with the initials ms embroidered in bright orange and pink.

Upstairs in adjoining private lunchrooms on the fourth floor, there was a notable class divide when it came to refreshments. The fare in Peter’s room extended only to chicken salad and cheesecake. In Martha’s room, there was a veritable emporium of goods supplied by Russ & Daughters, the famous Lower East Side deli that’s been featured on Martha’s TV show. Here we found brisket, corned beef, and pastrami sandwiches; coleslaw; and delicious green-tomato pickles. The domestic diva wandered from room to room, chatting with Peter’s distraught parents, inviting everybody to try the macaroons.

As the trial drew to a close, there was an escalating sense of esprit de guerre. Peter’s mother, Helen Bacanovic, a retired doctor, was upset by Andrea Peyser, the New York Post’s vitriolic columnist, whom Mrs. B. refers to as “that venomous cobra.”

I was scheduled to be a witness in his defense but never got my chance. I wish I could have told the jury that he’s a great guy being unfairly prosecuted for his proximity to Martha’s fame. He didn’t deserve this.

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The Loyalist