In the years since Peterson had worked for Marvin Davis and John Masek to find out who was pilfering oil from their pipelines, the business partners had been involved in an acrimonious parting of the ways. As is often the case in such disputes, they devoted much of their time after the split to suing each other.
When he wasn't fighting Masek in court, Davis was busy diversifying his vast wealth into hotels, restaurants, golf courses and the Aspen Ski Corp. He bought and sold the 20th Century Fox film studio, sold many of his oil holdings and eventually shifted his base of operations from Denver to Beverly Hills, where he could hobnob with movie stars.
Because Peterson, too, had shifted some of his interests to California, he dropped Davis a line to let him know that he was still around and available. In January 1992, Davis and his attorney James Regan took him up on the offer. (Davis, who is notoriously closemouthed about his personal life and financial dealings, did not respond to Westword's request for an interview. Attorney Regan didn't return phone calls.)
Like the FDIC, Davis coveted Peterson's asset-tracking skills. The billionaire had won a $20,000 judgment against Masek in Wyoming, and he was suing his ex-partner in yet another case in that state. Masek, however, claimed that he was tapped out and had no money with which to pay Davis. Though Masek had made millions back in the late 1970s, he claimed in depositions that he was living a hand-to-mouth existence, surviving only with the aid of loans from friends and family members.
Davis was understandably suspicious of Masek's claims, and he hired Peterson to find Masek's funds. Peterson says Davis told him that he "was certain" Masek had money in secret offshore bank accounts, most likely in the Cayman Islands.
Peterson and his staff--which consisted of a secretary, a string of unpaid paralegal "interns" and a small number of "contract employees"--quickly turned up evidence to substantiate Davis's suspicions. Masek, they found, had offices in a downtown Denver highrise. He'd plunked down $25,000 in cash for a one-year lease on a half-million-dollar home on Lookout Mountain. And he and his girlfriend were tooling around town in brand-new vehicles--he in a GMC pickup and she in an Audi Quattro. Peterson and his staff eventually found a paper trail leading to a series of banking institutions in Wyoming, New York and Grand Cayman. Masek later paid his debt to Davis in full.
In April 1992, Masek later testified in court, he began to suspect that someone had been surreptitiously looking into his bank accounts. He believed his file cabinets and office drawers had been rifled. He hired an electronics expert to sweep his office for bugs, and he hired Denver private investigator Rick Johnson to discover who, if anyone, was after him.
Johnson's work eventually led him to Pete Peterson's front door. ("Johnson," Peterson says with a sneer. "He couldn't find his butt using both hands.")
Johnson, however, found enough to put the identical portion of R.W. Peterson's anatomy in a sling. Masek filed suit against Peterson's company later that same year, accusing the P.I. of burglary, invasion of privacy and "intentional infliction of emotional distress by extreme and outrageous conduct." He sought relief under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, which was established to guard against racketeering.
During the course of the nonjury trial, held before Judge Hufnagel in December 1993, Peterson's investigative methods were put under close scrutiny. Peterson admitted to using "accounting ruses" to obtain information about Masek's bank accounts (according to testimony from a bank employee, a man identifying himself as Masek called and asked for a printout of recent account activity). Peterson also acknowledged that some of his contract employees might have used subterfuge to obtain information, posing as employees of an accounting firm.
Peterson identified those contract employees as Kevin Stymiest and Alex Jaeckel. The 46-year-old Stymiest came to the Peterson agency with a less than stellar record. He had two burglary convictions to his name, as well as arrests for car theft and hit-and-run. Peterson says Stymiest was up front about his criminal record when he hired on in 1991. And Stymiest has only nice things to say about Peterson, who he says gave him a second chance when no one else would.
Jaeckel, 40, had hired on as a contract investigator only the year before. She says she originally went to Peterson to learn the tricks of the trade in order to protect herself against a "vindictive" ex-husband.
During the course of the trial, it was revealed that in investigating Masek, Jaeckel had contacted a Grand Cayman private investigator by the name of Claude Myles. According to court documents, Jaeckel identified herself to Myles as Masek's daughter, Lisa Moore. She told Myles that she would soon be arriving on the island, and she provided him with a list of information she wanted to obtain about Masek's assets there. It was only after Jaeckel arrived in Grand Cayman, Myles claimed in an affidavit, that Jaeckel gave him her true name and identified herself as an investigator.