The Spy Who Loved Us: The Men Seduced by Anna Chapman Tell All
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 14, 2010
It was the first week of 2010, and Anna and Bill were living it up in a bountiful suite at the Venetian in Las Vegas. In the morning they’d wake up in a king-size bed and sip mimosas. During the day they’d take a gondola ride through the casino’s indoor canals or lie side by side in the spa for a couples massage. There were showers together, and facials, and succulent evening repasts at Valentino and the Prime Steakhouse. Impulsively they bought a pair of Italian masquerade-ball masks—Eyes Wide Shut-style—one male, one female. Anna liked being pampered. She had a thing for glamour. When Bill asked if there was a show that she was dying to see, she told him, “I want to go see magic.”
David Copperfield had a regular gig at the MGM Grand, but it was sold out. So Bill, the nearly 40-year-old CEO of a real-estate website called PropertyShark and a fit, punctual, mission-focused product of the U.S. Marine Corps, went into hustle mode. He made a few calls, ponied up some extra cash. Two tickets materialized. Bill would always remember that evening—how they were running late for the Copperfield show, and how Anna was tottering through the bejeweled glare of the Las Vegas Strip in a party dress and high heels. Finally she kicked off her shoes and ran barefoot down the sidewalk.
That was in January. It is now a hot, damp, thunderstorm-threatened Monday night in July, and Bill Staniford has spent a portion of the afternoon in a blank, windowless interrogation room in downtown Manhattan, speaking with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Feds don’t want to hear about facials and David Copperfield. They want to know what secrets Anna might have wormed out of him. They want to know whether Staniford—in a moment of weakness—might have spilled any proverbial beans. And all this is happening because just days before, Anna Chapman, a.k.a. Anya Kushchenko, a.k.a. the young redhead who posed for what has to be the foxiest mug shot in the history of the U.S. Marshals, was arrested with nine others as part of an alleged Russian spy ring.
The Seductress: The inventive, energetic Anna Chapman posted this photo on Facebook.
It’s safe to say that the news failed to spark a great deal of geopolitical outrage—the Cold War’s been over for a while now, and our fears of the Enemy have migrated elsewhere. Seemingly clueless and harmless, the summer 2010 “spy ring” called to mind a Hot Tub Time Machine remix of Octopussy. The alleged spies were simply sent home, horse-traded for some other alleged spies, and the whole curious scrap of dog-days trivia wound up leaving millions of Americans mildly amused—and kind of turned on. Such was the lighthearted reaction that even Joe Biden joked about Chapman’s bodaciousness on The Tonight Show. “Let me make it clear,” the vice president winkingly told Jay Leno, “it wasn’t my idea to send her back.” In the end, it was hard to imagine that anyone felt betrayed—unless, perhaps, you got to thinking about the young male strivers who’d been drawn into Chapman’s flirtatious tractor beam.
And there may have been a lot of them. Espionage, of course, can take many forms. Maybe Mother Russia engineered Anna Chapman to be an irresistible minx, or maybe that’s just her nature, but either way there are suggestions that her leggy methods of information gathering may have been, well, widespread. Soon after her arrest, a group of men who’d known her gathered at a bar in Manhattan to marvel, trade stories, and commiserate. One guy couldn’t resist. “Okay,” he asked after everyone had loosened up. “Who fucked her?” Several hands shot up.
The men who moved within Chapman’s orbit will tell you: She intoxicated them. She knew how to dress up—she entered a room like a classic movie star descending a grand staircase. Ostensibly the CEO of an online real-estate company, she made little effort to quash the persistent speculation that she was worth a mint, and she enlisted a fashion photographer to provide her with a professional arsenal of sexy portraits. Those in the know said she had a courtesan’s expertise in bed—that she was as inventive as she was energetic. After her Facebook headshots had circled the globe, her ex-husband, Alex Chapman, spoke to a British tabloid about her anything-goes fondness for purring sex toys, nipple clamps, and whips.
For Chapman, flirting was like breathing—so automatic as to be unconscious. “She was a seductress,” says her friend Dennis Hirdt, a model whose bounce-a-dime-on-them abs have appeared in campaigns for Roberto Cavalli and Gianfranco Ferré. (He says his own interactions with Chapman didn’t go beyond flirting and texting.) “When I first met her, from the get-go: Little hand touches. Whispers. When you’re in a loud place it kind of lends itself to getting close to someone and maybe putting a hand on the cheek, or maybe ‘by accident’ lips rubbing against an earlobe. Stuff like that. She was an expert at using her femininity to get information.”
What that information was, well, it’s hard to say, unless perchance this Bond Girl manqué had misread Bret Easton Ellis‘ Glamorama as a work of nonfiction and believed that male models, baby-faced entrepreneurs, celebutards, and nightclub habitués were on the brink of fomenting international unrest. One of Chapman’s closest associates was Russell Terlecki, a 40-year-old promoter, actor, and film producer who’s a co-owner of a new upscale tequila brand called Alma de Agave. “What was she learning?” he says with a laugh. “Trust me, I was out with her two nights a week. She wasn’t learning anything. Trust me! Drinking champagne, tequila, vodka, whatever it is. She wasn’t learning a lot.” Like others, Terlecki (who is married and says he didn’t have a romantic relationship with the dazzling redhead) characterizes Chapman as a networking pro who swanned through the downtown demimonde with impressive tirelessness and charm. “It never felt like she was prying,” he says. “With me, it seemed like—it seemed like—she was always honest and straightforward.”
Hirdt happens to be something of an espionage buff—at the moment he’s reading Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars, a book about the writer Roald Dahl’s shadow phase as a British spy—and he’s given some serious thought to the Mata Hari principle: When it comes to loosening lips, nothing succeeds like sheer hotness. “A lot of models would be great recruits for intelligence agencies,” he muses Zoolanderishly. “At least the ones who are smart. Some of us are birdbrains. The ones who are smart are actually ideal recruits. They speak multiple languages. There’s a lot of beauty, which is important. You have to be a chameleon—you have to fit into a lot of different places and circumstances and have some acting ability.” Chapman possesses all of these skills. “When people asked me, ‘Were you surprised about Anna?’ I said no,” Hirdt says. “If there was one person who I thought would be a spy, it would be Anna.”
The Promoter: On his 40th birthday, Russell Terlecki received a set of Russian nesting dolls from Chapman. “Trust me,” he says, “I was out with her two nights a week. Drinking whatever. She wasn’t learning a lot.”
Bill [via e-mail]: Any chance I could tempt you with sushi this evening?
Anna: if you see me every night, you will find out everything about me and get bored in like 1 week . . . 🙂
Bill: That seems like a very efficient process. We can have the shortest relationship in history. Also, I know myself. I will not get bored with you. You are way too interesting. And you have a great body 🙂
Bill Staniford was mesmerized the moment he saw her. A client had brought Anya—when Staniford says her first name, he uses the Russian pronunciation—along to a meeting in a conference room at PropertyShark, and in spite of his training with the U.S. Marines, in spite of his deep-tissue ability to concentrate under duress, Staniford found that his focus evaporated in her presence. “She walks in with this other guy, and I’ll tell you, as soon as she walks in, I don’t remember anything else,” he says. “She knocked me out. There was something about her—I think it might have been the red hair, or the way she walked, or her body. I was immediately like, My game’s fucked. I can’t focus on anything. It’s like mwah mwah mwah. She kept on talking and I just kept on staring at her.” (PropertyShark’s founder, Matthew Haines, had the same reaction. “Mother Russia chose her well,” he says. “I found myself completely incapable of thinking.”)
The meeting ended abruptly—Chapman’s crew was interested in learning how PropertyShark gathers its data, and Haines had no intention of telling them. “Believe me,” he says, “I’ve been around the world, and I’ve met women, and I think I know how to think with my brain and not with my dick, but . . . ” Within 24 hours Staniford had sent her an e-mail asking her to dinner at a steak house. She said yes right away. “It wasn’t just that she was attractive,” he says. “She was also quite intelligent. I wanted to know more.”
Bill: I had a dream about you and your black pants last night . . . I would like to go back to that steakhouse on Friday if that is OK with you. I haven’t had steak since then.
Anna: Weirdo. I wanna see your flat though. 🙂
Staniford’s flat was admittedly impressive—a massive Upper East Side apartment that had been in his Establishment family for decades. “I was like, ‘Anytime you’d like to come over would be fine,’ ” he remembers with a beaming grin. Chapman’s place down near Wall Street wasn’t bad either. “She had this incredible view of Brooklyn and the East River,” he says. Staniford, whose cousin Gifford Miller served for a while as the speaker of the New York City Council, has a cinematically debauched past that included heavy drug use and expulsion from a couple of tony prep schools. What rescued him from this downward spiral was his voluntary enlistment in the Marine Corps in 1991, which led, he says suggestively, to a period of immersion in the shadowy world of intelligence work. He was stationed in Panama; he gathered information about Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru. He can’t really talk about it. In fact, when the FBI called him in to talk about Anna Chapman, Staniford supposedly couldn’t enlighten the Feds about what his work had been. “One of the first questions they asked me was ‘What is your clearance?’ And I said, ‘Why don’t you know what my clearance is?’ And they’re like, ‘All we know is that you have a clearance, but we don’t have access to it.'”
Staniford says his relationship with Chapman consisted of frequent sorties to epicurean outposts like Daniel and Juliet. Staniford has stopped drinking now, cold turkey, but during their whirlwind three-month liaison, he and Chapman were a welcome sight to the city’s sommeliers. “When I was dating her I was very much into the party scene,” he says. “Anya and I used to go out and drink, like, two or three bottles of wine. We’d get fucked up.” Conversations sparkled—as long as they stayed away from politics. (One time they veered into that territory and it was a disaster, with Chapman ranting about America’s “imperialist” behavior in Afghanistan—and Staniford throwing down a vigorous rebuttal regarding the problematic Soviet track record in that part of the globe.) They sustained the give-and-take by keeping it light, but a few days after the trip to Las Vegas, the relationship began to sputter. It’s odd, given all that transpired, but Staniford, who at 40 is looking for a partner with whom he can raise kids someday, claims that he began to feel as though Chapman wasn’t wired for emotional intimacy. As he recalls it, “I sent off an e-mail basically saying, ‘If we are going to continue, then it needs to be more serious. It can’t be just sex—and going out and dinners and stuff.’ ” The two drifted apart, swapping e-mails now and then, but it was only months later that her name came screeching across Staniford’s radar. Naturally he can’t forget that morning: There was his ex’s face, come-hithering from the front page of the New York Post.
Bill: Is this bullshit?
Anna: most of it yes
The CEO: Bill Staniford says he gathered intelligence as a marine. “I think she was a spy,” he says. “However, I’d bet almost every cent I own that she had no formal training.”
Matthew Haines was in Romania when he saw news coverage on the spy ring. He called Staniford in New York and asked, “Did you hear what happened?” Staniford said no. Haines told him that the Russian redhead was in jail. Staniford’s response was almost a reflex: “Then I have to get her out.”
At first Staniford figured the arrest was some sort of mistake. As the news sank in, he felt the rumblings of a meltdown. He was trying to stay away from alcohol at the time, but he popped open a bottle of champagne—and not because he wanted to celebrate. “My head just starts going wild—trying to replay every single conversation I had,” he says. “I was just thinking, ‘Did I do anything?’ I felt my chest clench. I was in a state of panic.” Terlecki, the tequila promoter, wound up getting a call too—several, in fact—from the FBI, although his reaction to it was a little less serious. “My dad would call and he’s like, ‘What’s up, spy?’ ” Terlecki says. “I’m like, ‘Don’t say that! They’re fuckin’ listening on the phone right now!'”
For Staniford it wasn’t a joking matter. The day after he learned about Chapman’s arrest, he found out that another one of the accused spies, Cynthia Murphy, had been his longtime accountant at a boutique firm he’d done business with. “That’s when I went nuts,” he says. “It’s like the FBI said: ‘There are coincidences. But this isn’t one of them.’ I knew it too. I mean, immediately. I knew I was targeted.” The question that leapt to his mind was: Did I tell her anything? Had he ever revealed any significant details to his Russian paramour? “Of course not,” he says. “I mean, I know what I’m allowed to say and I know what I’m not allowed to say. It’s been drilled into my head.” That said, he goes on, “she was very interested in my view of America and American policies. I do wonder if she was trying to see if I felt disgruntled in any way.”
What’s remarkable is that after learning that he may have spent a lot of time and money dating a Potemkin Village version of a girlfriend—and even though said girlfriend may have been trying to dupe him into leaking state secrets, albeit rather old and musty ones—Staniford still can’t help but kind of . . . adore her. “It’s a weird feeling; I don’t hold anything against her,” he says. “I feel bad for her. And I’m not exactly sure why. I just feel like she got used somehow.”
Surely it’s a tribute to the resiliency of the male ego, but many of the men who knew Anna Chapman are confident about this point: Maybe she faked it with the other dudes, but she was real with me. Even when they’re presented with compelling evidence that they may have been dealing with a world-class con artist, Chapman’s Manhattan associates mirthfully admit that they’re still in touch with her via e-mail—and that they’re eager to team up with her to get some new business deals under way. At one point in July, before the proposal evaporated, Terlecki was negotiating a $500,000 deal for her to pose nude in Playboy.
Regardless of the data at hand, Staniford’s not totally willing to believe the charges against Chapman. (That’s the thing about magic—you can never be sure.) “Here’s what I think: I think she was a spy,” he says. “However, I would bet you almost every single cent I own that she had no formal training in espionage and human intelligence. She was sent here to gather something or do some drop-offs, and she was doing ‘spy things,’ and therefore she’s technically a ‘spy,’ but she’s no spy. Okay?” Considering his own background, Staniford doesn’t feel he’s in a position to pass judgment. “Look, I’m former military, I spied on people, I did the same thing. You know?”
He smiles. “I did the exact same things that she did. She worked for her country.”