Sex, Lies & Videotapes
The bullet, of course, is the simple part. It is nestled a couple of centimeters inside the head of Mary Jo Buttafuoco, where it will stay forever. It’s what happened before the bullet got there that interests people. Just after 11:30 A.M. on May 19, a pretty teenage girl walked up to the front door of Mary Jo’s house in Massapequa, N.Y., on Long Island. The two talked for a few minutes, but when Buttafuoco tried to end the conversation, the girl pulled out a .25-caliber pistol and shot her in the head, leaving her for dead.
But Buttafuoco, 37, did not die. When she awoke from neurosurgery at the Nassau County Medical Center early the next morning, her face was partially paralyzed, she had double vision in her right eye, had lost her sense of balance and was deaf in one ear. But she was able to describe the teenager, a petite brunette with violet-tinted hair. Mary Jo’s husband, Joey, 36, said he knew the girl, and Nassau County police quickly arrested Amy Fisher, then a 17-year-old high school senior.
Since then the Amy Fisher case has burst open to release a torrent of ever more lurid revelations. Fevered coverage by New York TV and tabloid reporters has served a hungry public tales of sex, money, prostitution, murder-for-hire, drugs, more sex and a frantic Hollywood bidding war (See box. page 108) for movie rights to the whole dark saga. Soon after the shooting, Fisher signed a 10-page confession in which she said she had been having an affair with Joey Buttafuoco for more than a year. At first, say police, Buttafuoco admitted sleeping with the girl, but then he changed his mind and denied it. Amy, he said, simply had an obsessive teenage crush on him.
Last week events came to a head, and the story was once more in the news. First, Amy pleaded guilty to reduced charges that will send her to prison for at least five years—a mere “slap on the wrist,” say the Buttafuocos and their lawyers. A day later a surreptitiously taped video was aired showing a seemingly unrepentant Amy hoping to get a Ferrari—or at least conjugal visits in prison from her boyfriend—for her “pain and suffering.” Following the appearance of the tape, Fisher twice attempted suicide and was admitted to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital, where a doctor described her as severely depressed. As if that weren’t enough, an and audiotaped letter fisher recently recorded was broadcast, intimating that she might have been the victim of parental abuse. Then again, who knew? Nothing is as obvious as it first appears when it comes to Amy fisher or Joey Buttafuoco.
Every day, it seems, there has been another shocking development, each promising more to come. Much of the story has been played out in public. Lawyers hold frequent press conferences, and principals in the case call radio talk shows. A recovering Mary Jo even told shock-rock radio host Howard Stern that her sex life had never been better. Through all this, much of the story has broken through on the notorious tapes, which have been sold to tabloid TV shows such as Hard Copy and A Current Affair. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 23 years on the job,” says Richie Haeg. a private investigator working for Fisher.
At the center of the controversy is Amy Elizabeth Fisher, now 18. She grew up in Merrick, N.Y., the daughter of Elliot Fisher, 57, and his wife, Roseann, 39, a couple who worked six days a week in their own upholstery store. She was their only child; they gave her all they could. She had her own room with matching furniture, her own phone, an endless supply of stuffed animals. When she passed tests for her junior driver’s license, they gave her a year-old Dodge Daytona. And when she had an accident, they got her another car, a $13,000 Chrysler Le Baron convertible.
In fact, the story really began with a routine trip to an auto-repair shop. In December 1990, Elliot Fisher drove his dark red Cadillac from his home to Complete Auto Body in neighboring Baldwin. With him was Amy, then 16. Behind the counter was Joey Buttafuoco, a onetime weight-lifting and arm-wrestling champion with a wife and two children. Soon, Amy brought her Dodge Daytona to the shop for pinstriping. Then she had a series offender benders and minor accidents. How many is in dispute. Fisher told friends there were only two accidents. Buttafuoco has told reporters there were a dozen, all arranged by an obsessed Amy in order to see him.
Either way, said Amy, what was really going on was sex—and lots of it. She said she met Buttafuoco regularly—at motels, at her home, in his shop, in his high-speed boat, Double Trouble. Buttafuoco admitted to reporters that he had called Fisher frequently on her beeper, using a pre-arranged code, 007, but he denied any sexual involvement. Even so, police found his name on at least five check-in cards at area motels, and a fellow worker at the body shop said Buttafuoco bragged of giving Amy her first orgasm.
At the same time, Fisher—still only 16—began working as a call girl for the ABBA escort service, a few blocks from the auto shop. One of her clients, Peter De Rosa, 29, secretly videotaped one of their sexual encounters. Just eight days after Amy’s arrest, De Rosa sold the tape to A Current Affair for $7,500. On it, he paid Amy $100, had sex with her in the dark and then asked her to a bachelor party. “Anything,” she says. “I’m wild. I don’t care. I love sex.”
The video turned the Amy Fisher story into a front-page fixture. The tabs dubbed her the Long Island Lolita and focused on her allegation that Buttafuoco recruited her for ABBA—a charge he has denied. However a New York City local television talk show, 9 Broadcast Plaza, and the New York City Daily News both said Buttafuoco was loosely associated with ABBA, referring to it both girls and clients. He also sold cocaine, acquiring the nickname Joey Coco Pops. (Later, Buttafuoco admitted to reporters that he spent 28 days in a drug-rehabilitation center and continues his membership in a 12-step program.)
The investigation took another lurch forward when two of Amy’s former boyfriends said she had asked them to help kill Man Jo. One, Chris Drellos, now 19, said Amy asked him to get her a gun. Instead, he said, he turned Amy over to his friend, Stephen Sleeman, now 21, a waiter who owned a .22-caliber rifle. Sleeman said Amy paid him $600 to watch the Buttafuoco home. Sometimes, Amy would show up, he said, and perform oral sex on him in his car while they waited. Sleeman had no intention of shooting Mary Jo, he told reporters, but he strung Amy along for the money and the sex. About a week before the shooting, Amy allegedly paid Peter Guagenti, 21, of Brooklyn, $800 to get her the .25-caliber pistol and drive her to Mary Jo’s that morning. He was later arrested and faces gun-possession charges.
At first the spate of incriminating stories caused Amy problems in court. At her arraignment in June. Nassau County Judge Marvin Goodman set the highest bail in the history of the county—$2 million—far more than the Fisher family could afford. Amy’s attorney, Eric Naiburg, appealed, but after his request for lower bail was twice rejected by higher courts, he took a more novel approach. A former vibrating-bed salesman and a frustrated actor, he appealed to Hollywood by offering to sell “the only asset the child has left”—her life story—to a publisher or movie company. Eventually a little known group of investors, KLM Productions, bought Amy’s story for $80,000. The Fishers managed to scrape together $20,000 more to pay a bail bondsman’s 5 percent fee. They also put up everything they owned—including their $400,000 house and $475,000 in stocks and bonds—as collateral. On July 28, Amy was released—over the strenuous objections of Mary Jo Buttafuoco. “I won’t feel safe again until she’s behind bars,” she told a press conference. “I just know what this girl did to me in cold blood. She’s a sick girl.”
Things quieted down until the end of summer. Then, on Sept. 18, Naiburg met prosecutor Fred Klein for lunch at a restaurant a few blocks from the Nassau Country Courthouse. The subject: a possible plea bargain, something the two lawyers had been discussing for months. As they ate, they came to a tentative arrangement. Amy, now 18, would plead guilty to one count of reckless assault, a conviction carrying a 5-to-15-year prison sentence, with the possibility of joining a work-release program after three years. And Klein promised to convene a grand jury to consider statutory rape charges against Joey. Also under consideration is a possible murder-conspiracy charge; Naiburg says Amy told investigators that Buttafuoco put her up to the shooting. Other charges, involving prostitution or drugs were not seriously considered—at least for the moment.
By Sept. 22, Naiburg and Klein had a deal. At 9:30 that morning. Amy met in Naiburg’s office with Klein and homicide detective Martin Alger. They spent the bulk of the day talking about Joey Buttafuoco, Naiburg says. Around 5 PM., he says, the questioning turned to the shooting itself. Amy began crying uncontrollably. An hour later the men called a halt. Amy was so unhappy—she left in tears—that Naiburg gave her permission to visit her latest boyfriend, Paul Makely, 30, co-owner of Future Physique, a gym about 15 minutes from the Fisher home. Later that night, she did.
The next day Amy entered her plea in court. She insisted, as she has done from the beginning, that the shooting was an accident. “I went up to her doorstep with a loaded gun in my pocket,” she told Judge Goodman in a pronounced Long Island accent. When Mary Jo turned to go inside, she said, “I hit her on the back of the head. I went to hit her again, and the gun went off. I guess I obviously shot her.”
“Was she injured?”
“And you left?”
“She fell on lop of me,” Amy said. “I tried to get her off of me. I hit her, I think, twice. I left. I ran away.”
With that, Goodman set sentencing for Dec. 1, and Amy was allowed to continue her bail. Afterward, Klein told reporters the case was far from over. “We got one fish,” he said. “Now we are going to look for more fish.” He made no secret as to whom that fish might be—Joey—and Mary Jo Buttafuoco was furious. The idea that her husband might be facing more time in jail than Amy struck her as a perversion of justice. “I am damn mad,” she told reporters. “These are baseless charges by a young girl who is an attempted murderer, a liar and a prostitute.”
The next day, Sept. 24, the story look a more sensational turn. Hard Copy announced it had “obtained” what it called a surveillance videotape of a flirtatious Amy visiting Paul Makely at his gym in the night before her plea. As she hugged and kissed him, toyed with her hair and adjusted her bodice, she seemed anything but the contrite young woman who appeared in court the next day. First she asked Makely to many her so she could have conjugal visits during her stay behind bars—something permitted in 15 of New York’s 67 prisons. Then she said she rather liked all the publicity she had been getting.
“Why?” asked Makely.
“Because I can make a lot of money. I figure if I have to go through all the pain and suffering, I’m getting a Ferrari.”
Makely seemed incredulous. “Pain and suffering?”
“I don’t want to go there,” she said, referring to prison, “but I figure I’m being a good sport about it.”
The broadcast further compromised Fisher’s already dubious value as a witness. Joey Buttafuoco was delighted. He answered the door of his home minutes after the broadcast and happily posed for a photographer. But at Naiburg’s office on Long Island, the tape left Amy Fisher an emotional wreck. “She was just destroyed,” says Naiburg’s law partner, Matthew Rosenblum. who watched the show with her. “She was beyond crying. She kept saying, ‘And I loved him. I loved him. I loved him. ”
There was no question in her mind-or in Naiburg’s—that Makely had been paid by Hard Copy for the tape—a possibility the show’s producers will neither confirm nor deny. Makely has gone into hiding, but Naiburg says he may be writing Amy a letter of apology.
Late that night after the broadcast, Amy took 10 to 15 Xanax tablets, a depressant prescribed for her by a psychiatrist. “I don’t want to live,” she told her mother, who summoned medical help. Since the dosage would not have been fatal, an ambulance was not called. Instead, Amy was kept up until about 5 A.M. walking and drinking coffee. But at noon she tried to kill herself again, this time downing 15 to 20 of her father’s Lorazepam, a sedative prescribed for his heart condition. This time the Fishers called Naiburg, who drove Amy to Huntington Hospital. “Let me die,” she told Naiburg on the trip. “Let me die.”
Amy’s investigator, Richie Haeg, says Amy was disconsolate because she had been betrayed by Makely. “She’s been betrayed by every man she ever met,” he says. But Mary Jo’s attorney, Michael Rindenow, was not impressed. “I question whether it [the two suicide attempts] was a legitimate attempt or whether it was solely to stage an event to shift the focus of public sentiment,” he said in a press briefing. “They’re trying to to spin-doctor this. Amy Fisher is no victim.”
On Sunday, Hard Copy released another bombshell, the audiotaped letter Amy had sent to Makely shortly before her plea bargain. In it she hinted that she was a victim of some form of abuse by her father. “I just don’t understand why my mom ever had me,” she said in a soft, wounded voice. “I mean, she let my father do such terrible things to me. And I feel like she just looked the other way. She didn’t do anything to stop it. And now all she can say is that she’s sorry. And all my father can say—the pathetic person that he is—is that he’s sorry too. And he keeps saying that he never meant to hurt me. He actually thinks that will make it better.”
So far the Fishers have not commented, nor will Naiburg. However, Fisher family friend, attorney Christine Edwards-Neumann, denied any impropriety on Elliot Fisher’s part. Amy, she said, was simply griping about her father’s complaints about “the way she dressed, her grades…her dates. He wanted her to be in school. He wanted her to make something of herself.”
But Rindenow says there might have been abuse. Amy, he says, often talked to Joey about it. “Joey made no secret of what Amy Fisher told him in his body shop about her relationship with her father and her father’s acts with Amy. he says. The truth may never be known, but if there was abuse, says New York psychiatrist Leo Kron, an expert in adolescent psychiatry, it might go a long way toward explaining why a seemingly normal middle-class girl would become a prostitute and try to kill someone. “Studies say that adolescents who are out of control and sexually acting out very frequently have prior histories of being severely traumatized,” he says.
Such observations cut no ice with Mary Jo Buttafuoco. Last week she learned that she will never hear again in her right ear and that the right side of her face will be forever paralyzed. Her family is in financial trouble, in part because of her medical bills and in part because Joey gave up his job to care for her. Amy Fisher may be getting most of the publicity, but the most obvious victim in this grim and apparently endless saga is Mary Jo Buttafuoco. “How could I have imagined this ringing of the doorbell was a threat to me?” she told an interviewer. “She was a little high school girl. Who would think there would be a threat.”
MARIA EFTIMIADES and MARY HUZINEC on Long Island