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Pierce's 20-year-old son, Matt, had acquired instant celebrity both in his hometown and across the nation three days earlier as it became public that he was the Stanford junior dating first daughter Chelsea Clinton. Now, Matt's mother was about to experience the slimier downside of such 15-minute fame.
The voice on the line introduced himself as Special Agent Jerry Hart, rattled off a badge number and explained he had some serious matters to discuss with Helen Pierce. She reminded the caller that a White House press officer had advised her not to talk to anyone about her son's connections to the first family. He replied, "If you check with the press secretary, you'll find it's all right to talk with me. Did they tell you you couldn't talk to a Secret Service agent?"
A dubious Helen Pierce responded, "No," and Hart then initiated a discussion of a highly private subject.
"If your son has any plans to bag the first lady's daughter," declared Hart bluntly, "we want to make sure his hormones are in check." Of course, he mused, Matt's libido wasn't the only factor in the equation. "We're keeping a close eye not just on Matt but Chelsea, when she's with him."
The couple's first public outing hardly justified Hart's stated fears. They attended Sunday services at a Stanford interdenominational church with the president and Hillary Clinton. It was followed by lunch, where Bill put his arm around Matt but Matt did not publicly place his paws on Chelsea.
Pierce responded to the caller's statement by defending her son as a young man raised with good morals and values, who would never take advantage of Chelsea.
"Agent" Hart was equally firm. "I can guarantee you it's not going to happen, because we have to watch everything. And that means everything."
With that, Helen Pierce finally realized that she was not talking to a Secret Service agent. As she quickly learned, the caller was Jerry Hart, morning disc jockey of KKPN/102.9 FM (The Planet). The 31-year-old was taping her with the intention of running the segment as a comic interlude on his show the following morning.
Some might find Hart's escapade anything but funny, but it is consistent with recent behavior at The Planet. Only two months before, departing part-time DJ Steve Kelley broadcast a made-up story that a jet carrying the Spice Girls had crashed in Australia. That hoax prompted a short-lived local furor and cost the perpetrator a radio job he had lined up in Austin.
Hart realized that Pierce was furious with his joke call. He tried to assuage her anger by offering her some Mother's Day gifts the station had been plugging on the air, including a pedicure, a manicure and a massage.
"We have some things to take care of you now that we've really pulled a fast one, and I really am sorry," said Hart. With that, Helen Pierce hung up.
What happened next was a far-from-humorous interlude for the DJ and the management of The Planet. Hart claims he was unaware that portraying a federal agent in the joke call was a potential felony.
"I figured it might be some sort of -- how would you word it? -- a no-no, a boo-boo. Certainly I knew it was not the most politically correct thing to do. But I didn't figure it was a federal offense."
Pierce either knew better, or found out from higher authority. She was not available for comment on Hart's call, but another source claims she called the White House and vented to the office of Hillary Clinton. In any case, with or without White House legal advice and assistance, Pierce then contacted the Houston Secret Service office and complained that Hart had impersonated an agent. Senior Agent-in-Charge Jim Dale confirms that her complaint triggered an investigation.
Within several hours, two Secret Service agents arrived at the Planet offices in the Galleria area, rounded up Hart, and turned the office of Planet general manager Michael Nasser into an impromptu interrogation room.
"They basically ran through the slap-on-the-wrist ordeal," recounts Hart. "Wherever you are, we will find you. Don't try this no matter what city you're in, with any federal agent, not just the Secret Service. Any of 'em."
The agents also made sure that Hart disposed of his tape with Pierce. "I discarded it," confirms the DJ. "I thought, this has no use in my possession, especially considering how close I was to getting prosecuted.' "
Hart says the agents seemed frustrated that he was getting off with a warning. He said they told him anyone else would have been charged with a first violation. Senior Agent Dale says the Secret Service forwarded a report to the U.S. attorney, who made the decision not to prosecute. A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney declined to explain why Hart was not charged in the incident.