Bagging the First Boyfriend's Mom
Woodlands area school teacher Helen Pierce had an alarming interruption to her morning class at Sally Ride Elementary earlier this month. The principal summoned her to the office to take an urgent call from the U.S. Secret Service.
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.
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. UCF Knights Football
TicketsSat., Oct. 29, 11:00am
Rice University Owls Football vs. Florida Atlantic University Owls Football
TicketsSat., Nov. 5, 2:30pm
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. Tulane University Football
TicketsSat., Nov. 12, 11:00am
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. Louisville Cardinals College Football
TicketsThu., Nov. 17, 7:00pm
"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.
The DJ attributes his prominence as a Houston media personality to the government's decision not to charge him. "Because of my occupation, I'm kind of given a slap on the wrist, which they found irritating," says Hart. "It propelled me through this safely, totally."
While general manager Nasser and the agents admonished Hart never to impersonate an agent again, he seems less than chastened. Asked if he had learned his lesson, Hart had a good laugh. "I'm afraid I will probably do it again."
If he does, it won't likely be at The Planet. The rock station is changing over to a Tejano format, according to general manager Nasser. "Unless they can speak Spanish," Hart and co-host Jamie Coffee will soon have to find a new employer, Nasser said.
It's a development that won't likely bring any expressions of sympathy from the Pierce family.
When University of Houston Chancellor/President Arthur Smith ordered his new General Counsel Dennis Duffy to clean house at the UH System's legal office last fall, he surely didn't have in mind these results: Three white female members of the staff filed written complaints in March charging that Duffy, an African American, discriminated against them on the basis of sex and age, and created an abusive work environment.
Smith approved the hiring of an outside legal investigator to probe the five complaints filed by the three women against Duffy, a former law professor at the UH Law Center. The investigator, attorney Deborah Heaton McElvaney, concluded in a report that two complaints -- gender discrimination from one woman and abusive work environment from all three -- were justified.
Duffy did not return an Insider phone inquiry. He challenged the propriety and legality of hiring an outside investigator.
He believes his rights were violated because he was not informed of the specific allegations before his staff was interviewed. He denied to university officials that he treats women differently from men, and described his management style as blunt and forthright.
McElvaney's investigation found otherwise. "In this case," reported the lawyer, "to say that the workplace within the Office of General Counsel is hostile and abusive is to state the obvious." According to the report, long staff meetings where Duffy leveled tirades against women employees "have had a devastating effect upon their mental and physical health. Several have been under a doctor's care, some have taken medical leave, some simply have missed work."
The investigator pointed out that the morale within the general counsel's office is "so low it cannot be measured" and that interviews with 11 current and former employees found only one who rated the morale in the department with a "D." All the rest graded morale as "F." As stated by one witness, "an unpleasant boss is not unimaginable. Dennis is unimaginable." Employees described Duffy's behavior in the following terms: abusive, condescending, hostile, embarrassing, humiliating, threatening, cruel and bizarre.
A senior woman attorney in the office claimed that when she complained to Duffy about being passed over when a promotion went to a less qualified man, he told her she reminded him of "an old girlfriend" who never was satisfied when he told her he loved her. According to the report, Duffy later followed the woman into her office and harangued her for two hours while pounding his fist on her desk, reducing her to tears.
The complainants also alleged that Duffy frequently referred to female employees in disparaging ways. That included describing Dean Lois Zamora as "an uppity woman," and commenting on a woman attorney's actions with, "Jewish women are like that."
After receiving McElvaney's report, Smith named a three-person committee to evaluate it. The group included Elwyn Lee, the UH vice president for student affairs who is the husband of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and an old colleague of Duffy at the law center. The other members were Sybil Todd, a vice chancellor Smith brought with him from his former posting in Utah, and Robert Herrington, UH assistant vice president for human resources. Smith admonished the group not to duplicate McElvaney's report, a safeguard that did not prevent a copy from finding its way to The Insider.
Smith's hand-picked committee went over the report and conveniently endorsed McElvaney's findings that three of the discrimination complaints were not supported by the evidence. On the two complaints against Duffy that the investigator did find had merit, the committee decided that her conclusions were "incomplete."
"Mr. Duffy's authoritarian management style," according to the committee's summary, "is a radical change for the Office of General Counsel and is being met with resistance from his staff. It appears his behavior is perceived by most of those who report to him as lacking sensitivity...."
The committee then brushed a final layer of whitewash on the matter with a recommendation that Duffy could benefit by a management-training program "to enhance his ability to effectively and appropriately communicate with his subordinates."
For starters, perhaps someone could teach him not to yell so loudly.
Got a gripe, a complaint, a burning secret you want to share? Call The Insider at (713) 624-1483, fax him at (713) 624-1496 or e-mail him at insider@ houstonpress.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.