Inside the Theft of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s Famous Sex Tape
Electrician Rand Gauthier, now 57, thought stealing the infamous sex tape featuring Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson would punch his ticket to fame and fortune. Instead, as a new in-depth piece in Rolling Stone explains, he ended up anonymous and alone -- while Lee's fame grew.
"I made his career," Gauthier laments now, "is what happened."
Gauthier had been working on an extensive renovation of Lee and Anderson's Malibu mansion in the spring of 1995 when the couple abruptly fired him. He said he was owed $20,000, but was prepared to write it off until Gauthier returned with a contractor to gather their tools and, he says, Lee pointed a shotgun at them, demanding they "get the f--- off my property." Something changed that day. "I was never really that popular with people," Gauthier admitted. "But I had never been held at gunpoint. It screwed with my head."
Gauthier knew the couple had a giant safe hidden in a garage that had been converted into a recording studio. He figured there would plenty of valuables and tells Rolling Stone he was unaware of the existence of a 54-minute homemade film that would become one of the most infamous in history. "I don't know what's so interesting about watching a married couple f--," a clearly stunned Lee said in 1998. "I'm not the President. We were on vacation doing something the rest of the world does -- filming each other goofing around, naked. It's no big deal."
Rolling Stone's Amanda Chicago Lewis says Gauthier spent that summer driving to Lee and Anderson's house several nights a week to case the place. He planned everything to the last detail -- including wearing a white Tibetan yak fur rug in order to disguise himself as the couple's dog from the security cameras -- except what might happen once he got back home with the loot.
Details on how Gauthier actually got the giant safe out of the three-story Spanish-style home on an October morning remain sketchy. As Gauthier (and perhaps another accomplice) removed the safe, Rolling Stone reports that tall recording equipment was carefully replaced to obscured its hiding place. The safe was then reportedly whisked away to the Angeles National Forest, where Gauthier cut into the back of it with a saw. He found Rolex and Cartier watches, sparkling jewelry, various other keepsakes -- and a Hi8 camcorder cassette, Lewis says.
He then reportedly watched it with the owner of a North Hollywood studio, where Gauthier moonlighted as a porn star. "We put it in and see what it is, and of course, cha-ching! The dollar signs fly before our eyes," Gauthier told Lewis. "But we're going, 'This is the kind of thing people will get killed over.'"
Lee and Anderson didn't notice that the safe was gone until January 1996, meaning it was months before they filed a police report and hired a private investigator. By then, hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of copies of the sex tape were already in circulation. Two years later, it had gone viral, in one of the first such online instances, eventually making as much as $77 million. "Stupid Internet," Anderson exclaimed, in a talk with Entertainment Weekly. "I don't know why everyone is so impressed with it."
Meanwhile, Gauthier was penniless and on the run -- and the original Hi8 artifact was long gone, according to Rolling Stone. The cassette was reportedly melted, and the tape itself cut into hundreds of pieces, by the late Milton "Uncle Miltie" Ingley, a porn star-turned-studio owner who was searching for a distributor. By then, Lewis says the remains of the master had been scattered in a desolate area near California's Six Flags Magic Mountain. When Lee and Anderson's private investigator finally followed the trail to Ingley, he reportedly told them he had a copy but that he'd purchased it from an interior designer named Guerin Swing. Swing knew nothing.
Finding someone to partner with was not easy for Gauthier and Ingley. (Among those who initially passed on funding the release of the tape was legendary porn star Ron Jeremy.) They finally found funding for Internet distribution from Louis "Butchie" Peraino, scion of the Colombo family, a crime syndicate that had earlier financed 1972's controversial 'Deep Throat.'
Ingley furiously copied tapes, launched several websites and began funneling money through a bank account in Amsterdam -- spending about a quarter of the initial $50,000 in funds from Peraino, according to Rolling Stone. As Gauthier continued hustling around Los Angeles in a van full of VHS tapes, Ingley eventually took off to spend the rest of the money on women, booze and drugs, Lewis writes. Another low-level Ingley Studios employee reportedly swiped his own copy, and made as much as $75,000 by selling dupes on the side. But Gauthier says he kept on the straight and narrow, running errands while everyone else lived it up.
Ultimately, as Lee and Anderson's private investigator, as well as some of their scary friends, began searching for the tape, Gauthier was forced into a life in the shadows -- sleeping on couches, when he could sleep at all. By March 1996, he was the target -- along with Penthouse magazine, Ingley and others -- of a $10 million civil lawsuit filed by Lee and Anderson that was meant to stem any further leaks. Ultimately, Ingley fled to the Netherlands as wave after wave of copycat sites began selling their own copies of the tape. The lawsuit was thrown out.
That left Gauthier to deal with Peraino, who was still owed money. He says he ended up working as a strong-arm lackey for the mob. A court injunction followed in October 1997, ostensibly halting Ingley's overseas enterprise. But by then, web entrepreneur Seth Warshavsky had hatched an audacious plan that would take Gauthier completely out of the loop. On Nov. 7, he aired the tape on a website called Club Love for five straight hours.
Everything Lee and Anderson had done to try to stop the tape's dissemination had failed, and the legal obligations had become a distraction. They signed away rights to the tape to Warshavsky, who then leveraged it into a flood of website subscriptions, VHS tapes, DVDs and even CD-ROMs, thanks to a side deal with Vivid Entertainment.
Lee says he remains baffled by the whole thing. "I don't get why people feel they have to see that," he said in 2009. He also insists that the couple never profited from the tape. Neither, of course, has Gauthier. "I was the lowest guy on the totem pole," he told Lewis. "And I was so busy trying to make it work."
Ingley ultimately waited out a cancer diagnosis for Peraino, returning to California after his angry benefactor passed in 1999. He in turn died broke and living with his daughter. Gauthier is still an electrician; his closest subsequent brush with fame involved a pot bust. Residing alone outside Santa Rosa, Gauthier admitted that he covets the obvious affection found on that swiped tape. "It was cute. They're in love and a couple, and they're just having fun with each other, and I think that's great," Gauthier told Rolling Stone. "I'm jealous. I wish I had something like that."