One of the strangest sagas in the headhunting world came closer to its conclusion July 17, when former Christian & Timbers Chief Executive Jeffrey Christian pleaded no contest to charges in the drug-related death of fellow recruiter Thomas Wasil and the overdose of a 17-year-old at his Cleveland-area home in 2006 (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/2/07, "The Rise and Fall of a Corporate Headhunter").
Christian, who gained notoriety for recruiting Carleton "Carly" Fiorina as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) in 1999, pleaded no contest to a third-degree felony charge of reckless homicide, carrying a one- to five-year state prison term, and a fifth-degree felony charge of "permitting drug abuse on his premises," which carries up to 12 months in state prison. "It's a big sigh of relief," says Wasil's brother Joe.
Christian appeared in the Portage County, Ohio, courthouse with two of his lawyers, including Thomas Mesereau Jr., who once successfully defended Michael Jackson. Christian was silent through most of the proceeding, says Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 9. While a judge will be free to decide the sentence, prosecutors and Christian's lawyers have agreed on a sentencing recommendation, which would have Christian serve a year in a state penitentiary and then six months in county jail and another six months in a community drug treatment center.
Asked to characterize the Christian case, prosecutor Vigluicci said: "This is nothing new for us. This is what we do. We didn't know this guy from Adam when we started our investigation. And you know what? I am not sure we know him any better today."
More Charges Pending
Christian was charged with giving drugs to Wasil, who along with his girlfriend had come to Christian's house to return Christian's Hummer. Wasil left the house at 5:30 a.m., and was found dead by his girlfriend the following afternoon. Months later, the 17-year-old brother of Christian's girlfriend ended up in a hospital having overdosed after partying at Christian's home.
Christian does not dispute that he gave cocaine to Wasil, according to one of his lawyers, Cleveland attorney Gerald Gold. Gold claims that Christian was going through a "bad time in his life." Christian's mother had died and he had just parted ways with the company (which recently changed its name to CTPartners) that had made him something of a star in business circles. As such, the 51-year-old father of three became involved with drugs. He died his white hair purple, became involved with an 18-year-old waitress he met at a local bar, and often invited young people from the local scene for parties at his home. "He got into doing drugs with young people—people he would never hang out with otherwise," says Gold.
Christian's legal problems are not over. The Wasil family brought civil charges against him for wrongful death and for intentional and negligible infliction of emotional distress.
Christian, reached by cell phone as he ended an afternoon of fishing with two of his sons, declined comment.