When Hank Asher reached into the bag and pulled out the two $15,000 gold Cartier watches, the holiday crowd at Carmine's restaurant on 44th Street in Manhattan noticed, patrons recalled. Later, so did the U.S. attorney in Orange County, Calif., and soon yet another of Rudy Giuliani's business partners was embroiled in a bribery case.
Asher, identified by the initials H.A. in Overt Act 59 of a federal grand jury indictment against Orange County sheriff Michael Carona, had handed the diamond-encrusted Cartier baubles to the wives of the sheriff and his deputy, and with that, assured himself a place in a federal indictment that was looming.
Asher is not charged with any crime in the indictment. But his expensive gifts are clearly part of the corruption investigation.
It was far from his first brush with controversy or the law.
Asher, earlier in his life, had, by his own admission, smuggled plane-loads of cocaine worth millions of dollars from the Bahamas to the U.S. He later cooperated with law enforcement in an effort to end similar smuggling operations.
Since 2005, he has been Giuliani's partner along with the Mayo Clinic in Jari Research, a business set on finding a bone marrow cancer cure and making a profit.
Self-educated, worldly, charismatic and larger than life, according to associates, Asher, a high school dropout at age 16, today is worth north of $700 million.
He made his money by writing the algorithms that are the foundation of a commercial datamining business used by federal law enforcement and big city police as well as creditors and law firms.
The business began as a motor vehicle records database he dubbed Auto Track and later sold. He then developed Accurint, a library of linked database volumes containing information on hundreds of millions of people, which he sold to LexisNexis. For all intents and purposes, the business revolutionized database searching and eroded an enormous amount of perceived privacy.
Asher's friends span the spectrum from Rudy Giuliani to Jesse Jackson and F. Lee Bailey. His business supporters have included Giuliani, Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
His business associates include some of the same drug agents who years ago learned of Asher's smuggling when he walked into their lives accompanied by Bailey and began a campaign to convince other smugglers he knew to leave the business or face investigations and jail.
Business associates say the venture with Giuliani and the Mayo Clinic is motivated by a genuine desire to find a cure for multiple myeloma cancer, spurred by Asher witnessing the disease ravage his sister Sari, who died from it last month at age 54. During the course of her treatment, doctors discovered Asher's own bone marrow cells were a rare match with his sister's, and he underwent the painful process of harvesting those cells to try to save her life.
During the Carmine's dinner, when Asher's voice began to boom across the room, patrons recall him handing his black American Express card to the restaurant to pay for any inconvenience his boisterous party caused the other guests. He told the staff to buy everyone's dinners and drinks and then peeled off a few $100 bills to tip strolling carolers in the restaurant.