Christian Curry Comes Back: Wall Street Pariah Catches a Break

The job market must be really brisk, because Christian Curry is back on Wall Street.

Nearly two years after he was fired from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Company, then arrested by police for trying to hack into the firm’s computers, Mr. Curry, 26, has landed at Gardner Rich & Company, a small Chicago-based institutional brokerage that has an office in Trump Tower, overlooking Central Park.

That brings the number of men who are taking a chance on Mr. Curry to two. His rehabilitation is in their hands. The first is his lawyer, Benedict Morelli, who is representing Mr. Curry in his $1.8 billion discrimination lawsuit against Morgan Stanley-and is doing so on a contingency basis.

The second is Chris Gardner, the 45-year-old African-American founder and president of Gardner Rich, who, ironically, got his start in business at Dean Witter, 15 years before it merged with Morgan Stanley. Mr. Gardner, a high school dropout who was once homeless, couldn’t be more different from Mr. Curry or, for that matter, from Mr. Curry’s former bosses at Morgan. His career in finance began in 1981, when he met a man in a red Ferrari in a San Francisco parking lot. The driver told Mr. Gardner what he did for a living: He was a stockbroker making $80,000 a month. Mr. Gardner decided that was what he wanted to be. So, while Mr. Gardner was living in a homeless shelter with his 1 year-old son, he entered a training program and began studying for his Series 7. He became a junior trader at Dean Witter, then went to Bear Stearns & Company, where he often slept under his desk. Now, 19 years later, Mr. Gardner has a Ferrari of his own, which he bought from basketball star Michael Jordan. (The license plate says, “NOT MJ.”) He also has his own firm, which invests public employee pensions. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to educational charities and helped produce a booklet last year called Hard Work Pays . Distributed to seventh graders nationwide, the booklet has a picture of his Ferrari on its cover.

Compare this man to Mr. Curry, the Columbia College graduate raised in a well-to-do family in Chappaqua, N.Y. His career path traveled in the opposite direction to that of his new boss. He went from working at one of the country’s most prestigious investment banks to spending the night in jail.

In April 1998, shortly after nude photographs of Mr. Curry appeared in a gay pornographic magazine, Morgan Stanley fired him, citing fraudulent expense records. That August, Mr. Curry was arrested by Manhattan cops after allegedly trying to hack into the Morgan Stanley in-house computer system in an attempt to gather e-mails that would incriminate the firm in the planned racial discrimination suit. Charges against Mr. Curry were eventually dropped when Manhattan prosecutors discovered that Morgan Stanley had paid a police informant $10,000 to set up Mr. Curry in the hacking scheme. Still, the fired banker became a pariah on Wall Street, as press accounts described his lax work habits and arrogant demeanor.

Mr. Gardner and Mr. Curry met at a party last year. Mr. Gardner hired Mr. Curry to be a research associate at his New York office. The job started last fall. “He’s a bright young guy, and he’s going to have a career in this business if he wants it,” said Mr. Gardner from his Chicago headquarters. quot;My concerns about Christian are that what I need to get done, gets done. And what he’s going through with these other guys is of no interest to me. Obviously, he did something stupid, but I think when I was 20 I did some stupid shit, too. Again, bottom line, we’re looking for talent. And the nice thing about this kid-and I keep calling him ‘kid’; he’s a young man-the nice thing about him is, he never worked on the Street long enough to form a lot of bad habits. You know what I mean? You get some folks who’ve been out here a while, and they’ve figured out seven ways to fuck you before you get out of bed in the morning! But I see in him things that kind of remind me of myself. I mean, I have come to be in this business, I’m very lucky to be in this business, very nontraditional, if you will, competing with guys who went to Harvard from kindergarten.”

The Observer pointed out that Mr. Curry had attended an Ivy League school.

“Yeah, he did,” Mr. Gardner said. “But where is he now? Where did that get him? What did that net him? He’s at a point now where somebody’s gotta say, ‘O.K., you know what? I’m gonna give you a shot.’ That’s the strongest similarity. All right? Not where are you from, but where are you at now? And had guys at Bear Stearns not given me a shot, I would’ve never been in this business.” Meanwhile, Mr. Curry has been lying low. “I am grateful for the opportunity Mr. Gardner has given me,” he said, reached via cell phone while walking on the Columbia University campus, where he had gone to visit an undergraduate dean who he hopes will testify on his behalf as a character witness in court. He declined to comment further on the new job, explaining that Gardner Rich is “a privately held company whose policy is not to talk about its employees.”

The Advocate

Mr. Curry’s new shyness toward the press may have something to do with his lawyer, Mr. Morelli, who took on the employment discrimination case in early 1999. Mr. Morelli has told Mr. Curry to keep quiet while he handles the publicity for the case. Early on, Mr. Curry was a loose cannon, but now, under the tutelage of Mr. Morelli, he has developed into quite the reticent plaintiff. Still, the benefits of sympathetic press are not lost on Mr. Morelli, who was incensed last year when 20/20 , then 60 Minutes , canceled intended segments on the Curry case after Morgan Stanley refused to cooperate on the stories. Mr. Morelli loves to drop the names of reporters and news organizations that have called him about Mr. Curry. ” I went on the record, right from the beginning,” said Mr. Morelli, “Everybody [was saying], ‘Oh, I wanna talk to Curry, I wanna talk to Curry,’ and I said, ‘Sure you wanna talk to him now. But if you don’t treat me good, you’re not gonna be able to have anything later, because Curry’s the story only for a few days, and then it’s about the case.’”

Since Jan. 18, Mr. Curry has been spending his days at Mr. Morelli’s midtown office, giving depositions. He has taken three weeks off from his new job to concentrate on that task.

The Shadow

Then there’s C. Joseph Luethke, the only character in this drama whose behavior may be more bizarre than Mr. Curry’s. Mr. Luethke was the informant who was paid $10,000 by Morgan Stanley to help set up Mr. Curry in the computer hacking sting. He has proved a slippery fellow, shaking alliances, making grandiose claims and, in general, persisting in his attempts to stoke interest in his peculiar take on the case.

On the morning of Jan. 24, he stopped by the editorial offices of The Observer to drop off his latest input on the Curry case: an affidavit, or “declaration,” signed by a notary public and received by the U.S. District Court in Manhattan the same day. His declaration makes all kinds of outlandish allegations, asserting, among other things, that a Chubb & Son insurance adjuster named Jonathan Kurens served as a go-between for Mr. Luethke and Morgan Stanley in the planning of the police sting; and that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is “obstructing justice” due to his “role in the pedophilia ring, ‘Club of Kings,’” a group Mr. Luethke nicknames “Cock.” Mr. Kurens referred calls to Chubb’s communications office, which declined comment. A press officer for Mr. Morgenthau declined comment on the court filing.

Despite several follow-up phone calls placed to The Observer , Mr. Luethke, whose phone number has been disconnected, could not be reached for comment. However, sources with knowledge of the Curry case said the U.S. Attorney’s office suspects Mr. Luethke of perjuring himself; apparently, the facts he states in his affidavit don’t square with those in his depositions. Marvin Smilon, the press officer for the Federal court, had no comment on whether prosecutors had launched an investigation.

Even those who claim to have even the most cursory contact with Mr. Luethke are befuddled by his elusiveness and penchant for conspiracy theory.

“I met with him one time in my life, Mr. Luethke, other than the deposition, for an hour in my office, and I wouldn’t talk to him again,” said Mr. Morelli. “One time, for one hour, in my office, maybe about six months ago … and it took me about 20 minutes to figure out that you could never figure out anything he’s talking about.”

“He tries to be very clandestine, like he’s a secret agent,” agreed a police source who met with Mr. Luethke last fall. “He’s got this stupid baseball cap, and he’s carrying a newspaper under his arm. He’s been watching too many spy movies.”