The Split from Hell

 

Vinson v. Vinson: It'll be a cold day in Hades before you see another divorce trial this bizarre

Riveting plot lines and unforgettable scenes — enough to fill a miniseries — made the recent eleven-day divorce trial of Ray and Deanna Vinson something courthouse observers will be buzzing about for months to come.

There were accusations of misleading the president of the United States and lurid accounts of a bleary-eyed Ray Vinson, flanked by security guards, being rolled out of a Las Vegas hotel in a wheelchair. There was talk of dirt-digging private eyes crisscrossing the nation, a Maplewood cop receiving a bribe and a living-room sofa being tossed into a swimming pool. And, oh yes, there was the spiteful custody battle over Bogey, the couple's beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Deanna Vinson was cast as a brittle and fearful CEO, losing all judgment after falling in love with her bodyguard, who once claimed to have thrown a man into a sleeping volcano. Ray Vinson was portrayed as a hard-drinking philanderer whose high-pitched voice helped create an empire known as American Equity Mortgage.

On it went, from sagas of infidelity to tales of lavish lifestyles: $100,000 diamond earrings, private jets and a membership at the exclusive Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.

There were schemes to paint "Lesbian CEO" on the side of the company's headquarters, unfounded allegations that Ray Vinson ran a prostitution ring. And according to the testimony of a company receptionist, Vinson once placed his erect penis on her shoulder following a casual conversation about the glories of drag racing.

You can't make this stuff up.


The trial began on Valentine's Day in Division 5 of the St. Louis County Circuit courthouse in Clayton. Ray and Deanna never had children together; the baby they're fighting over is American Equity Mortgage, the Maryland Heights-based firm they founded with a few thousand dollars on April Fool's Day fourteen years ago. The company has grown to 45 branches in 26 states and last year made some $3 billion worth of home-equity and bill-consolidation loans.

Over the past eighteen months, the estranged couple has spent a combined $2 million on some of the city's top litigators and nearly $3 million on cunning private eyes. Repeated attempts at a settlement never came to pass.

At one end of a walnut table sat Ray Vinson, a slight, 55-year-old man who wears a brown toupee, a gold pinky ring and vivid blue-and-purple ties that droop below his beltline. Throughout the trial, he often slouched in his seat, fiddling with a pen and twitching his leg. If he caught the eye of an acquaintance, he invariably flashed a smile and a wink.

At the end of another table sat demure-looking Deanna Vinson, her athletic body wrapped in conservative blazers with shoulder pads, turtlenecks and skirts that landed right above her knees. The vanity plate on her Champagne-colored Mercedes sedan reads: QUEEEN. During rigorous cross-examination, a hint of a smile sometimes appeared on her face, as if she were enjoying the challenge. On the stand, she only offered what was required of her.

They told their stories to Circuit Judge Michael Burton, a relaxed and thoughtful jurist, who didn't raise his voice once during the blusterous proceedings.

Representing Deanna was Allan Zerman, considered one of the top divorce attorneys in the nation, an Alan King look-alike who each morning arrived at the courthouse in a black topcoat and a matching fedora. The gray-bearded veteran of the Ozzie Smith and Karen Foss divorce proceedings teamed with fellow Zerman & Mogerman partner James Carmody, a suave, handsome man with a wry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eyes.

Ray retained three members of the Bryan Cave law firm, headed by tall, imposing former U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd, who assisted former U.S. Senator John Danforth as deputy special counsel in the federal probe that followed the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. Rounding out the team was James Bennett, a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Lee Marshall, a young associate and former editor of the Washington University Law Quarterly.

"We view this as a business case," explained Marshall. "There are other things surrounding it, but mainly it's about the formation of the business."

The trial, though, was barely under way before it became evident that rehashing the corrosive scenes of a failed marriage would overshadow the machinations of the mortgage business.

During her testimony the 42-year-old Deanna painted a humiliating portrait of the man she once adored. Under questioning by Carmody, she recounted a February 1999 discussion with Ray about his future role at the company.

"I had told him he could no longer come into the office," she said. "And he agreed."

"Had someone informed you of an incident that occurred between Ray and an employee?"

"Yes." She then went on to relay a conversation with one of her managers, who told her of an accusation against Ray.

"I said to him that I was told that he had had [the employee] come to his office, and that he was making sexual comments to her and exposed himself to her, and his response was, 'I know I did and it's getting out of hand.'"

In February 2004 Deanna learned the true extent of Ray's drinking problem when the couple hosted the company's top-earners at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. One night Ray got very drunk, and she tried, to no avail, to persuade him to come to bed. The next morning she got a phone call from hotel security, asking her to come retrieve her husband.

"He was very intoxicated, very angry," Deanna recalled. She said she found him in handcuffs and that he'd urinated and defecated in his pants.

Deanna also relayed the blowout that occurred on a late September morning in 2004 at the couple's $2 million home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Deanna was sound asleep when Ray arrived unannounced at 5 a.m., a wine bottle and empty glass in hand. A bitter argument ensued. He threw a rock through their decorative glass front door before dragging a sofa from the living room and flinging it into the pool.

"Do you feel like he was under control in his anger?" Carmody asked.

"No, he was clearly out of control. He was in a rage, absolutely in a rage."

She called 911, police arrived, and Vinson was led away in handcuffs. The next day she filed a restraining order and hired as her personal protector Joe Adams, a roguish St. Louis private investigator whose eight-person security detail is charging her more than $1 million a year for round-the-clock protection.

It was the short, barrel-chested Adams, a bit player in the 1986 Iran-Contra Affair, who would serve Ray the papers at a Walgreens in Creve Coeur, a month after the Scottsdale spectacle. Handing him the document, Adams said, "Congratulations, you're getting divorced."


The day after Valentine's Day is one of the busiest of the year for the marriage-licensing division at the St. Louis county courts. Waiting in line, couples share with one another stories of their recent engagements.

During a recess, Deanna walked past the beaming faces, her female bodyguard in tow. Another guard, Bobby Tsiaklides, scanned the area, his eyes landing on the row of lovebirds.

"You just want to walk over and tell everyone in that line to sit in on this trial for a day," mused Tsiaklides. "That'll make them think twice."

Deanna Daughhetee was working at a furniture store in Charleston, Illinois, when Ray walked in one day in 1985. His sky-blue eyes and million-dollar smile charmed the quiet 21-year-old, who had the physique of a figure skater and a knack for numbers. An accounting student at Eastern Illinois University, Deanna, like her father, planned to become a certified public accountant.

Ray Vinson inherited his earthy twang from the coal mining country of Huntington, West Virginia, where he was born to a couple so poor they couldn't afford to keep him. He was raised by his paternal grandparents.

Ray started in the mortgage business in 1972 as a loan officer in Ohio, shilling second mortgages and bill-consolidation loans for clients with poor credit. He burned through jobs and eventually landed in the furniture business. By the mid-'80s, he was married with three kids and living in Edwardsville.

But Ray's marriage was crumbling, and he began an affair with Deanna. After divorcing his wife, Ray and Deanna moved into his apartment, and she enrolled in the MBA program at Southern Illinois University. She was just getting started in life, and Ray helped her with living expenses and her student loans.

Ray was again working as a loan officer, and he soon formed his own company, United Equity Mortgage, with offices in the gold tower of Westport Plaza. But the company struggled almost from the outset, and hounding creditors forced Vinson to file for bankruptcy in 1991.

That same year Ray proposed to Deanna on a Caribbean cruise aboard the S.S. Norway. "They were excessively happy," recalls Bill Hvisdak, a long-time friend of the couple. "They probably called each other ten or fifteen times a day."

In March 1992 Deanna bought all the assets of United Equity Mortgage from Ray — the furniture, the computers, the phones and the client list — for $800. She also bought United Equity's 878-9999 phone number.

"That's a pretty valuable asset, isn't it?" questioned one of Ray's lawyers.

"Now it is," she responded. "Then, it was just a number."

It was a rocky engagement, Deanna said, estimating that she and Ray broke up and reconciled ten times during their courtship, most of it the result of his binge drinking. "It was very volatile, very up and down." Finally, she issued an ultimatum: Get off the booze, or the engagement is off.

Ray promised he would, and the couple hatched plans to start another company. She'd work the books, and he'd handle the loan officers. Because the bankruptcy prevented him from securing financing himself, all the incorporation paperwork bears Deanna's name.

Ray argued that he borrowed money to start their company. "My grandmother gave me $7,000 to start American Equity Mortgage. I have said that for fourteen years, and that's what I say today."

Deanna has also repeated that very same story for years. Now, she calls it "a myth," told only to reinforce the rags-to-riches aspect of the company's narrative. In reality, she testified, all the start-up money — about $15,000 — came from her savings account.

Regardless, Deanna maintained that she always intended for the company to be in her name, and her name only. "I had seen how he handled [United Equity]," she said dismissively, "and I knew that I would have to make sure that I had control."

Ray countered that Deanna was listed as owner in 1992 for convenience's sake, "with the understanding that it would be put back in my name as soon as it could be, qualifying-wise."

At the company's inception, Ray worked full-time as operations manager, overseeing loan officers that he'd trained at United, while Deanna assumed the title of president and CEO. Like United, the new company acted as a mortgage brokerage, focusing on the "sub-prime market," a banking term for people with low credit ratings. When a customer committed, American Equity acted as the middle-man, preparing the documents and taking the information to a mortgage bank.

The timing couldn't have been better for the Vinsons, who were married in St. Louis on July 31, 1993. With the economy on the verge of a vast expansion, they were primed to catch the wave.

"You and Deanna created a baby," said Ray's attorney James Bennett, "and its name was American Equity Mortgage."


Unlike his estranged wife, Ray Vinson was effusive during his time on the stand. With lawyer Ed Dowd leading him through the American Equity financial trajectory, the businessman enumerated the early steps he took to market the fledgling company.

Direct-mail campaigns didn't work, said Ray, and neither did telemarketing or TV commercials. Finally, he hit on radio and invested $2,000 in three months' worth of spots on Y-98 (98.1 FM). The first ads featured an on-air talent reading words that Ray had written. When that fell flat, Ray recorded the spot himself.

"It sounded like the most awful thing I had ever heard in my life," he recounted. "And I said, 'There's no way I'm going to put it on the air. It will run customers off.'" But he changed his mind, and the ads began to run.

Anyone living in St. Louis has heard Ray Vinson's distinctive, Ross Perot-like voice and the memorable the way he pronounced the end of the company's 878-9999 phone number: "naahnty-naahn — naahnty-naahn."

With Ray's cartoonish delivery, the spots stood out. Ray sounded like a guy who was looking out for you. "The consumer does not want to hear that they have bad credit," he explained on the stand. "It sounds a lot nicer if you say, 'Even if you have less than perfect credit we can help you.'"

After they aired, "we immediately started getting calls. We had those push-button lines. We only had four lines with the push buttons on the phone, and I could see if the lights lit up," Ray remembered. "You could see them light up."

"It was a turning point," agreed Deanna.

The ads kept running, the calls kept coming, and the money rolled in. As the company expanded, Ray became a celebrity not only in St. Louis, but throughout all of American Equity's markets. From an 8-person office in the beginning, the business expanded to 700 employees.

In 2004 the Vinsons took home nearly $30 million, and the couple made good use of the money. They bought Ferraris and Aston-Martins, along with two private jets — a Hawker and a Gulfstream. They purchased the Creve Coeur home, a second one in Scottsdale and a retreat at the Lake of the Ozarks, complete with two cabin cruisers to speed across the lake. They also bought a 300-acre farm in rural Illinois.

The couple traveled the world on cruise ships and lavished gifts on one another. The $100,000 earrings Ray bought for his wife each had a pair of numbers on them, and combined, they spelled out the final four digits of the company phone number: "99-99." He bought her a five-carat crescent-cut diamond. And, for his 50th birthday, she bought him a puppy, the spaniel they named Bogey.

Some of their riches were shared with the Republican Party. Resting on a shelf in the living room of their Creve Coeur home is a color photo of a smiling Deanna, a Missouri delegate to the 2004 GOP Convention, standing beside President George W. Bush and the First Lady.

As their fortunes skyrocketed, ownership of the company — at least publicly — became confused. Although Deanna now claims sole title to the company, Ray's attorney, James Bennett, cited instances during their marriage in which she described Ray as co-owner.

Bennett questioned Deanna about the letters she wrote identifying her husband as "chief" of American Equity, and the press releases she approved that referred to Ray as the company's founder. He then asked her to read from an e-mail she wrote to Ray in 2004, in anticipation of an upcoming meeting with Bush in the Oval Office.

Reading it aloud, she told Ray to tell the president, "We own American Equity Mortgage, and we did two billion dollars of residential loans in 2003."

"What does the next sentence say?" asked Bennett.

"I am the founder and Deanna is the CEO," she read.

Bennett noted that she suggested Ray call himself "the founder" of American Equity.

"In conversation, should you be accurate?" asked Bennett.

"I think it depends on the conversation and who you are talking to, and what you're talking about," she tersely replied.

"Well, let's take it this way," Bennett shot back. "Let's say you're talking about the business and you're talking to the president of the United States, and you're talking in the Oval Office. Under those circumstances, do you think you need to be accurate in conversation?"

"In general, yes."


Throughout the trial the court's bailiff, Ray Menard, kept an eye on the clock. That is, when he wasn't leafing through issues of Sports Illustrated, People and Newsweek. During a recess one day, the ex-St. Louis cop muttered, "This is the worst I've ever had. I've been in capital murder trials that haven't lasted as long as this." Not even some of the more jaw-dropping moments — like the day it was revealed Ray Vinson enjoyed wearing a kilt sans underwear — interrupted Menard's magazine time.

From the outset, it was clear that Deanna's legal team intended to embarrass her husband not only with accounts of past alcohol abuse and the bankruptcy, but also by exposing his sexual peccadilloes — all to demonstrate that Vinson was never fit to run a multimillion-dollar company.

In the courtroom, Deanna's lawyers played video depositions of three women, all of whom accused Ray of sexual harassment between 1998 and 1999. His jaw clenched, Ray watched as the teary-eyed underlings told their stories.

The first incident involved a woman named Jill, who worked with Ray in the marketing department. He and Deanna had just returned from Scotland, and he talked to Jill about the trip.

"He said, 'I wore a kilt in the traditional style. Do you know what that means? Wearing the kilt without underwear.' He asked me, 'How does that make you feel?'

"I got up to leave, but he shut the door, he grabbed me, he pulled me to him and tried to kiss me."

The next day, Jill added in the video deposition, "He told me I was not getting an increase in salary, and that's when I saw an attorney."

She also reported the incident to her superior, but nothing came of it. "I felt like no one had responded to my complaint," she recalled. "It was just so bad. And having to see Deanna — it was just so hard." She didn't file charges.

Then there was Rhonda, the evening receptionist. One of her duties was delivering the mail, which required using the elevator. She got the impression that Ray listened for the lift to move and rushed to meet her.

"The elevator became the worst place to be," she said. "Once those doors were closed, he was right behind me pushing himself against me."

"Did he have an erection?" asked Carmody.

Rhonda's response: "Oh yes, he did."

One night Ray called Rhonda into his office. She was up for a raise. She sat down, and Ray showed her a picture of his race car. Ray loved drag racing, as did Rhonda's husband. She asked about her promotion.

"'That's a big promotion for you,'" Rhonda recalled him saying. "'There are things that come along with a promotion.' He's walking behind me. He does tricky things when he's behind you."

Then, according to Rhonda, he pulled her back in the chair and said, "'Feel this.' He placed a body part on my shoulder. His pants were down to the floor....I moved my shoulder away."

When the phone rang, Rhonda added, Ray walked away to answer it, his pants still wrapped around his ankles.

The next day Ray denied Rhonda the promotion, and she quit.

Another woman, Cheryl, was Ray and Deanna's executive assistant. Choking back tears, Cheryl testified that on at least three occasions Ray unzipped his pants and masturbated in front of her.

"My defense was to open the door, because of course he would stop if I was opening the door," Cheryl said. "I was too scared. I didn't tell anybody." She did, however, finally relate the incident to Deanna, who angrily confronted her husband.

"I felt badly about it," Ray testified, "and we agreed that I'll just stay out of the office."

Ray added that he got help from a professional sexual therapist in 1999.

But that was a long time ago, says Ray Vinson, and he's since cleaned up his act. When asked by Deanna's lawyers about the charges of sexual misconduct, Vinson first claimed that he considered the interactions to be consensual.

But after watching the depositions, he clarified: "It's not anything to be proud of. It was clear to me that it was nonconsensual to them then..... I recognize that, and I am sorry for that, very sad that that ever happened. It makes me sick."

After he was no longer welcome at the office, Ray took refuge at his rented condo in West Palm Beach, spending half his time there from 1999 to 2004, away from Deanna.

An avid golfer, he paid the $100,000 membership fee and joined the Trump International Golf Club, one of many such memberships he collected around the nation. But with freedom came temptation. In 2004 he had an affair, which he acknowledged on the stand, and dabbled with cocaine and Ecstasy. And he continued drinking.


I believe she was a faithful wife," Ray Vinson conceded at one point during the trial.

That was the only nice thing he had to say about Deanna.

Ray's lawyers were dead set on depicting the CEO of American Equity Mortgage as a detached autocrat who parked her $110,000 Mercedes in the prime parking space and entered her offices with armed bodyguards.

They characterized Deanna as a woman who pushed pencils while Ray called the shots. The company's success, they argued, was the result of the husband's million-dollar voice and marketing acumen.

In 1995, with the company solidly in the black, it was Ray who convinced his wife to set up a Kansas City office. "Deanna is more conservative. She's not the risk-taker. She would not have expanded into Kansas City," he testified.

Even after Ray was booted from the Westport Plaza office, he traveled from branch to branch, talking with loan officers, giving speeches and negotiating ad buys.

Meanwhile, Ray argued on the stand, Deanna did little other than alienate her employees. On another video deposition, Deanna's former assistant, Susan Ocello Cossa, said, "Her people skills are horrible. She's very degrading, very demeaning and condescending. She's dismissive and abusive."

At one point after filing for divorce, Deanna handed Cossa a magazine article on sociopaths. "Keep Ray in mind when you're reading that," she allegedly told Cossa. "That's Ray."

After finishing the article, Cossa reached a different conclusion: "I think it leans more toward Deanna than Ray."

Holding back tears, Cossa told the story about the death of a long-time employee. Executives received the news during a company retreat, and everyone was distraught.

"Kim Winslow and me were both crying," remembered Cossa, her voice trembling. Deanna, though, remained composed.

"Everyone reacts differently to death," conceded Cossa, "But I didn't see any emotion. That was bothering me."

During a break in the meetings, Deanna and Cossa talked about their late colleague. "[Deanna] looked at me and said, 'I know I shouldn't say this, but too bad it wasn't Ray.'"

Cossa was taken aback. "You can't say that. You can think it, but you can't say it. I wrote my resignation letter that same day."

Ray testified that the company's reversal of fortune began after he pulled his voice from the ads. In the fall of 2004, American Equity's executive team projected 2005 profits of $38 million, but realized just $7 million.

Since September 2005 the company has weathered monthly losses in the millions, and if the trend continues, according to both Ray and Deanna, American Equity might not survive the summer.

Predictably, the two sides differ on the reasons for the decline.

Increased competition has crowded the playing field. Where American Equity once faced challenges from a handful of companies, now the sub-prime market accounts for 20 percent of the entire mortgage industry.

Stepped-up regulatory scrutiny is another consequence of an expanded market. In January 2006 one of American Equity's chief competitors, Ameriquest, agreed to settle a $325 million case after the Federal Trade Commission accused the company of predatory lending. Another competitor, Household International (now HSBC Finance Corporation), paid a $484 million settlement in 2002.

American Equity has faced its share of complaints as well. In 2003 a St. Louis County couple, Steve and Jennifer Arnold, sued the company for reneging on a loan agreement and overcharging for closing costs. The company settled the suit without acknowledging wrongdoing. American Equity is defending itself against a class-action suit that accuses the company of illegally charging document-preparation fees.

Amid the legal turmoil, many American Equity executives have jumped ship. Since October 2005 the company has lost its president, its marketing director and its vice president of sales.

One former loan officer, Chip Dobson, testified about his reasons for quitting: "The call volume was terrible. Morale was terrible. And quite frankly, I got tired of the drama. I didn't want to leave. But it got embarrassing."

Despite the losses, Deanna gave herself a $450,000 raise at the end of last year and now makes an annual salary of $1.2 million.

To a large extent, Ray Vinson blames the losses on Deanna's poor decisions. "[She is] hiring these thugs to stand around in the lobby with guns armed, guns in front of our customers, and firing people for no reason."


Last Christmas, Deanna Vinson was again invited to the White House to meet with George and Laura Bush. This time her companion was Joe Adams.

It wasn't the first time Adams had dealings with the executive branch.

In 1987 Adams was indicted in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra Affair, which involved selling arms to Iran and diverting the profits to train Contra rebels. Paid by the CIA, Adams, an ex-marine, went into the Honduran jungles to school young Nicaraguan militants on how to kill.

When the scandal broke, Adams was in Burma training militiamen. He returned to the States and pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Neutrality Act. He paid a $50 fine and spent one day in jail.

Adams has chased kidnappers to Costa Rica, accidentally killed a St. Louis man with a stun gun, served as a bodyguard for a Miami drug ring and ferried children from parent to parent in custody battles. (Adams was the subject of a Riverfront Times profile, "We Spy," published June 30, 2004, and available at www.riverfronttimes.com.)

On the advice of an attorney, Deanna retained Joe Adams Investigations to protect her from her husband, who, she testified, never laid a hand on her throughout their engagement and twelve-year marriage.

Adams immediately organized Deanna's security, both at home and at American Equity, and charged her his standard rate: $21,000 per week.

The 56-year-old Adams drives a GTO with a license plate that reads: ATTACK. He's been on both sides of the law. In 1983 he admitted to cocaine trafficking in Miami. Faced with prison time, he turned state's witness and became a Drug Enforcement Administration informant.

Adams says he's only a bodyguard — not a judge. "What my clients do is not my problem. I'm a bodyguard to a pro-choice doctor, and I've never done an abortion. My job is to keep them alive no matter what their occupations are."

In 2000 Adams pleaded guilty of conspiracy to bribe a Maplewood police officer. The private eye paid the officer to pull over a husband involved in a child-custody case. The cop found a gun and white powder that Adams allegedly planted there. The charges against the officer were dismissed.

Deanna's association with Joe Adams, said Ray's attorney Ed Dowd, was proof that she was unfit to run American Equity Mortgage.

"I think that if someone is actually running their company properly, they do not hire people like Joe Adams..... [They] would not hire a drug dealer."

Allan Zerman fired back: "You don't find many clergymen acting as security guards."

In any case, Adams had reason to be concerned about Ray Vinson. When Adams was hired, Ray was still drinking and, in the weeks after the separation, had left a series of threatening messages on Deanna's answering machine.

On one late-night occasion, a member of Adams' team watched from Deanna's driveway as Ray crept into some trees near the house. The guard called the police, who arrested Ray as he was driving away in his yellow Hummer. He was charged with a DUI, his fourth since 1990, according to court records.

Even during their separation, Deanna still harbored hope that Ray would get help. She hired a professional alcohol counselor who arranged a surprise intervention at the home of Ray's son. Ray was on his way there when Adams served the divorce papers.

On November 29, 2004, Ray quit drinking. "I remember it to the second," Ray, nearly breaking down, said on the stand. He said he hasn't had a drink since.

In early December of 2004 he checked into the Renaissance Malibu, a drug- and alcohol-treatment center in Malibu, California, whose monthlong program costs $50,000. While Ray was drying out, Deanna cancelled all of his credit cards and later drained their joint checking accounts, which at times contained as much as $5 million.

Fearing that Ray was headed back to St. Louis, Deanna kept Joe Adams by her side, and gradually they became romantically involved. Ray found out about it, and he was none too happy.

"Deanna and Adams were seen drinking at a night club on Washington Street [sic] in downtown St. Louis recently," said a post on Ray's Web site, www.ray9999.com. "It was very late and very telling if you saw the two of them."

The bodyguard and his client remain intertwined. During a tense exchange, Ray's lawyer, Ed Dowd, asked Adams about the ethics of sleeping with the boss.

"I don't recommend it," replied Adams.

"Shouldn't she have someone giving her advice that she's not having an affair with?"

"She'd have to settle for second-best. So I'd say no."

No one will protect Deanna better, Adams continued.

Dowd responded: "It's okay in this situation because you are doing it?"

"Yes. I love Deanna," Adams calmly replied, adding later, "We love each other."

Around Christmas 2004, Adams and his detail barred Ray from entering the American Equity Mortgage building. Ray was livid, and testified: "They said, 'You don't have a right to be here. You don't own this place.'"

"Our lobby looked like a scene from Men in Black," went another anonymous post on Ray's Web site, "[with] security guards dressed in sunglasses, black trench coats, and earpieces made customers very nervous when [they were] there to close on their home loan."

Seeking revenge, Ray pulled all ads bearing his voice off the radio.

He sought a court order in February 2005, seeking access to the American Equity Mortgage building, which was granted. But the next time Ray attempted to enter — on this occasion, with his own bodyguards — Adams' security detail again tried to stop him. His lawyers filed a contempt motion against Deanna.

At the hearing, recalled Ray, Adams passed him in the hallway. "Joe Adams looked at me and said, 'I'm going to kill you.'"

Vinson was furious that a full team of investigators was not only dredging up his past, but that the company — his company — was paying for it.

Deanna's investigators chased down former employees who alleged sexual harassment. Adams contacted Heidi Fleiss, the infamous "Hollywood Madam," who helped him find one of Ray's ex-girlfriends.

The investigators also flew to Miami to learn details of Ray's affairs and his drug dalliances. As they were on the runway, the plane was approached by U.S. Customs officials and the Miami-Dade County Police. Both agencies were looking for weapons and cash after receiving a tip. A similar incident occurred after Ray landed in St. Louis after a flight from the Dominican Republic. Ray suspects Adams provided the tip.

A mysterious white van began appearing in American Equity's parking lot, and employees were convinced that it was eavesdropping on office conversations.

The whole atmosphere at the headquarters changed, recalled former vice president of sales Kim Winslow. "There were security guards at the office," she testified. "They arrived with Deanna, and left with Deanna..... They had weapons."

In February 2005 a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge ordered Deanna to return Bogey to Ray. When she refused, she was found in contempt and an arrest warrant was issued. Deanna left town and holed up for seventeen days at Joe Adams' rural southern Missouri retreat, which he calls Ruby Ridge. Deanna finally turned herself in and returned the dog to Ray. Ray and Bogey spend most of their time now at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas.

To get the dirt on Adams and his wife, Ray hired his own intelligence unit. He also reassured his employees that he was fighting for his company. In the summer of 2005, he faxed a letter to branch offices that read, in part, "I am not going to simply roll over and give Deanna my company."

In another letter to company employees, he wrote, "Deanna made a trip to the governors [sic] office in the state of Missouri and told the governor I was involved in a prostitution ring, in an effort to discredit me to anyone I know."

Ray's lead investigator, Tim Flora, was instructed to go to Deanna's hometown of Chrisman, Illinois, and "get the word out that she was gay." On another occasion, Ray and his spies discussed painting Deanna's home purple and writing in big letters on the side of American Equity's building: "Lesbian CEO." That plan was abandoned.

Adams, meanwhile, said too much is being made of the price he's charging Deanna.

"I think the money is ridiculous," he said on the stand. "It should be twice that. What's your life worth? I think her life is worth that..... I'd do it for free, but I think her life is worth twice that."

Judge Michael Burton is reviewing the mountains of evidence and is expected to issue a ruling as early as next week. Among the many Herculean tasks before him will be to determine whether the company should even be considered a marital asset, and if so, how it should be divided — if at all.

Deanna's lawyers submit that since she started the company before the couple were married, it is her sole property and that Ray was simply its spokesman — and a well-paid one at that. Ray said it is clear as day that the baby, American Equity, was born to both of them.

Throughout the trial, both sides called experts to place a dollar amount on the company's worth, and the estimates were all over the board — with Deanna's consultants saying the company is worth only $18 million, compared to the $49 million price tag that Ray's analysts presented.

Whoever loses is almost certain to appeal, setting up a sequel to the sordid soap opera. There'll be more lawyers, more wild stories, more bodyguards — and more money.

Joe Adams is committed to watching Deanna's back. And, as he testified, he's recently started giving his client a price break.

"I cut the night detail, take care of it myself. That way it saves her money."

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