A chronology of events accompanying an article in Sunday's Sun incorrectly stated that former Vice President Spiro Agnew pleaded guilty on Oct. 10, 1973, to one count of federal income tax evasion. It should have stated that his plea was no contest.
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- In hindsight, the deal seemworthy of the scoundrel's hall of fame, so rich in infamy was its cast of characters. But at the time it must have seemed like business as usual for Spiro T. Agnew, international middleman and ex-vice president.
The year was 1984, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was shopping for new uniforms for his floundering army, which was bloodying its old ones by the thousands in its war with Iran. Mr. Hussein got all he needed for $181 million, although not before former President Richard M. Nixon and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu helped smooth the way.
But the man who set the deal in motion was Mr. Agnew, the former vice president, the former governor of Maryland, the former Baltimore County executive -- the guy who in six dizzying years in the 1960s vaulted from the Loch Raven Kiwanis to the threshold of the White House.
If Mr. Agnew still talked to reporters, he might say that once again the world made him look bad by changing the rules. Mr. Hussein and Mr. Ceausescu were just plain old dictators then, not international pariahs. There was a switch in attitude just like the revisionism of 1973, he'd argue, when his past role in Maryland's cash-and-carry politics was unearthed, and he resigned the vice presidency.
But Mr. Agnew doesn't talk to reporters anymore. At age 74 he still travels the globe, arranging business deals as opportunities arise. But more often in these winter months he is here with his wife, Judy, in Rancho Mirage, taking it slow, a Maryland suburbanite reborn in the 70-degree sun of the Southern California desert.
A recent afternoon found him in a pose of leisure, stepping off a golf cart at his garage door, deeply tanned and still remarkably trim in a white sport shirt and blue golf slacks, his silver hair gleaming. He had just sunk the final putt of the day on the 18th green, which, conveniently, is right behind his condominium.
Tennis courts are across the street. The country club is just around the corner. And everywhere there are palms, orange trees, flowers, manicured lawns and golf carts with Rolls Royce fronts, purring along neat pathways. All is enclosed by walls and security gates, with snow-capped Mount San Jacinto rising in the distance. There is nary a cloud or weed or ne'er-do-well in sight.
Mr. Agnew blends into this setting as just another quiet neighbor paying club dues and condo fees, a nice old man who'd rather talk about grandchildren and golf than the past. The same is true when he is living at his summer home, an 11th-floor condominium at Ocean City.
And that is the way he likes it.
Because even as his old boss, Mr. Nixon, has crept back into the public arena as an elder sage of foreign policy, Mr. Agnew has spent the past two decades diligently pursuing obscurity. When asked a few weeks ago for an interview, he politely demurred. "I haven't given an interview in 19 years," he said, "and I don't see any reason to start now."
Yet, as the Iraq transaction and other business deals illustrate, Mr. Agnew's yearning for anonymity hasn't kept him from building wealth on the basis of his one fling with fame. He continues to trade on vice-presidential contacts, and that makes for some notable alliances.
Besides Mr. Hussein and Mr. Ceausescu, people associated with him since he left office include members of an Argentine junta who led a bloody campaign of repression, singer and longtime friend Frank Sinatra, a Swiss entrepreneur with roles in government scandals on two continents, and a man said to be the world's most powerful figure in professional sports.
The price of such company is that Mr. Agnew's doings have occasionally spilled into the public record, and the result has been a slow, tiny leak of information from his carefully built bubble of privacy.
By gathering such information from court files and other documents, and by interviewing more than 60 friends and associates, it is possible to steal a look into Mr. Agnew's life after politics. In doing so, one also discovers fresh insights on his whirlwind in public life, when three twists of political fortune almost turned a middling lawyer into the 38th president of the United States.
The thunderbolt strikes
It has been a long, strange, uniquely American journey for Spiro T. Agnew. As Mr. Sinatra might put it, Mr. Agnew has done it his way.
For starters, there is the way he earned his place in history: He is the only vice president who was forced to resign from office. Although Mr. Agnew loathes the distinction, he must soon face some reminders. Not only will Oct. 10 mark the 20th anniversary, but a sculptor has at last been commissioned to carve a marble bust of Mr. Agnew for the U.S. Capitol, after two decades of neglect. And tomorrow, the University of Maryland opens the first batch of Mr. Agnew's archival papers to researchers and reporters after a 19-year wait.
All three events seem certain to stir recollections of the summer of 1973, when the nation was watching the clouds of the Watergate scandal build over the White House.
Then a thunderbolt came suddenly out of Baltimore County to strike Mr. Agnew. In an investigation of county government corruption not related to Watergate, U.S. Attorney George Beall and three hungry young assistants came across evidence of past payoffs to Mr. Agnew by highway engineers in exchange for government road contracts.
Several of Mr. Agnew's old chums began to testify to the grand jury, and they linked Mr. Agnew to bribes and kickbacks totaling $147,500. But the biggest shocker from the witnesses may have been that the payments continued after Mr. Agnew became vice president, spanning all but one of his 11 years in elected office.
In late September, with the evidence piling higher, Mr. Agnew sought solace at the Rancho Mirage compound of one of his newest friends, Mr. Sinatra. He sipped scotch, listened to legal advice from Mr. Sinatra's attorney, Mickey Rudin, and worked on a speech he was due to deliver in Los Angeles to the National Federation of Republican Women.
The pep talks and advice continued as he and Mr. Sinatra boarded Air Force Two for Los Angeles, and by the time Mr. Agnew arrived for the speech he was in a fighting mood. "I am innocent of the charges against me!" he thundered. I will not resign if indicted!"
His mood soon changed.
Although Mr. Agnew and many friends still maintain he was wronged, none denies there was enough evidence to send him to jail. So he made a deal, resigning Oct. 10 and pleading "no contest" to a single charge of tax evasion in exchange for back taxes, a $10,000 fine, three years of probation and no jail time.
Disappearing with his high office was his salary and his pension -- he was a few months short of qualifying -- and not long afterward the Maryland Bar Association drummed him from the ranks. Facing fines, legal bills and a big mortgage, he seemed on the verge of financial disaster.
But he still had Mr. Sinatra.
Mr. Sinatra immediately lent Mr. Agnew $200,000. The singer also urged him to write a novel and then pushed the idea with publishing friends. A few months later, Mr. Agnew signed a $100,000 contract for magazine serialization rights and a hardback publication deal with Playboy Press.
Within months, talk was swirling of an Agnew-Sinatra partnership seeking to buy a National Football League franchise, perhaps even the Baltimore Colts. It never happened, but Mr. Sinatra did come up with a new job, through a businessman friend and neighbor, Frank Jameson, the husband of Eva Gabor. Mr. Jameson hired Mr. Agnew as a international business consultant at a salary of $100,000 a year, a 60 percent raise from his vice-presidential salary of $62,500.
He was hired for his connections, and thanks to President Nixon he had plenty. By shoving Mr. Agnew out of the country on several world tours, the president had helped him accumulate a Rolodex full of important contacts.
Mr. Agnew set about to shore up those connections with a cocktail party at his home less than four months after he resigned. The ambassadors of Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Indonesia and Singapore attended. Actor Danny Thomas made the Mideast guests comfortable by speaking fluent Arabic, and everyone was invited to fly out to Las Vegas two days later on Mr. Jameson's corporate jet to attend Mr. Sinatra's "comeback" concert at Caesar's Palace.
The Jameson job soon fell through when business partners got queasy about Mr. Agnew's reputation. But Mr. Agnew recovered quickly. While attending Jack Benny's 80th birthday party in California, he met Walter Dilbeck, an Indiana wheeler-dealer who offered another $100,000-a-year salary plus hefty profit-sharing. The party's host? Mr. Sinatra.
So in April of that year, only 6 1/2 months after he'd resigned, word went out from Mr. Nixon's State Department that a new U.S. businessman was debarking on his first big trip. Cables went to U.S. embassies in Greece, Portugal, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and the Philippines, announcing that Mr. Agnew was headed their way and should receive the assistance owed to any U.S. businessman.
The new life of Spiro Agnew had begun in earnest.
Nights with Sinatra
The coterie of the rich and famous that launched Spiro Agnew's business career had once had far bigger plans. Mr. Sinatra had vowed to make him president, and that was assumed to be the Agnew plan, especially after a Gallup Poll late in his first term rated him the third-most-admired man in the United States, behind only President Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham.
The only trouble with the plan was Mr. Nixon.
He and Mr. Agnew had met in March 1968, when Mr. Agnew was a governor who'd earned a reputation as a progressive by promoting revenue sharing, a fairer income tax and a fair housing act. But he caught Mr. Nixon's attention with sterner stuff. After race riots erupted in Baltimore, he called the city's most prominent black leaders together, presumably to seek their counsel. Instead, he publicly scolded them, prompting many to walk out.
So when Mr. Nixon winnowed from political and geographic extremes to choose a running mate in the summer of 1968, the last man standing was the mid-Atlantic moderate, Governor Agnew.
"Then relations soured and never went anywhere," said John Damgard, former appointments secretary for Mr. Agnew. "Agnew never quite fit the image Nixon had established of him. Also, he [Mr. Agnew] had charm, an easy laugh . . . and I think Nixon resented that."
Although Vice President Agnew soon made a name for himself with sharp-tongued, conservative speeches, behind the scenes he was quickly shoved aside by Mr. Nixon and presidential aide H. R. Haldeman. But Mr. Sinatra helped make it all bearable.
He and Mr. Agnew had met on the golf course in California in November 1970, introduced by Agnew aide Peter Malatesta, a nephew of Bob Hope. Mr. Agnew had just returned from a noisy triumphant tour of campaigning for congressional Republicans. Mr. Sinatra, meanwhile, was seeking new political friends.
"[Mr. Sinatra] is a political groupie," said Gen. John "Mike" Dunn, Mr. Agnew's military assistant at the time. "In his compound he's got these little brass plates on the doors -- 'Hubert Humphrey slept here,' 'John Kennedy slept here.' "
It also didn't hurt that both were sons of Mediterranean immigrants from humble beginnings, and both loathed the news media.
The Sinatra compound in Rancho Mirage became Mr. Agnew's version of Mr. Nixon's retreat at San Clemente, Calif. It had tight security, a helicopter pad, a swimming pool, a health club, tennis courts and private bungalows. Mr. Sinatra would later rename one "Agnew House."
Sometimes after dinner the new pals gathered by the piano. The vice president picked out tunes, and Mr. Sinatra crooned along. Or, in those days before the videocassette recorder, Mr. Sinatra ordered reels of the latest movies flown in from Hollywood. And there always seemed to be plenty of Hollywood celebrities around.
"This was the kind of stuff [Mr. Agnew] used to read about in magazines," said Peter Malatesta's brother, Thomas, who did advance work for Agnew trips. "And it doesn't take a genius to realize, 'Hey, I could use all these people if I ever run for president someday.' "
It turned out he needed their help even sooner. When Mr. Nixon mulled dumping Mr. Agnew from the ticket in 1972, Mr. Sinatra rushed to the rescue with a letter-writing campaign that climaxed with a fund-raiser at Baltimore's Lyric Theatre. Bob Hope was master of ceremonies, and Mr. Sinatra strode out of retirement to sing "The Gentleman is a Champ" to the tune of "The Lady is a Tramp."
On the road to wealth
Two years later, Frank Sinatra was still boosting Spiro Agnew, although by then he was an ex-vice president headed for the Middle East on his first business trip in April 1974.
His timing couldn't have been better. In the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that had begun the week of Mr. Agnew's resignation, the oil boom was on.
"Everybody was there trying to make a buck," said Duane Butcher, then an economic officer for the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia. "All the hotels were full. People were sleeping on pool tables and sometimes paying $100 to do it. . . . I remember finding the former governor of Oklahoma in the lobby of the embassy one day, and he was under indictment at the time."
Such blots on one's record didn't seem to bother foreign governments, as long as one had a big name. "In a lot of those countries, they couldn't even figure out what Nixon had done wrong, let alone Agnew," said David A. Keene, Mr. Agnew's principal political assistant.
Agnew sightings abroad soon became common among diplomats and journalists, especially in Greece, the Mideast and the Far East.
"I ran into him at the airport in Riyadh in about '78, and I asked
him what he was doing," said James Akins, who in 1976 had retired as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "He said he was selling uniforms to the Saudi Arabian army. I found it very sad that the ex-vice president of the United States, even Spiro Agnew, should be reduced to selling uniforms. Then when I mentioned this to several people, they said, 'Oh, yes, he's out here all the time.' "
By this time Mr. Agnew had incorporated his own company, Pathlite Inc., which operated from a small office in a two-story town house in Arnold, just outside Annapolis. His only employees were his longtime secretary, Mary Ellen Warner, and her father, Walter Warner, the company's secretary-treasurer. The office was in Mr. Warner's home.
The company's mission was simple, Mr. Agnew would later say in 1987, while giving a deposition in a civil lawsuit. "I have one utility," he said, "and that's the ability to penetrate to the top people."
Even such a limited task can be difficult, however.
One financier who saw Mr. Agnew in action in Kuwait recalled him "shaking like a leaf" as he handled papers at a meeting. Mr. Agnew also had trouble connecting with Arab officials one Saturday afternoon in Washington. He knocked at the door of a private residence to ask, "Is this the Saudi Arabian Embassy? I'm invited to lunch."
Mr. Dilbeck soon began gushing in the press about deals to sell the Kuwaitis 16 coal mines and lakefront property in Kentucky. But the Kuwaitis backed off after getting a look at Mr. Dilbeck's banking references, and neither they nor Mr. Agnew liked the publicity. So in early 1975 Mr. Agnew quit, writing to Mr. Dilbeck, "Your desire for publicity has violated the confidentiality of many negotiations in progress, and shocked our clients."
But there were other people besides Mr. Sinatra ready to help Mr. Agnew on his road to wealth after Washington, including perhaps his most loyal friend of all, J. Walter Jones -- Maryland banker, investor and all-around political fixer.
Luck and J. Walter Jones
J. Walter Jones entered the life of Spiro Agnew at a meeting of the Loch Raven Kiwanis in the mid-1950s, back when Mr. Agnew was going nowhere fast. At age 36, he was a small-time Democratic lawyer sharing an office in downtown Baltimore. He was supporting a wife, a mortgage and three young children, and he seemed destined to struggle through life like his father, a Greek immigrant who'd worked himself weary running restaurants and selling vegetables.
Two changes broke the cycle. Mr. Agnew became a Republican, and in 1957 he moved his law office to Towson. On the smaller playing field of suburban Republican politics he was suddenly a name, and he wrangled an appointment to the county's first board of zoning appeals.
Two years later he cast a tie-breaking vote that helped Mr. Jones make his fortune. The disputed decision rezoned a tract for industrial use, and before long Mr. Jones' $12,500 investment was worth more than $3 million.
There were still setbacks. In 1960, Mr. Agnew ran for a Circuit Court judgeship and finished last in a field of five, and a year later the Democrats bumped him off the zoning board. But in 1962, at age 44, Mr. Agnew gambled on a run for Baltimore County executive, setting him off on an incredible six-year run of luck. County Democrats split in a bitter primary, and defectors carried Mr. Agnew to victory.
Four years later, knowing he couldn't win re-election, Mr. Agnew ran for governor. Again a spoiler divided the Democrats, this time a segregationist named George Mahoney. Mr. Mahoney's campaign slogan was, "Your Home is Your Castle -- Protect it," and he made Mr. Agnew seem liberal by comparison. Defecting Democrats again carried Mr. Agnew to victory.
Two years after that, Mr. Nixon plucked Mr. Agnew from the State House. To put this rapid rise in perspective, consider that current Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden would have to win the vice presidency in 1996 to match the Agnew pace.
But Mr. Hayden doesn't have a J. Walter Jones. All along the way up, friends say, Mr. Jones raised money and support for Mr. Agnew, while schooling him in political refinement: Be a snappy dresser. Develop a taste for fine wines. Learn to play golf -- it's a good way to schmooze with bankers and developers.
So it was that when Maryland National Bank President Tilton Dobbin came calling on Mr. Agnew after his first month as county executive, Mr. Agnew was ready when Mr. Dobbin asked if he needed anything. Mr. Agnew answered, "Well, the one thing like to do is get out of this office and onto the golf course," Mr. Dobbin recalled. Mr. Dobbin took Mr. Agnew for a round or two. Later he became treasurer of Mr. Agnew's gubernatorial campaign. Lesson one in the world according to Jones.
Mr. Jones, meanwhile, used his new fortune to start a bank, Chesapeake National. He put County Executive Agnew on the board of directors. Mr. Agnew put the county's deposits in the bank.
From then on, the two friends never seemed to stop swapping favors until Mr. Jones died in 1985. When Mr. Agnew needed a new business partner after his breakup with Mr. Dilbeck in 1975, Mr. Jones was ready and willing. He, too, wanted to cash in on Arab petrodollars. By the end of 1976, their joint efforts had landed three construction contracts in Saudi Arabia and Iran for a Jones company. During the company's bankruptcy proceedings a few years later, word emerged that Mr. Agnew made an $80,000 commission on one of the deals.
Hussein and the jackpot
There were some kinds of help that even Frank Sinatra and J. Walter Jones couldn't supply, and Spiro Agnew's early business career got one of its biggest boosts from the institution he despises most -- the news media. As much as he hated publicity, it became his best advertisement.
The Tennessee Apparel Corp., a uniform maker in Tennessee, hired Mr. Agnew in 1976 to represent its foreign trading company, Pan-East Inc., after the company lawyer read an article about his Middle East connections, according to the company president, John Nicholson.
"He just opened doors for us, made calls," Mr. Nicholson explained. "We gained a contract, but then, as so often happens with the Saudi government, one of the princes wanted a piece of the action. [The prince] wanted to buy an interest in the company, and I said, 'Well, it's not for sale.' And that was the end of the deal."
About a year later, Mr. Nicholson said, Pan-East was sold to a Lebanese businessman, Ahmed Habbous, who now lives in Libya. Mr. Agnew continued representing the company, and in 1984 he hit the jackpot. That's when Mr. Hussein bought $181 million in new uniforms for his armies.
According to papers in the files of a 1990 lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington and other accounts of the transaction, Mr. Agnew initiated the deal with a telephone call to Col. Jack Brennan, a former Nixon military aide, who, like Mr. Agnew, had gone into the international consulting business.
Mr. Agnew asked for help in getting the Iraqi contract for Pan-East. Eventually, Mr. Brennan decided that cheap labor costs made Romania the ideal place to manufacture the uniforms, and so he asked Mr. Nixon to write a letter of introduction to President Ceausescu. Mr. Nixon apparently was not aware of Mr. Agnew's role in the deal; the two have not spoken with each other since Mr. Agnew resigned. But the former president remained on the best of terms with Mr. Brennan, and he agreed to write Mr. Ceausescu.
When the deal went through, Mr. Agnew got a commission of $797,000 for his efforts.
He picked up other well-playing clients along the way, including MBB (Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm), the German armaments firm that helped supply the technology for a long-range missile program developed by Iraq, Egypt and Argentina (though no one has linked Mr. Agnew to the program); and Kukje Corp., once South Korea's seventh-largest conglomerate.
International Agnew sightings continued. He was spotted toasting in a Bangkok bar with Chatichai Choonhavan, former foreign minister of Thailand. A few years later, Mr. Choonhavan became prime minister.
Swiss businessman Bruce Rappaport was Mr. Agnew's host on another visit to the Far East. At the time Mr. Rappaport was
embroiled in a dispute with Indonesian officials over allegations that he'd landed a lucrative oil-shipping contract by giving a $2.5 million personal loan to the president of the state-owned oil company. His name also came up in an investigation of U.S. Attorney General Edwin W. Meese III, when it was learned that he and Mr. Meese had roles in planning construction of an oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan.
An unfocused salesman
Only a few friends have gotten a firsthand look at Mr. Agnew's ways of doing business. As one explained, "Ted never talks much about work, and we don't ask him." But in 1986, Mr. Agnew inadvertently provided a glimpse when he filed a lawsuit against two former clients -- Aydin Corp., a Pennsylvania defense contractor, and Alicanto S. A., Aydin's representative in Argentina. He alleged that the companies cheated him out of a $2 million commission when they landed a contract with the Argentine military.
Mr. Agnew got involved with the companies through Horst Schober, a vice president of the Hoppmann Corp., a Northern Virginia communications company. Once again, he benefited from free publicity. Mr. Schober said he saw Mr. Agnew on television promoting his 1976 novel, "The Canfield Decision," a pulp-style tale of intrigue about a fictional vice president.
Mr. Schober was a bit skeptical when he saw Mr. Agnew's piddling office but hired him anyway, and Hoppmann eventually joined Aydin in an effort to sell communications systems to the Argentine military. That's when Mr. Agnew hooked up with Aydin and Alicanto, although at the time there was a U.S. ban on selling military equipment to Argentina.
In lawsuit filings, Mr. Agnew presents himself as an efficient, knowledgeable, hard-working consultant. But his adversaries portray a man who, while affable enough, is unfocused in his salesmanship, preoccupied more with whether he'll qualify for a commission.
William Shaw, who worked in Argentina for Alicanto, said in an affidavit that he was told that Mr. Agnew "was traveling to Brazil with Frank Sinatra, a personal friend. . . . Agnew was interested in visiting Argentina, where he had never before traveled."
Mr. Shaw met Mr. Agnew and his wife when they arrived in Argentina in January 1980, and "[Mr. Agnew] advised me that he wished to meet the president and other members of the junta. I was somewhat taken aback by this, inasmuch as I was under the impression that Agnew's visit was primarily a social one."
Mr. Shaw said he nevertheless set up meetings with junta members, which "involved mostly social pleasantries and discussions of American politics. Agnew did mention to each person he met that he was a representative of the Hoppmann Corporation and also a representative of MBB. . . . I also shared some meals with him, all of which I paid for."
Mr. Shaw said he only learned later that Hoppmann was interested in joining Aydin on a project, and by then Mr. Agnew was back in Washington.
In mid-October Mr. Agnew returned to Argentina and again met Mr. Shaw. "To my surprise Mr. Agnew raised the question of commissions payable in the event Aydin got all or part of the army project," Mr. Shaw said. "There was also discussion at this time concerning new lines of business which Agnew hoped to bring to Argentina, including a United States manufacturer of a radio which was worn on the body and a Taiwanese manufacturer of military uniforms. . . . Agnew also brought up with me the subject of Frank Sinatra and suggested that Alicanto might wish to promote a Sinatra concert in Argentina. I declined."
Mr. Shaw arranged more meetings for Mr. Agnew with the nation's leaders, and when Mr. Agnew got home he wrote thank-you notes. The notes, although marred by typographical errors, handwritten corrections and misspellings of his client's name, praised the junta members.
In one note, Mr. Agnew told Gen. Norberto Iglesias, "One can only hope that the misguided critics in the western liberal establishments will take a more objective view and cease their unjustified attacks on your country. I had an opportunity to visit president designate [Roberto] Viola, and I was reassured by what he had to say on this subject."
Mr. Viola was one of several members of the junta later convicted of human rights violations for roles in illegal detention, torture and mass murder during Argentina's so-called "dirty war" against suspected left-wing subversives.
Mr. Agnew didn't return to Argentina, but when he heard later that Aydin had reached an agreement on a $57 million contract in 1982, he filed suit to collect a commission. After two years of legal wrangling he agreed to drop the suit in exchange for $100,000, which an opposing attorney sneered at as a "nuisance-value settlement."
Mr. Agnew hasn't fared particularly well in any of his brushes with the legal system since his resignation. When his ex-lawyer, George W. White Jr., sued him for defamation in 1980, Mr. Agnew settled the case by admitting that his recollections were faulty in his book about the events leading to his resignation. A lawsuit against him by Maryland taxpayers seeking to recover the past kickbacks and bribes resulted in a judge's order that he pay the state $248,735. And when he attempted to claim that payment as a business expense on his California state tax
return, the state challenged his claim, and he lost.
Redemption, of sorts
Generally, Spiro Agnew appears to have done well for himself financially. His 1982 tax return, which emerged during his tax claim battle, reported an income that year of more than $600,000, and that was two years before he made the big commission on the Iraqi uniform deal. His home in Rancho Mirage, which he bought for $146,000 in 1977, is now valued at about $400,000.
In recent years, friends say, Mr. Agnew has worked primarily for Mark McCormack, founder and chief executive of International Management Group, a professional sports marketing corporation. Mr. McCormack, rated by Sports Illustrated as the sports world's most powerful figure, also has won coveted business in other realms. One example: His firm did public relations for a tour by the pope.
Mr. McCormack got his start in business as the agent for a young golfer named Arnold Palmer. Friends say Mr. Agnew met Mr. McCormack while vice president, during one of those pro-am golf tournaments when Mr. Agnew bounced tee-shots off spectators.
Mr. McCormack wouldn't consent to an interview for this story, but spokesman Andy Pierce said, "Spiro essentially is a corporate adviser to Mark McCormack, which evolved from their friendship."
Friends say Mr. Agnew is involved mostly in helping smooth the way for the marketing of custom golf courses and international tournaments in such places as Indonesia and Singapore.
There are signs Mr. Agnew's business career is slowing down. He apparently works out of his home now. Pathlite's most recent filing with the Maryland tax assessor's office noted, "Business terminated as of 12/31/90," although assessment officials say they're still waiting for an overdue tax filing.
With more leisure time, he lies low, both in Rancho Mirage and in Ocean City. But he still looks much as he did back in 1973, and he bounced back quickly after breaking his hip four years ago in a bicycle accident.
Mr. Agnew isn't accurate when he claims to have avoided all interviews since his resignation. He made several notable exceptions when he appeared on TV talk shows to promote his two books -- first his 1976 novel and then "Go Quietly . . . Or Else," his 1980 account of the events leading to his resignation. He dedicated the book to Mr. Sinatra.
Only once since then has he willingly poked his toe into the waters of publicity, when he wrote a 1989 opinion column in the Wall Street Journal arguing that acts of civil disobedience are unnecessary in a democracy. Public reaction was snide and biting ("How delightful to be lectured by Mr. Agnew on obeying the law," one respondent wrote. "That's like a lecture from John Dillinger on the advantages of a bank savings account.") Friends say he vowed never to write again.
Rancho Mirage provides an ideal defense against these periodic upheavals. Where celebrities are commonplace, a former vice president can easily fade into the background.
Mr. Agnew is also barely visible during his annual four-month stint in Ocean City, where he and his wife live at English Towers. The best symbol of his Maryland presence may be his gubernatorial portrait, which for 13 years has been stored in a wooden crate, locked in a basement room of the state archives building.
Bob Layton, host to a ritual Sunday morning tennis game in Ocean City, in which Mr. Agnew has long been a regular, says nobody ever prys into Mr. Agnew's life.
"We just play tennis and have a good time," he said.
But Mr. Agnew will still venture near the spotlight for special friends. Two months ago he journeyed to Las Vegas to celebrate the 77th birthday of Mr. Sinatra. On stage of the Desert Inn Hotel was "Ol' Blue Eyes" himself, cocktail in hand. Out in the audience, clapping and smiling next to Mr. Sinatra's wife, was Mr. Agnew, just another dim face in a smoky sea.
Although friends say he dreads the memories likely to be stirred this October by the 20th anniversary of his resignation, he views the sculpting of his bust for the U.S. Capitol as a redemption of sorts. Friends say he was so appreciative of one young man's efforts to get the sculpture authorized that he and his wife invited the man to their Ocean City condo for a weekend last summer.
Besides, as each year passes Mr. Agnew's effort to keep himself a secret gradually becomes moot. Perhaps he would take comfort from a recent conversation between a reporter and a receptionist at Hoppmann in Virginia. When the reporter said he wanted to ask someone about Spiro Agnew, the receptionist answered:
"Spiro? Could you spell that?"
"S-P-I-R-O, as in the former vice president."
"Oh. Well I've only been with the company a few months."
"Former vice president of the United States."
Nov. 9, 1918: Born in Baltimore.
May 1942: Marries Elinor "Judy" Judefind.
August 1943: Daughter Pam born.
September 1946: Son Randy born.
October 1947: Daughter Susan born.
1957: Moves law office from downtown to Towson.
1960: Runs for county circuit court judge, finishes last in field of five.
1961: Ousted from board of zoning appeals by democrats.
1962: Elected Baltimore County executive.
1966: Elected governor of Maryland.
1968: Chosen as running mate by Richard Nixon, elected vice president.
November 1970: Meets Frank Sinatra, who becomes one of his best friends.
November 1972: Re-elected vice president.
August 1, 1973: Notified by U.S. Attorney in Baltimore that he is officially under investigation, verifying months of rumors.
October 10, 1973: Resigns the vice presidency, pleading guilty to one count of federal dincome tax evasion, paying $10,000 fine and getting 3-years probation.
April 27, 1974: Begins first foreign business trip, to Mideast and Far East.
1976: His first and only novel, "The Canfield Decision," is published to bad reviews.
1977: He and wife move to Rancho Mirage, Calif.
1980: Publication of book of his account of events leading to his resignation, "Go Quietly...Or Else."
1981: Lawsuit against him by three Maryland taxpayers, seeking repayment of the bribes and kickbacks he'd allegedly received, goes to trial. His former attorney testifies that Mr. Agnew admitted to taking the payments. Agnew ordered to pay judgement of fines and interest totaling to $248,735.
December 1992: Congress commissions marble bust of Mr. Agnew for U.S. Capitol.