So who's John Doe?

In Los Angeles financial circles, that was a parlor game played last week, much as Washington insiders have long ruminated about the true identity of "Deep Throat," the man who leaked details about a troubled Nixon White House to reporters Woodward and Bernstein.

In this case, John Doe is an individual who on Aug. 7 filed a lawsuit against Gary Winnick, the Beverly Hills-based financier and founder of the telecommunications giant Global Crossing Ltd.

In the suit, Doe claims that in 1993 he and Winnick were partners, and that Winnick verbally promised him a 15 percent stake in telecommunications enterprises that were then fledgling operations run under Winnick's umbrella company, Pacific Capital Partners.

The suit alleges that the 15 percent stake has been wrongfully denied to Doe.

Winnick had started Pacific Capital in 1985, after splitting off from Drexel Burnham Lambert, the now-defunct securities brokerage, where he was a right-hand man for junk bond king Michael Milken.

Early investors in Pacific Capital were Milken, other Drexel entities, and the Bass family of Texas. Pacific Capital in the 1980s bought junk bonds, and took positions in takeover situations involving public companies.

After Milken went to prison on insider trading charges in 1990, Pacific Capital invested more widely, at one point owning RB Furniture, the old furnishings chain that has since closed. In the mid-1990s, Winnick told reporters that Milken was no longer involved with Pacific Capital and hadn't been for a while.

In 1993, Winnick's purported promise to John Doe, described in court papers as a handshake agreement, might have been no big deal. But today, Winnick's Global Crossing is worth $24 billion on Wall Street, and is a rapidly growing, publicly traded company with undersea cable and land-based networks girdling the globe. As a result, Winnick is now one of the wealthiest people in Los Angeles.

The suit describes Global Crossing as a successor entity to the Telecommunications Development Corp., in which Doe had the alleged stake.

Winnick's lawyers and public relations spokesmen expressed indignation last week that such a suit was even filed. Marshall Grossman, the high-profile lawyer retained by Winnick to fight the allegations, was reached by telephone in a New York City hotel room and reiterated that he is "outraged" by the suit and confident it would be dismissed by whatever judge handles it in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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