May 312010
 

Who You Gonna Call – When things go wrong, stars rely on private security services for help?

Heath Ledger’s body being removed from his New York apartment By Matthew Philips | Newsweek Web Exclusive Jan 25, 2008 | Updated: 8:46 p.m. ET Jan 25, 2008

In all the chaos surrounding the death of Heath Ledger last week in his lower Manhattan apartment, one reported detail stood out: that when his masseuse found him face down and unconscious on his bed, and then frantically called Ledger’s fellow actor Mary-Kate Olsen, the 21-year-old star’s immediate response was, “I’m sending my private security.” Most people, upon hearing that a friend was unresponsive, with pill bottles nearby, would rush to dial 911. But the masseuse called Olsen two more times before finally calling 911 about 20 minutes later, the second time to tell Olsen that Ledger was cold to the touch and that she feared he was dead. Olsen’s response? “I already have people coming over.”

Her “people” arrived at the same time as the paramedics, nearly a half hour after Ledger’s body was first discovered. So who are these “private security” providers? And why are they–and not public emergency services–the first call a celebrity would make?

To get a peek behind the curtain of celebrity security services, NEWSWEEK’s Matthew Philips spoke with Joseph A. LaSorsa, a security expert, who spent 20 years as a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service. His company, J.A. LaSorsa and Associates, in south Florida has been in business since 1998 and provides a range of high-end expert security and executive protection services to the rich and sometimes famous. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What kind of protection do your personal-security agents provide?
Joe LaSorsa: Personal security can range from estate or residential security to travel security. We’ll stand guard at a residence or travel with clients aboard boats, wherever.

What sorts of people do you have as clients?
My clients tend mostly to be high-end athletes, VIPS and corporate executives and CEOs. I don’t take on a lot of celebrities for the simple reason that they tend to be more problematic. They expect to be pampered and can usually create more problems with themselves than anyone else.

Where do you draw the line between protecting a client from others and protecting them from their own behavior?
I make the point with my staff that when problems start to arise to diplomatically persuade the client to cease and desist from an activity. Part of our job is to pick up on signs that indicate a bad situation. So usually if we’re out at a club and we feel a disruption is about to occur, we’ll quietly whisper to them that we should leave. We’re there not to deal with problems but to avoid them.

Do you typically sign nondisclosure agreements?
Yes, we require it. Part of the contract is to do everything we can to maintain the client’s confidentiality.

What’s the background of the agents who work for you?
Mostly former federal agents and Secret Service agents, whom I consider to be the best long-term private-sector agents because they understand the mentality of the job.

In what way?
In their trained ability to spot situations before they become problems, and to use discretion and diplomacy rather than force to diffuse a situation. If you ask me, too many Special Forces guys are getting involved in the industry, people who aren’t trained in de-escalation but only in escalation. And the problem with celebrities is they’re drawn to these types. Celebrities typically hire people who are big in stature because they think they’ll prevent a problem through intimidation, when in fact those people are more prone to use their size and often end up accentuating problems.

How personal do the relationships get between agents and clients?
We expressly avoid any personal relationship. We assign them in 8- or 10- or 12-hour shifts. There’s no sleeping over at a client’s home. It creates too much of a familiarity, and, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.

But it happens?
Of course it happens, clients will develop relationships with protective agents, especially when it’s a male and female, that leads to sexual relationships.

I guess you’re not a fan of the movie “The Bodyguard”?
No, I actually like it because it’s a realistic depiction of how easily that can happen.

What about being bystanders to illegal activity, like drug use?
We don’t tolerate illegal drug use. We will walk away and terminate the contract. Remember, the majority of our staff are former Secret Service. We’ll turn our heads to most issues, but not when it crosses the line of legality. Of course, again, it happens, I guarantee, and the majority of security agents out there wouldn’t feel the way I feel.

How do you handle behavior that’s not necessarily illegal but isn’t something a client would want publicized?
Do we take care of a client if they’ve had too much fun? Sure. We try not to associate with clients where that happens all the time but of course it’s going to happen every so often. People are human, and when it does, that’s part of the protection that’s offered.

What about if you found a client unconscious or with drug paraphernalia around? Would you call the police?
Again, if they cross the line into illegal activity, we’re going to call the police. I can’t speak for other agencies, but I know that pretty much most security agents are former law enforcement, and most of them won’t cross that line. Now, if they’re just passed out, then we’ll see if we can’t revive them–but if not then yeah, we’d get medical attention.

You’d call 911?
If it’s serious, yes. We don’t pretend to be medical technicians. We’re trained in CPR and as EMTs, but if someone needs to be transported in an emergency situation, then definitely that’s our obligation in protecting them.

It seems as though sometimes celebrities are looking for their security agents to be a guardian angels of sorts.
I think that’s accurate in a lot of cases. It’s not something we do, but I’m not going to say that isn’t the case with some people and that some firms provide that for them.

Joe LaSorsa

Joe LaSorsa is a retired Secret Service Agent and have been providing services as a Security Expert dealing with Premises Security Negligence and Negligent Security across the United States. He is also the lead instructor of one of the leading Executive Protection and Bodyguard Training Schools in the USA.