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The sure thing His Psychic Friends Network business is falling apart. He's got a long trail of lawsuits and loathing behind him. But Mike Lasky is undaunted. He knows he'll be back, and both friends and foes know better than to bet against him.

March 08, 1998|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff

Why, Schulman asks, is no one interested in all the good things Mike Lasky has done?

Indeed, as Inphomation's fortunes soared, Lasky's generous nature found a public expression. He established the Lasky Family Foundation, and for years has given money to such causes as the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology Center, the Baltimore School for the Arts, the Baltimore Zoo, cystic fibrosis research.

For a couple of years Lasky paid for the holiday lighting of Baltimore's Washington Monument. A big baseball fan, he once financed a 30-minute documentary about Baltimore baseball for the Babe Ruth Museum. He's also lent the museum the baseball that former Orioles great Eddie Murray hit for his 500th home run in September 1996. Amid much public fanfare, Lasky announced he'd buy the ball from the fellow who caught it for hundreds of thousands of dollars. By far the most ever paid for a historically significant baseball, Lasky's move made national news.

It's this sort of big gesture that has made Lasky a figure on the Baltimore social circuit, attending the fund-raisers, being spotted the company of the local haute monde, people such as developers Otis Warren Jr. and John Paterakis, and Steve Geppi, owner of Baltimore magazine and part-owner of the Orioles.

But there's more to it than that. The quiet generosity, the stuff Lasky doesn't like to talk about or publicize, that's the true Lasky, many people say.

"Mr. Lasky's always been there for us," says Cheryelona Mirchandani-Sanchez, who worked for Lasky briefly and whose husband, Naresh Mirchandani, kept the books at Inphomation. "He's always reaching into his own pocket. You're not just an employee to Mike. You're a person."

When they needed money to repair their car, Lasky gave it to them. When they needed money for a down payment on a house, Lasky gave it to them. The house deal fell through, but Lasky told them to keep the money, she says.

Dawn Thomson, who worked for Lasky on and off for 18 years until early February, says when the boss spotted her driving to work in an old car a couple of years ago, he decided the car wasn't safe for her and her two children. He leased her a new Ford Contour for two years. He offered employees free tickets to Orioles games and bought everyone turkeys for Thanksgiving.

"If you get anything negative," says Thomson, 41, a legal secretary in Baltimore, "it's people who don't know the real Mike Lasky."

The "real Mike Lasky," now who would that be? A restless soul, it seems, ever in pursuit of grand ambitions. A man of extremes.

There's no reason to doubt the sincerity of those who speak highly of their former boss. But what about this Baltimore County Police Department report dated Sept. 16, 1997? What to make of that?

The report describes a second degree assault -- no injuries to speak of -- that occurred at Inphomation's office in Pikesville. It was filed by Barry F. Thomas, a former Inphomation staff artist who in September was still doing free-lance work for the company. He told police he went to the office for a meeting. At some point he began arguing with "the suspect," who "grabbed the victim by the throat, pushing him against the wall" and chasing him out into the parking lot, where he grabbed him again.

Thomas, 55, decided not to press criminal charges. Hence, the police provide a report that decribes the suspect only as Thomas' "ex-employer," a heavyset white man with hazel eyes and brown hair. Thomas declines comment. But three sources inside the company say the altercation occurred between Thomas and Lasky.

"Barry Thomas and I had some words, and that's it," Lasky says. He cannot say if those words were exchanged on the day described in the report. As far as he knows, he's not the other guy in the report.

But even the most enthusiastic Lasky boosters acknowledge he's got a bad temper. While some say it's harmless, others see it differently.

Former Inphomation staffer Theresa Tharp says Lasky's outbursts of temper were frightening because she had seen him brandish a handgun several times in the office.

"There were times I'd be in his office, he'd just pull it out," says Tharp, who has been in litigation with Lasky over allegedly stealing proprietary information.

Two other former employees, Darryl L. Godwin and Ricardo Hilliard, also say Lasky showed a gun around the office. Hilliard says Lasky once pointed a handgun at the folks working in the Mike Warren Sports phone room, warning them about stealing customer names.

Lasky can't figure out why people say such nasty things about him. This is just not him, he says. Sure, he kids around, he likes to make people laugh. Sure, he has a handgun permit, but he never showed a gun in the office. It's ridiculous, he says, hardly worth a response. If he did ever show a gun in the office, "Probably it was a water gun," he says. "I know my style of kibitzing."

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