Trouble was never far. In 1973, he says, his business that sold San Diego duplexes went bankrupt because a partner absconded with $750,000 of the company's money and fled back to Sicily, where his mother supposedly ran an olive oil company.
"He left me holding the bag," Fisher recalls matter-of-factly. "I've never heard from him since."
From there, Fisher moved to the Washington, D.C., suburbs and started a real-estate trust called the North American Doctors Investment Fund, which offered wealthy doctors a chance to shelter their assets through property acquisition. Fisher used their investments to develop properties, including the Playboy Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, which he points to as one of his proudest achievements.
A snag developed during the 1979 deal, and Fisher says he sued Playboy owner Hugh Hefner. "I went ballistic on him, and they settled," Fisher says of the project, which he lists on his resume. Fisher says he was bought out of the deal before it was finished.
Playboy officials, however, say they have no record of him being involved. A lawsuit against Playboy at the time doesn't mention Fisher's name, but does list a doctor who invested in Fisher's company. That doctor, John W. McTigue, later sued Fisher and alleged misappropriation of money.
Fisher's life then, as now, was frenetic and fast. Friends recall he would show up at business meetings in a mink coat, talking of huge deals. He also started earning his reputation for being a remarkably savvy property seller.
"He would never develop a property," Charles S. Shaw, a longtime partner and friend, once said during a legal deposition. "He's not a developer. Mr. Fisher is like a porpoise. He's a flipper. I don't know what he has built."
By the early 1980s, Fisher was claiming his investment trust, NADIF, had racked up more than $1 billion in assets -- a figure that would seem unlikely. The largest real-estate trusts in America at the time reported having assets of $250 million.
Some said his money came out of the pockets of the doctors who had trusted him. McTigue, the investor who appears in the Playboy Club case, is a Washington eye surgeon who said he'd hired Fisher to be his personal business manager, only to find that his money was disappearing.
Suspicious, McTigue brought in a team of accounting experts to determine where his $1 million-a-year income had been going.
"It was pretty dramatic," says Bert Ely, one of the accounting experts. "We showed up, and after that first day, Fisher realized he had lost control. After that, we never saw him again."
Fisher settled out of court after the accountants alleged he'd skimmed more than $2 million. Ely said he found that the money went toward a fast-paced, extravagant lifestyle. Fisher, who says he went into seclusion for two years on a Virginia farm after the incident, wouldn't comment other than to say he was trying to help the doctor.
"The business I'm in has a lot of ups and downs," he says about past problems.
A friendship forms
One day in late 1984, at the corner of 59th Street and Sutton Place in Manhattan, fate drew Fisher and John R. "Jack" Quinn together.
Fisher was looking at a property Quinn owned. Quinn, a noted land dealer who hailed from the quiet town of Glen Cove on Long Island, wouldn't sell. But a friendship ensued.
"I took an immediate liking to him," recalls Quinn, 61. "I thought he seemed like a pretty interesting person."
The two had a lot in common. Like Fisher, Quinn had a passion for the real-estate game. And like Fisher, there was no shortage of stories in his past.
Quinn's presence is described by many as unforgettable. At 400 pounds, Quinn was said to have been halted by his girth from fitting behind the wheel of his new Mercedes-Benz, but it didn't stop him from showing off dance moves at Long Island parties.
Around his hometown of Glen Cove, Quinn's real-estate company had been making headlines. It wasn't always making buildings. The flashy projects he'd been proposing, from a $9.5 million office park to a $25 million showcase hotel, had ended up on the scrapheap. Sometimes, investors claimed Quinn didn't live up to his promises.
It wasn't long before Quinn introduced Fisher in 1985 to a friend named Don Luna, who was starting a finance company with offices in Nashville, Tenn., Houston and Beverly Hills, Calif. Luna liked Fisher and offered him a $1 million-a-year job to head the company, called Universal Mortgage Advisors. Fisher accepted.
The problem was Luna was a confidence man, with a record of convictions for tax and loan fraud dating back a dozen years. In his oft-repeated scheme, he posed as a Teamster representative and told clients -- ranging from a Maryland developer to then-New England Patriots owner Billy Sullivan -- that he could procure union loans in return for a "finder's fee." Fisher says that at the time, he had no idea of Luna's background.
Cooperated with FBI