Washington's Man from Nowhere

Who is Craig Spence, and why were all those VIPs at his parties?

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"Hang a lamb chop in the window," was the advice legendary hostess Perle Mesta gave those who wanted to make a place for themselves in the capital. Craig Spence, a would-be power broker with a taste for Edwardian suits, took that advice to heart when he arrived in Washington in the late 1970s and hurled himself into high-intensity party-giving at his elegant town house in the fashionable Kalorama section of town.

Before long, the man from nowhere (he was, in fact, briefly a reporter for ABC in Viet Nam, and was said to have ties to Asian businessmen who were paying for his house, two bodyguards and Mercedes) had reportedly been host to John Mitchell and William Casey, journalists Ted Koppel and William Safire, and several Congressmen. By 1982 he had served enough lamb chops to merit a profile in the New York Times. The story trumpeted his ability to open doors all over town, even though the paper could not quite put its finger on who he was. It called him an international business consultant, party host, foreign agent and research journalist.

A city that remakes itself every four years is perfect for a Gatsbyesque creature like Spence, with a past he is unwilling to talk about and a present that consists of convincing mysterious clients that he has plenty of influence. Spence would probably still be throwing dinners at the posh Four Seasons Hotel for people like Donald Gregg, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, as he did last spring, if the police had not raided a male prostitution service in February. The raid turned up thousands of dollars' worth of credit-card receipts signed by Spence. Though he was not the only Washington figure to use the service (the Washington Times, which broke the story, says some White House and congressional aides will be implicated), Spence must have been among its best customers. He ran up a $1,525 tab in one day, $20,000 in a month.

To show off his clout last year, Spence took two clients and a pair of male prostitutes on a midnight July 4 tour of the White House.That same weekend, Spence gave Secret Service agent Ronald deGueldre, who arranged the tour, his $8,000 Rolex; deGueldre gave Spence his $22 Casio -- all out of friendship, says deGueldre. The agent's house in Virginia was searched last week for pieces of Truman china, a set of presidential cuff links and a tiepin that disappeared mysteriously after the tour. Officials will not say if anything was found.

Evidence is being presented to a grand jury that will decide whether indictments are warranted. But Spence's days of trading on his guest list have ended, and he has gone underground. Those who once dined at his table are wondering out loud about the curious 8-ft.-long two-way mirror in his house, and the young men, and what exactly Craig Spence did to earn all the money he was throwing around. They wonder only now that the party is over.