TRIALS: The Line Was Very Busy

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In 11th century Coventry the penalty for snooping was stern indeed: the original Peeping Tom, according to legend, was struck blind for stealing a glance at Lady Godiva during her famous ride. Nowadays, the punishment is less severe, but it is still enough to bring tears to the stoniest private eye. In a Manhattan courtroom last week Private Investigator John ("Steve") Broady, 52, was near to tears. Reason: he had been convicted of illegal eavesdropping, on 16 counts related to wiretapping. Maximum sentence: 27 years in prison.

Buzzing on BUtterfield 8. The Broady wiretap case first hit the headlines last February, when police raided an East Side Manhattan apartment and discovered a secret listening post, equipped with the latest recorders and a direct (though unlisted) line to 100,000 telephones that spread like a monstrous run all over the ten-denier silk-stocking district. Two telephone-company employees, Carl Ruh, a tester, and Walter Asmann, a "frame-man" who made cross connections for the company, were found on the premises. They were fired by the company and arrested, along with Warren Shannon, an electrician, in whose name the apartment was rented; all were charged with conspiracy and illegal wiretapping. The three pleaded guilty; Shannon and Ruh turned state's evidence and pointed to Broady, a lawyer turned private eye, as the top tapper who had hired them. As the stars in a parade of 39 witnesses at Broady's trial, the two provided the district attorney with his most damning evidence, the newspapers with enough gossip to keep East Side telephones, from PLaza I to BUtterfield 8, buzzing for weeks. Items: ¶ Blimpish John Jacob Astor testified that in 1954 he had hired Broady to tap the phone in his Fifth Avenue home in the hope of learning some of the secrets of Gertrude Gretsch Astor, his wife at that time. Mrs. Astor, meanwhile, was watching her husband with her own private eye.

¶ Two other jealous husbands, both subsequently divorced, admitted that they had subscribed to Broady's service to spy on their wives (TV Songstress Kyle Mac-Donnell and Glamour Girl Tauni de Les-seps), but both counts were thrown out of court, because in New York State it is legal for a client to have his own phone tapped.

¶ Robert Porter, general counsel and secretary of Charles Pfizer Company, manufacturing chemists, testified that his company had hired Broady to find out how the secret formula of a new drug (Tetracycline) had leaked to competitors. (Earlier this year Pfizer sued Bristol Laboratories, E. R. Squibb & Son and the Upjohn Co. for $50 million, charging infringement of patents.) Pfizer, Porter testified, had paid Broady to shadow 50 of its employees. Broady also tapped the telephones of Squibb and Bristol-Myers on his own initiative, but found no leak.

He got his fee of $60,000, nevertheless.

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