Six Degrees of Schwarzenegger

Quadriplegics lawsuit claims botched bounty hunt was no coincidence

Photo by Amy Thelig A quadriplegic who last year won multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Venice-based Gold's Gym—the so-called "Mecca of Bodybuilding"—is suing a former bodyguard for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But the Arnie connections don't end there: also named in the lawsuit is Mark Nalley, an Orange-based weightlifting entrepreneur, film director and producer whose 1997 documentary Stand Tall prominently features Schwarzenegger.

And plaintiff Harold Bostick is an ex-Marine and former male model whose bodybuilding career ended on Jan. 4, 2001, when he broke his spine while doing squats at Gold's Gym, which became world famous thanks to Pumping Iron, the 1977 film that launched Schwarzenegger's acting career.

After his accident, Bostick sued both Gold's Gym and Flex Equipment Co. president Nalley, who testified he designed the faulty equipment. Gold's Gym settled out of court for $7.3 million in July 2003, and a Los Angeles jury ordered Nalley to pay Bostick an additional $7.1 million.

But eight months before the jury verdict, Bostick was paid a visit at his Woodland Hills home by bounty hunter Fausto Atilano and a partner, Jesse Wagner. Bostick claims they forced their way in to gather information proving he was faking his injury. Atilano's last job before becoming owner of Bull Dog Bail Bonds of Lake Elsinore was as Schwarzenegger's live-in bodyguard.

Bostick says he was sleeping the night of Nov. 20, 2002, when he heard loud knocking at his door. After wheeling himself to the entryway, his visitors told him through the closed door that they were looking for a rape suspect who jumped bail. When Bostick asked them to identify the person, they answered, "A guy."

Bostick, who is black, asked for the suspect's race, and when the answer was "white," he announced that he is black.

"Done deal, right?" Bostick said later. "I thought they would go away. That wasn't enough. I didn't want to go into me being handicapped because, again . . . I feel kind of vulnerable at 10:30 at night. I got shorts on. I'm not opening the door for a stranger."

But when the men insisted they had the correct address, Bostick asked them to go around to a rear entrance. That's when he noticed both men were armed and Atilano was wearing a green bulletproof vest.

"I thought, well, these guys are official, so I eventually opened the door," Bostick recalled. But at that point, the men rushed in. "I was not feeling very secure with people going around with guns in my house. . . . They went through the house saying, 'Clear, clear, clear' and turned all the lights on and dimmed my rooms and stuff. They came back, and I guess the rapist wasn't there."

Bostick has since filed a lawsuit alleging that Nalley hired Atilano, his "personal friend," to harass the quadriplegic and that the bounty hunter used false pretenses to enter the house "under color of authority." The suit also claims Atilano secretly tape-recorded a conversation about Bostick's injuries and offered the tape to Nalley.

Wagner is in prison for impersonating a police officer in an unrelated case. Nalley could not be reached for an interview, and John Tasker, an attorney for Nalley, did not respond to an interview request.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Atilano from his Riverside County office when asked to comment about the lawsuit. A few hours later, however, Michael Bush, Atilano's Anaheim-based attorney, called the Weekly to say that his client has offered to apologize to Bostick over the incident. "My client made a mistake in associating with Wagner and feels very bad about going into the house by mistake," Bush said. "To have somebody come into your house looking for a fugitive by mistake must be very frustrating."

In a March 2003 deposition, Atilano stated he and Wagner were searching for a rape suspect who had a "White Pride" tattoo on one arm and had listed Bostick's house as his home address on a bail-application form.

Atilano claimed that Bostick was "standing up" in his wheelchair when he opened the door—a claim Bostick denies. Atilano said he complimented Bostick on his physique and that Bostick volunteered to take off his shirt and flex his muscles for a photograph.

"He told about his accident," Atilano stated. "He said that he was going to win a lawsuit, and that he was suing these manufacturing companies. And that's why he was going to go ahead and pursue a career as an attorney and buy a bunch of equipment."

While under oath, Atilano denied raiding Bostick's house to help Nalley's defense but admitted that shortly after the raid, he called Nalley to tell him about the amazing coincidence.

"I can't recall what I told him," Atilano said. "I just told him that I was—had gone to look for a fugitive, and I met somebody that said they were suing Flex and that I talked to him for a while. And, you know, I had a video, I mean, not—a recording, if he wanted to hear it."

According to Atilano, he had absolutely no idea who Bostick was—or that he was suing his friend Nalley—until after he raided the house.

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