Bath Salts Mystery: Ex-Universal Pictures Co-Chair Breaks Silence on LAPD Beatdown
Brian Mulligan was a straight-laced finance executive who cut deals with Hollywood power players; now he's planning to sue the police and plotting a comeback.
On a Sunday morning in May, a paranoid man walked up to the Glendale police headquarters and began asking a slew of questions. "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I feel like there are people following me. I feel like there was a chopper -- do you hear a chopper?" the man asked, suspicion seeping through his voice. Informed by an officer that police in the L.A. suburb were not flying any helicopters, he began to waver. "So it's not yours. Do you hear one? I could be nuts."
So began an odd yet polite 11-minute conversation in which then-Deutsche Bank managing director Brian Mulligan, 53, discussed his snorting of bath salts, the addictive and illegal drug that causes feelings of euphoria but also violent delusions. He said he had taken the drug about 20 times and asked, "How long does this stuff stay in your f--ing system?" The officer who spoke with Mulligan had a stern warning: "You need to get on top of this before it gets on top of you."
Only a few days later, Mulligan had another run-in with officers -- and this time, the interaction wasn't so cordial. At about 1 a.m. on May 16, Los Angeles Police Department patrol officers discovered the married father of two trying to break into cars in a shabby residential neighborhood in the Highland Park area, according to an LAPD account. When they approached him, he snarled, bared his teeth and attempted to hit an officer. Another officer struck Mulligan with a baton, but Mulligan continued to kick and punch one of the officers until he was placed in an immobilizing restraint and handcuffed. How Mulligan wound up in Highland Park and in a scrape with the LAPD remains murky -- though a lawsuit his attorney plans to file should begin to shed light on the affair -- but what is clear is that the 6-foot-tall Mulligan was no match for the three police officers. His face was battered and bloodied, as revealed in gruesome photographs splashed on TMZ, and his nose was broken in 15 places, requiring emergency surgery (and 54 stitches) at nearby Huntington Memorial Hospital. Only after recent surgery could Mulligan breathe properly.
Although the incident made headlines during the summer, the full extent of Mulligan's Hollywood background never emerged. Once an executive who served as co-chairman of Universal Pictures with Stacey Snider, Mulligan -- who had pulled down as much as $4 million a year as CFO of Seagram during the late 1990s -- cut deals for Edgar Bronfman Jr. and arranged financing for MGM and Spyglass Entertainment. He gunned for Barry Diller's job when the mogul ran Vivendi Universal Entertainment in the early 2000s and was named by Premiere magazine as one of the 50 most powerful people in Hollywood. In addition to an eight-year stint at Universal, Mulligan also served as Fox Television chairman in 2001. For the past three years, he had been a vice chairman at Deutsche Bank, covering media finance, acquisitions and IPOs, working from the company's 41st-floor offices at downtown's One California Plaza. Married to Victoria, a homemaker and part-time paralegal, and the father of a high school football star son and a college-age daughter, he long has resided in tony La Canada-Flintridge near Pasadena, golfs at Annandale Golf Club and is well regarded in Pasadena society circles. Says Snider, now co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks Studios, "There couldn't be anyone about whom a story like this would shock me more."
Just days after his Dec. 6 surgery, Mulligan gave his first interview since the May incident, telling THR about his road to recovery and his next moves now that he has parted with Deutsche Bank. "I am relieved that the bulk of my physical injuries have been dealt with, and I've already been contacted for advisory work," says Mulligan. He declined to discuss specifics from the fateful night in May, leaving plenty of questions that could be answered in a coming legal battle over his treatment.
Mulligan filed a $50 million claim against the LAPD in August, but it was rejected in September (such a claim typically is a precursor to a lawsuit). Now, his lawyer, Skip Miller, is planning to sue the city of Los Angeles in early January for what is likely to be tens of millions of dollars in damages stemming from the incident. "This is going to be a jury trial in federal court for violation of his civil rights -- for beating him to a pulp for absolutely no reason," says Miller. The LAPD declined comment, referring THR to a news release that detailed the May 16 incident.
Muddying the waters is Mulligan's admitted use of bath salts, a powerful designer drug that LAPD officer and narcotics expert Cecil Mangrum says has some of the effects of LSD, cocaine, methamphetamines and PCP rolled into one stimulant that can be snorted, smoked, swallowed or injected -- and makes some people uncontrollably violent. "It's an evil combination of everything," Mangrum says.
John McAfee, the technology multimillionaire who founded software company McAfee Inc. and is now a person of interest in the killing of a neighbor, has discussed his use of bath salts -- crystals that resemble legal bathing products such as Epsom salts -- saying on an Internet forum, "It's the finest drug ever conceived," in part for "the indescribable hypersexuality." Because the drug has gained a toehold only in the past few years, cities have had to move swiftly to combat it. Los Angeles adopted a law in October 2011 that made it illegal to use or sell the drug. And in July -- a few months after the Mulligan incident -- President Obama signed a federal ban on the drug. Meanwhile, Mulligan's apparent transformation has transfixed Hollywood. "He was the most taciturn bean-counter ever," one former high-level Universal executive says. "What happened to him? It's scary."
Speaking out for the first time, Mulligan's wife, Victoria, doesn't doubt her husband, even though she is aware of his struggle with bath salts. "To have something happen like this is a living nightmare for all of us," she says, declining to discuss the May incidents. "But my husband perseveres -- and always comes out on top -- and he deserves it. He is a good guy."
Only Mulligan and three LAPD officers know exactly what happened in the hours leading up to the violent altercation on the border of Eagle Rock and Highland Park, roughly five miles from Pasadena. According to news reports that have cited a confidential police report, the officers first stopped Mulligan at around 10:30 p.m. May 15 outside a Jack in the Box, where he allegedly was attempting to break into cars. (He had gone to Highland Park to try to purchase medical marijuana, for which he had a prescription, but the shop had been closed, his former attorney, J. Michael Flanagan, told NBC's Today in August.) Mulligan was said by the officers to be drenched in sweat and had an unsteady gait but still passed field sobriety tests. He also admitted taking marijuana and bath salts and said he hadn't slept in four days, and officers found thousands of dollars in cash and an Irish passport in his Toyota Prius, according to reports.
The Los Angeles Times has reported that the officers took Mulligan to the nearby 26-room Highland Park Motel -- at his request -- so that he could rest. (Mulligan's stay at the motel is one of the more inexplicable mysteries of the incident. Some have wondered why officers would take a person under duress to a motel and not to a police station, hospital or even call his wife. But a knowledgeable law enforcement source tells THR that officers "have a lot of discretion -- particularly in the middle of the night." And taking Mulligan to a police station after the officers determined he hadn't committed a crime could have presented problems. "You'd probably sue for false imprisonment," this person says, adding that a review would determine whether the officers "made reasonable decisions.") The officers "were doing what they could to help him -- get him some rest at a local motel," says Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the interests of the LAPD rank and file. The group has publicized Mulligan's use of bath salts, issuing a news release detailing his rambling discussion with the Glendale officer and distributing the recording of the May 13 bath salts discussion.
At around 1 a.m., a few hours after their first May 15 encounter, the same officers responded to a report of a man attempting to break into cars not far from the motel and encountered Mulligan again, this time "forcibly pulling on the door handle of a parked car" on Meridian Street, according to an LAPD news release. When they approached him, he "took an aggressive stance by snarling and baring his teeth" and tried to hit one of the officers, prompting the use of force, the news release said. "He challenged them or took a position that resulted in a use of force," Izen concurs. In addition to the injuries to his face, Mulligan was placed in a hobble restraint -- a system of straps designed to immobilize a person -- and his shoulder blade was broken. He was rushed to Huntington Memorial. Ultimately, no charges were filed against him.
Mulligan and the officers won't discuss the incident. The LAPD declined comment, and the department has yet to conclude its internal use-of-force investigation, a standard procedure. However, Flanagan -- who once represented Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, in his involuntary manslaughter case -- spoke to several media outlets about the run-in before he stopped representing Mulligan in early September. And his recounting of events differs greatly from the police report and LAPD account. Flanagan told the Times in August that Mulligan was forcibly taken to the motel and was told he'd be killed if he left. When they saw that he had escaped, the officers beat him, the attorney said. Flanagan declined comment.
If Mulligan's prospective lawsuit against the city proceeds, the parties will be forced to relay their recollections of the incident. What role Mulligan's earlier bath salts-centered discussion with the Glendale police would play isn't clear. And how Mulligan might have been introduced to bath salts remains a mystery he won't address.
The drug, which has been tied to several violent crimes but was incorrectly linked to Rudy Eugene, the Florida man who chewed off the face of a homeless person in May, only became widely available in 2009 and has exploded in popularity. Underground chemists began producing bath salts in the early 2000s. The drug's key chemicals, substituted cathinones, mimic an alkaloid that naturally occurs in the khat plant. Bath salts have been easily obtainable at medical marijuana dispensaries and head shops.
In Mulligan's May 13 exchange with Glendale police, he expressed concern that he was ruining his life. "I just feel stupid. … I just feel like a dope," he is heard saying to the undisclosed officer, who recorded the conversation as per department policy. In addition to bath salts, Mulligan discussed his use of the sleep aid Ambien -- "I will tell you I was not myself. My mind had, like, a cast over it," he said -- and suggested that he might have turned to other drugs to help with insomnia. "Eminem had the same problem, and he doesn't know it," Mulligan told the officer, apparently referring to the rapper's public battle with addiction to Ambien. Mulligan did not explicitly link his Ambien and marijuana use to his eventual indulgence in bath salts. However, narcotics expert Mangrum says that a substance like marijuana could be a "gateway" drug that would lead to bath salts use.
It's possible that Mulligan's highflying business career was having an impact on him. In his exchange with Glendale police, Mulligan appeared to excuse his behavior by saying, "I have a very stressful job, I travel a million miles a year." Indeed, during his Deutsche Bank tenure, Mulligan was known to be a frequent business traveler. A knowledgeable source says that Mulligan used his downtown L.A. office only occasionally, often working from New York; he also kept odd hours, sometimes working from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and missing at least a few meetings. (A source close to Mulligan disputes he missed meetings and says his hours were the result of pursuing international deals, which led him to travel extensively.) And while Mulligan was chasing deals, he also was raising a family. His son stars as quarterback at an elite Pasadena prep school. Mulligan has a golf handicap of 18, and his wife volunteers in the community.
When Deutsche Bank brought on Mulligan in October 2009, the German banking and financial services firm, which maintains its U.S. headquarters in Jersey City, N.J., publicized the hire with a news release that was republished by Bloomberg and other outlets. (Deutsche Bank declined to confirm Mulligan's employment status, saying it does not discuss personnel matters.) While one source who did business with Mulligan at Deutsche Bank describes him as "an arrogant guy," he found success at the company -- helping, for example, to strengthen an existing relationship with The Walt Disney Co. and bringing one-time Deutsche client DirecTV back into the fold, according to a source. "The entertainment industry is a business that needs to be managed sort of uniquely," Mulligan told the Los Angeles Business Journal in a February 2011 interview. "You have to not squeeze it so tight that you hurt the asset and not let it so loose that it hurts you."
After the May 15 altercation, Mulligan didn't return to the downtown L.A. office until June, and he initially told colleagues he had been in a car accident, according to a source. After the incidents were exposed by news media, he returned to the office only once and left the firm in November.
As Mulligan attempts a personal and professional comeback, friends remain bewildered. "It has been the most out-of-expectation event for somebody that I knew well that I can remember," says Bruce Hack, a longtime acquaintance and one-time CFO of Universal Studios. And a family friend of the Mulligans says they always have appeared to be a devoted, tightknit bunch. "You hear stories about investment bankers in New York partying all the time. They weren't anything like that," this person says. "That's why none of us can figure this out."
Mulligan found success in Hollywood quickly, and at a young age. A Glendale native who has been married to Victoria for 25 years, he grew up in a working-class Irish family and played quarterback at Herbert Hoover High School during the mid-1970s. He also looked after his siblings while his mother, Betty, battled cancer. Mulligan graduated from high school in 1977 and went on to attend USC, where he met his wife.
Mulligan graduated with a degree in business administration in 1983 and received an MBA from UCLA's Anderson School of Management. At accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in its entertainment practice group, Mulligan advised MCA Inc., Lew Wasserman's famed entertainment company. In 1989, Mulligan left PwC to join MCA, where he became controller. A year later, the company was sold to Matsushita Electric, and Mulligan was promoted to vp finance. In 1995, Seagram acquired a majority interest in MCA, which became Universal Studios. In a world where many executives are shown the door after a corporate takeover, Mulligan stayed put. It helped that he had handled the Seagram sale on behalf of MCA, allowing him to forge relationships with key Seagram executives, including CEO Bronfman. Mulligan was named an executive vp at Universal around 1996 and was promoted to COO of the company about a year later. Hack got to know Mulligan well around this time. "The man I met in that spring of 1995 deeply understood the various businesses at Universal, and it was quite a diversified portfolio at the time," says Hack, now a media consultant and investor. "There was nobody like him. Brilliant and very knowledgeable and thorough. A rising star."
Mulligan played a key role in several of Universal's high-profile deals, including the 1998 sale of USA Networks and Universal Television to Diller and the $10.4 billion acquisition of PolyGram in 1999. Ultimately, Mulligan was named co-chairman of Universal Pictures with Snider in June 1999. "Brian has great business acumen, traits I don't think you necessarily find in one person," Universal Studios president Ron Meyer told Variety in June 1999. Soon thereafter, Mulligan would move into an even bigger role: CFO of Seagram. According to a November 2002 Los Angeles Times profile, Mulligan's options package was valued at more than $20 million. Mulligan and Bronfman negotiated the $42 billion sale of Seagram to Vivendi in June 2000. But this was one transaction that ultimately led to his departure. According to the Times story, Vivendi brought in its own management team, "leaving Mulligan with few choices." He left the company a month later.
For much of the 2000s, Mulligan moved from one company -- or deal -- to the next. In January 2001, he was named chairman of Fox Television, though he left that post eight months later. Next, he masterminded Marvin Davis' $13 billion bid for control of Vivendi Universal's studios, record labels, cable channels and theme parks. The effort was set in motion in late 2002, and Mulligan would have taken control of the company from then-co-CEO Diller, but when Davis fell ill, the plan fell through. During the mid-2000s, Mulligan tried to negotiate a deal for private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management to buy Universal Music Group, but that too fell apart. Still, he was able to arrange about $400 million in financing for Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum's Spyglass Entertainment (and at one time served on the company's board), which helped them to make such movies as Star Trek (2009) and 27 Dresses (2008). Mulligan, who has financed critical hits like Erin Brockovich and commercial home runs including Meet the Fockers, was respected by creative types who felt that he understood the push-pull nature of the entertainment industry. "He got that this is show business, that there is part show and part business, and people need to understand the delicate balance between the two," says Birnbaum, whose Spyglass also engaged Mulligan, then at Deutsche Bank, to provide financing to help it take over MGM in 2010. Earlier this year, while Birnbaum was co-CEO of MGM, Mulligan worked on a refinancing deal for the production company. The $500 million revolving credit facility closed in February, and Mulligan was quoted by various publications -- including THR -- praising all parties involved. Three months later, his life would be upended.
These days, Mulligan is projecting a drug-free image and attending physical therapy sessions, though he might need another surgery. But the coming lawsuit likely will force him to revisit the May incidents.
Miller has taken issue with the protective league's effort to link the May 13 encounter in Glendale to the May 15 LAPD altercation. Miller says that "Mr. Mulligan going to the Glendale PD had nothing to do with the beating" and that the league has attempted to "impugn" his client's reputation. A lawsuit against the league also is being contemplated, and in October, Miller filed a claim with the city of L.A. that alleged LAPD officers made defamatory statements about Mulligan and revealed his private information (the claim was denied). Izen defends the publicizing of Mulligan's bath salts use, saying, "If you call my officers liars and I can prove that they probably didn't lie, I will bring it forward and defend my officers."
At the core of the case is which version of events a jury might believe. Mulligan's wife, Victoria, for one, is confident. "He is very, very intelligent," she says of her husband. "He's one of the most honest guys I know."
Kim Masters and Alex Ben Block contributed to this report.