Posted Sunday, June 27, 1999

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Daily news, NY, Sunday, June 27, 1999


Rev to Stars Gets Singed in Scandal

IN FURTHER proof of the Almighty's affection for irony, the Rev. Pete Jacobs now stands at the epicenter of a $350 million insurance scandal that came to light as a result of a house fire.

Jacobs has long harbored a special fondness for firefighters. He performed the last rites for several of the 12 who died at the 23rd St. fire in 1966, and he apparently decided that those who routinely risk such dangers should not also have to worry about the fires of hell.

Accordingly, he years ago introduced the city's firefighters to a novel concept in the absolution of sin.

"He'd say, 'I absolve you of all your sins in the future,'" Fire Capt. Pat Brown recalls. "His thinking was, 'God knows the things you're going to do in the future and you're going to be sorry for them, so I'll absolve you now.'"

Jacobs bestowed his special forgiveness on everyone present at a Rescue 1 dinner in the early 1980s.

"The more conservative Catholic guys were like looking at each other," Brown says. "Guys like me were eating it up."

As this was that time before AIDS dampened the city's nightlife, Brown was not alone in finding Jacobs' brand of absolution particularly handy. Brown's favorite spots included Da Silvano's restaurant and he often encountered Jacobs there. Jacobs demonstrated that he also had a special fondness for celebrities.

"He was wherever the big shots were," Brown says.

Jacobs' saving grace was that he would act as if he were only introducing equals when he presented Brown to the likes of Paloma Picasso. Jacobs repeatedly invited Brown to fly off to Europe with him.

"He'd say, 'You want to go to Monaco? We'll see the princess and hang out. And then we'll go to the Vatican. I've got a couple of friends there. We'll go see the Pope. We'll get you a private audience,'" Brown remembers.

And, Jacobs really did have prominent friends at the Vatican and among the royals of Monaco. His other buddies included Walter Cronkite and Gloria Steinem. He maintained five phone lines and carried a beeper that once sent him dashing off from a dinner party. He returned and opened his hand to show Ms. magazine publisher Patricia Carbine six bullets, saying he had just saved someone from committing suicide.

In December 1982, Jacobs opened his own restaurant, Palatine, on W. 46th St. He announced that all profits would go toward scholarships at Power Memorial Academy and Rice High School, where he served as chaplain. He was nonetheless ordered to desist by the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where he had been ordained.

He ignored the edict, and each night the place filled with celebrities and firefighters. The patrons looked up from their rabbit en aspic one night to see Brown and another firefighter dash out to rescue a man from a blaze across the street. On another evening, Jacobs introduced Brown to a countess.

"He said, 'He works up by where Jackie lives,'" Brown says.

Jackie being Jackie Onassis, who lived on Fifth Ave. Brown was assigned to a firehouse up at 115th St."But, it was Fifth Ave.," Brown says.

In March 1983, Prince Albert of Monaco celebrated his 25th birthday at Palatine. The Archdiocese in Washington, D.C., was not dissuaded from stripping Jacobs of his right to perform sacraments.

Jacobs finally closed the restaurant, but he defied orders to assume pastoral duties in Washington and he was never reinstated. He nonetheless officiated at the 1985 marriage of orchestra leader Peter Duchin and the writer Brooke Hayward. He also said a private Mass for the family in the palace chapel at Monaco after Princess Grace died in 1982.

The surviving files showed Rosse's true name was Martin Frankel...

Back in New York, Jacobs continued to hobnob. He was friendly with the swells of the Save Venice Foundation. He was at the 1996 book party for Nancy Friday's "The Power of Beauty," chatting with erotic filmmaker Candida Royalle.

"They agreed sex is good for the skin," a gossip column reported.

Around that time, Jacobs sold the brownstone where he had lived with his mother. He moved with her to Rome, settling in an apartment owned by someone he had met at a Fire Department memorial service.

Jacobs still had prominent Vatican connections that dated to the early 1960s, when he assisted Pope John XXIII's efforts to bring the church closer to the Jewish community. Jacobs had been particularly suited to this task, as his father was Jewish.

The lure of those connections was apparently what prompted a man who called himself David Rosse to make Jacobs the president of the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation last summer. Jacobs invited Cronkite to serve as an adviser, saying the foundation would be giving $1 billion to the poor. Cronkite demurred, but he was listed as an adviser anyway.

On May 5 of this year, the Greenwich Fire Department responded to a report of a fire at a $3 million house in that Connecticut town. The firefighters discovered piles of records ablaze.

The surviving files showed Rosse's true name was Martin Frankel. The St. Francis of Assisi Foundation proved to be a ruse designed to prop up a pyramid scheme whereby he siphoned at least $335 million from insurance companies.

Frankel and the money are still missing. Jacobs insists he was simply a dupe, and Brown is among those who believe him. Brown also figures that the absolution still holds.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm good the rest of my life," Brown says.

Related story:

FBI agents looking for a rogue stockbroker Martin Frankel who pulled off biggest fraud ever; authorities fear up to £2 billion may have been taken
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