- LOS ANGELES
-- An America Online customer service rep
illicitly surfs the company's customer database,
ferrets out private data on celebrity members and
then hunts them down online under a false
identity, seeking fame and fortune in
- Sound like a prelude to
prison? Not in the case of Heather Robinson. The
former AOL employee managed to parlay privacy
violations into useful contacts in Hollywood. With
the help of those contacts, Robinson, 25, landed a
movie deal, and she's using her toehold in the
industry to advance another.
- Later this week, Universal
Pictures will start filming Robinson's first
movie, The Perfect Man, a romantic comedy staring
Hillary Duff and Heather Locklear. The film is
about a teenage daughter who tries to create a
"nonexistent boyfriend for her dejected mother,"
Robinson said. The story is based on another of
her youthful indiscretions when she was 16 -- this
one involving a stolen credit card and thousands
of dollars of purchases.
- Some would say it takes
Robinson's level of moxie to succeed in Hollywood.
In fact, the favorite legend in the movie business
is that of a hard-working kid who starts in the
mail room and through ambition, flexible ethical
standards and political skill becomes a mogul.
Judging by her exploits so far, Robinson is well
on her way.
- "Although she's, at best,
a scam artist, you have to grudgingly admire this
young woman," said Mark Ebner, co-author of
Hollywood, Interrupted, a book in which Robinson's
exploits get a chapter. "In a town of liars,
cheats and thieves, it's small wonder she's been
- Hired by AOL in 1997, her
$6-an-hour job involved answering subscriber
questions, resetting lost passwords and solving
billing problems. With access to screen names,
phone numbers, addresses and credit card numbers
through AOL's customer database, she gathered
information on politicians and movie industry
power brokers to pursue her career dreams.
- During about a year and a
half of employment at AOL, the woman, known by the
AOL screen name "HooterR," contacted or struck up
online relationships with Goldie Hawn, Carrie
Fisher, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, producer Lauren
Shuler Donner and the late comedian Chris Farley,
according to Robinson and Ebner.
- "I asked my AOL
supervisor, 'Are we allowed to contact people?' --
and the answer was yes, as long as I followed
specific policies," Robinson said. "It's hard to
get into the entertainment industry. If I weren't
a good person they would have told me to go
- She baited celebrities
into online conversations by using private
information she had collected about them without
their knowledge, sometimes assuming false
identities -- for instance, that of a lonely
female airline pilot.
- Some of these online
encounters led to sexually explicit chat sessions.
Robinson said she even had a real-world rendezvous
with an influential Hollywood producer that
resulted in a back-seat sexual assault. She claims
to have evidence locked away in Arizona: a stained
shirt, ¶ la Lewinsky.
- AOL declined to discuss
details of Robinson's employment, but spokesman
Andrew Weinstein said activities described in
Hollywood, Interrupted and a subsequent New York
Observer interview would constitute a violation of
current and former company policy.
- A document obtained by
Wired News shows that Robinson was disciplined at
least once at AOL for inappropriate use of
customer data. A "Corrective Action Business
Conduct" letter addressed to Robinson three months
after she was hired placed her on a 90-day
probation after a customer complained about
repeated misuse of confidential account
- Weinstein said internal
security is tighter seven years later. He declined
to state whether the company will pursue legal
action against Robinson, but said AOL's legal
department is currently reviewing the
- The one-time AOL employee
may also have broken state privacy laws.
- "There could be a variety
of legal complaints under state law, and the
celebrities themselves could potentially bring
tort claims under various state laws," said Pam
Dixon of the World Privacy Forum. "She's
essentially an electronic stalker. It's unfair,
unethical and in some states, probably
- Those issues aside,
Robinson is attempting to turn the online snooping
into her second movie deal within a year. She's
now shopping a new semi-autobiographical feature
film called E-Girl. A press release promises the
movie "will only depict the clever, amazing and
heart-rending aspects" of her "cyber subterfuge
with major personalities and power players."
- Robinson had a colorful
past even before she started at AOL. The Perfect
Man chronicles some of it. The movie is a
sugarcoated retelling of an episode in Robinson's
teen years that resulted in felony charges of
fraud, theft and forgery, according to Tucson
Police Department documents.
- In late 1994, Robinson
teamed up with a high-school friend and concocted
a scam to assume the identity of an imaginary Air
Force colonel to romance Robinson's single mother,
- Heather obtained access to
an Air Force base near her Tucson home and sent
her mother photographs and love letters from a
fictional Col. Cunningham, duping the recent
divorc»e into believing she was carrying on a
virtual affair with an officer. Heather
perpetrated the fake affair for three months. She
went so far as to send her mom a marriage proposal
consecrated with the delivery of a ring, which she
bought with a stolen credit card and altered ID
swiped from an employee at the Air Force
- The girls were arrested
Feb. 10, 1995, and confessed to having used stolen
credit cards to make more than $4,000 worth of
attempted purchases. Because Robinson had no prior
criminal record, charges were later reduced from
felony to misdemeanor, resulting in a 120-hour
community service sentence.
- "We were 16 years old, and
I wanted to do something good for my mom,"
Robinson said. "After the court stuff was done, my
mom put her arm around me and said, 'I understand
why you did it and maybe some day they'll make a
movie about it.'"
- And they are. Perfect Man
is slated for release in 2005.
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Inc. All Rights Reserved.