Talk in showbiz circles is getting louder that all is not well between, on the one hand, celebrity couple David Bunevacz and Jessica Rodriguez, and, on the other hand, aesthetic clinic Beverly Hills 6750.
First Rumor: Within the last two weeks, there have been murmurings that David, a former decathlete who is president and CEO of Beverly Hills 6750, has been booted out of the high-end beauty clinic. The murmurings also have it that Jessica, who handles publicity and promotions for the clinic, has been booted out along with David.
Second Rumor: Again within the last two weeks, dark rumors have spread that David had been "beaten up" by unnamed enemies. This was supposed to have happened in late November, but nothing has yet come out in the papers or television or radio.
Third Rumor: The chatter that followed says that David and Jessica, fearing for their lives, have sought the advice of friends with connections and influence, including a senator and television network executives. The couple are also said to have since consulted a prominent and expensive law firm. Meantime, the chatter also says that the clinic investors have consulted their own equally prominent and expensive lawyers.
The Latest Rumor: And now the latest talk is that the couple have gone missing. That is, at press time, they could not be found in their home, office, or any of the regular places they go to. In addition, they have not taken any calls from their showbiz friends or the press.
MAJOR PUZZLER. If true, this is a major puzzler.
It will be remembered that Beverly Hills 6750 Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Institute on Ayala Avenue was launched, grandiosely, in late 2006, flying in no less than 1993 Miss Universe Dayanara Torres from California to Manila to endorse it. Unknown to many, the man who almost single-handedly put together the clinic's inspired concept and efficient execution was David Bunevacz.
David has "a knack for putting things together," says a businessman who knows David. This idea, as the clinic's own site, www.6750.com, announces, is to affiliate "with the Beverly Hills Surgical Institute of California, USA," tap "world-class technology," gather "high-caliber medical professionals and staff," and position the clinic as "Asia's latest premier center" for "aesthetic plastic surgery and aesthetic dermatology."
With this, Beverly Hills 6750 went head-to-head with the more established Belo Medical Group and the Calayan Surgicenter, in the cutthroat and lucrative beauty business. In this race, Belo remains the runaway winner, with Calayan trailing a very far second. But within a year of its launch, Beverly Hills has enough patrons willing to pay the steep price of its services, ensuring the clinic's presence in the race.
For his efforts, David was named president and chief executive officer of the clinic, made an official partner, and given anything between 10 and 15 percent of company shares. According to the same businessman, who chooses to remain anonymous, David did not have to put out any cash. His equity was his business acumen.
Following this, David, who lists his profession as "financial consultant," moved from being the man-behind-the-scene to being a very visible man on the scene. So did his wife, Jessica, who at the time was better known as a talent manager and a former starlet.
In fact, showbiz observers say that the couples' involvement with Beverly Hills 6750 was their big ticket to being taken seriously, at last, as players in big-bucks business and, by nature of the clinic, in show business.
Certainly, Jessica, who had long faded in the background as a struggling star-maker, now began making her presence felt in media like a star. This year, she co-hosted Extreme Makeover on QTV-11, and also sponsored the "Miss Ugly No More" segment of GMA-7's Sis.
(Incidentally, the Miss Ugly No More billboard of Beverly Hills 6750 is considered a high point—or a low one, depending on your point of view—in marketing strategy. One half says it's a great promotional gimmick that hits at the core of every female's insecurity; the other half says it's in poor taste, tapping as it does into society's shallow and dangerous preoccupation with looks. Either way, the in-your-face billboard made its mark on the public that traverses EDSA daily.)
Jessica was again seen in the "Celebrity Special" of Wish Ko Lang, and had likewise become visible in showbiz events, where often she was seen in the impressive company of women executives of GMA-7. And when she made it to the Final 3 of the high-rating GMA-7 show, Celebrity Duets, she had officially been reintroduced to today's generation of viewers, giving her true celebrity status.
As it happens, the Bunevacz couple seem to like to do things with fanfare, which of course makes them even more recognizable in public. During the finals night of Celebrity Duets on October 20, for instance, David surprised Jessica with an opulent wedding anniversary gift: a BMW X5 car, said to have cost in the vicinity of 5.6 million pesos.
According to car aficionados on the scene, the BMW SUV came especially set up with an Aerokit body cladding and 20-inch alloy wheels, which alone would have cost P400,000. The car also came with a huge red ribbon taped to its hood (see photo). Television cameras and showbiz reporters were around to capture Jessica receiving the gift in tears. In the next few days, the gift would become the subject of the entertainment pages of the national broadsheets and tabloids, giving the couple even more exposure.
BECOMING A COUPLE. Jessica Rodriguez and David Bunevacz were married on December 9, 2000.
Before becoming a bit player in the movies, the tall and attractive Jessica worked as a model and joined the Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant, where she made it to the final ten. Eventually, she shifted from modelling to acting, and then to managing talents. At one point, she managed Angelika dela Cruz and Patricia Javier, and among her current talents are Jackie Forster and Joanne Quintas. She is known to have a strong working relationship with Viva Entertainment Inc., and is said to have the ear of the company's big boss, Vic del Rosario.
Four years ago, when she gave birth to her youngest, Breanna, now three years old, Jessica kept away from the limelight. With the creation of Beverly Hills 6750, she began to be seen all over the place again, except that this time she had taken on a more corporate persona.
David's own showbiz connection started in 1997, when he became known as the athlete-boyfriend of U.S.-reared Anjanette Abayari, a former beauty queen who entered local showbiz and who, within the few years she was in the Philippines, reached leading-lady status. The dusky and voluptuous beauty starred with, among others, Cesar Montano (Silakbo), Phillip Salvador (Hanggat May Hininga), Dolphy (Aringkingking), and even FPJ (Ang Syota Kong Balikbayan). In 2001, David himself landed roles in the movies Buhay Kamao and Tusong Twosome. However, he never made it big in showbiz.
David did get into one major showbiz scandal, which is supposed to be a measure of whether a person has "arrived" in showbiz. (The idea being that if you're not a celebrity, nobody will bother to write about a scandal involving you.) This particular scandal, which became the stuff of tabloids, had to do with his then high-profile relationship with Anjanette, plus their friend Jessica. The story goes that when Anjanette was jailed by Guam airport police for having illegal drug paraphernalia in her luggage, her live-in partner David not only failed to see her through to the end of her ordeal, he allegedly sold off all her furniture in her absence.
True or not, it did not help that David would soon after have a romantic relationship with Jessica, who had been very close to Anjanette. Eventually, with Anjanette settling in the U.S. and David and Jessica marrying, incidentally with big-time businessmen, politicians, and showbiz folk for sponsors—the public forgot all about this, and everyone moved on.
Since then, all has been quiet on David's front. During that period, PEP's businessman-source says, David made a fortune through major infrastructure projects down south, in partnership with a Chinese-Filipino investor. Also since then, David and Jessica have lived as man and wife in relative anonymity. Until, that is, the high-rolling Beverly Hills 6750 came along.
THE BMW & THE PORSCHE. "David and Jessica are out of Beverly Hills!" exclaims a source in early December.
The source, a clinic insider who speaks to PEP only on condition of anonymity, reveals that David's partners at the clinic are accusing David of "embezzlement." The amount in question is reportedly P20 million. One evidence being used against David is reportedly the very cheque with which he made a deposit for Jessica's BMW X5. Currently, the source adds, an audit is going on at the clinic.
(A website on criminal law defines embezzlement as "the fraudulent conversion of property of another by a person in lawful possession of that property.")
Another source, this time from David's circle but also demanding anonymity, says that David, as president and CEO of the clinic, was given the unusual power of being the "sole signatory" of company cheques. "It's not the way to do business, but maybe they really trusted him," the source speculates. "Just David. Even Jessica could not come near the money." The source sums up, "In effect, the guy ran the show."
The source talks of the David he knows. "I think David did not mean to steal from the company, at first. This was his ticket to the big time, after all." However, the same source concedes, David could have been guilty of "kiting," which refers to the practice of well-placed employees extending their personal funds by dipping into company funds. The practice, adds the source, is rationalized by the person doing it by saying he intends to return the money to the company in due time. He adds, "I think that's what happened to David."
Unfortunately, alleges the same source, some of David's partners at the clinic began to suspect something was amiss. And the very thing to trigger their suspicion was David buying the BMW for Jessica. "That was when they began feeling something was wrong here," claims the source. Apparently, the partners now wondered how David could give Jessica a brand-new BMW X5, valued at P5.6 million, in October of 2007, when he'd just purchased for himself a brand-new Porsche Cayenne Turbo, valued at P4 to 6 million, also in October of 2007.
The partners then began their investigation, the source claims, with the cheque David used to purchase the BMW. They discovered, the source adds, that the cheque was indeed a "company cheque."
THE WHITE PAPER. Within the last week, a white paper shown to a PEP source seemed to further crush the couple's fairy-tale existence. According to the white paper, the couple have been living a lifestyle far more lavish than their incomes can possibly afford them. It alleges that the Bunevaczes would take trips abroad, never travelling less than first class, and charging it all to the company. It alleges that they flew to California, where Jessica's eldest daughter, Hayca, is currently studying, at least five times within one year, first class every time, at company expense.
It does not help the Bunevaczes that they have an obvious liking for the "good life." Apart from the very visible Porsche and the BMW SUV, and the expensive private schools for their children here and abroad, the couple like to wear flashy, expensive adornment. Jessica's watch, says a female employee at Viva, is a "Cartier na maraming real diamonds at iyong kay David mukhang sobrang mamahalin din." The employee also says Jessica's bags are "lahat Louis Vuitton."
Abante Tonite's columnist Rey Pumaloy wrote in May this year that when Jessica's last birthday was celebrated in Hong Kong, she received from David a ring with a rare African aquamarine stone believed to be worth more than half-a-million pesos. Just three months ago, the Bunevaczes told YES! that by 2008 they would be moving out of their rented house in Ayala Alabang, and moving into the house they're building in the same village.
THE INCIDENT. Now comes a PEP source from the business sector who says that "something really happened to David."
Last November 27, the businessman says, Jessica received a distraught call from a male friend who belongs to the same Christian church that she and David go to. The male friend asked, "Where is David? Where is David!" A clueless Jessica answered, "Why? Why?," her voice growing more scared by the minute.
The source goes on to say that the male friend, himself very agitated, told Jessica that he'd just called David on the latter's cell phone. But when the call got through, all the male friend could hear was grunting and cursing and sounds of pain. "Like somebody's hair was being pulled and it really hurt," says the source. Jessica became hysterical by then, adds the source, but managed to make a lot of calls. When she still could not locate David, and became sure that David was in danger, she got a high-ranking police officer on the phone.
Another PEP source, who belongs to neither the Bunevacz camp nor the partners' camp, confirms that this call was made. Jessica reportedly told the police officer that her husband had been "abducted." Pleading with him to find David, and convincing the officer that there was reason to fear for David's life, the officer eventually sent operatives to the Bunevaczes' house. By the time the operatives got there, however, they reportedly found David home—relatively safe, although badly beaten. "He had marks on his face," the source says.
According to the same PEP source, David's story went this way: He was asked by people known to him to meet with them in the Greenhills area. He went. Then they got into a heated discussion, and the guys began accusing him of things he wasn't guilty of. So he kept denying everything. Then they started hitting him with their fists, their feet, and "doing things to him you can't imagine." At one point, they held a gun to his head. Before it was over, they had made him sign over his Porsche, and also got his watch. Then they let him go, with threats to his life, if he didn't return what they said he'd stolen from the company.
CONFIRMING THE RUMORS. This independent PEP source says he is very sure of his story. Still, a check with the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Criminal Investigation and District Unit, National Capital Region (CIDG-CIDU, NCR), as of December 13, or more than two weeks after the incident, showed up no record of any complaint—either of abduction and physical injuries or carnapping and robbery—from the Bunevaczes, against anybody.
Nevertheless, another PEP source says that a Beverly Hills 6750 insider intimated to him that the incident "really happened." Reportedly, some investors connected to the clinic wanted answers from David, the clinic's president and CEO, about the misuse of clinic funds.
"Parang David had made the clinic his own personal ATM machine," says the source, and the investors wanted David to own up. "But the guy kept denying everything, even when they showed him their evidence, so they got really pissed," the source adds. That is when things got ugly, the source concludes. This includes, confirms the source, the group manhandling David and taking away his Porsche and expensive watch.
A third source, a friend of the Bunevaczes, confirms that after the incident the couple sought the help of friends "with connections." Some said they had a strong case, and advised them to file charges for abduction and carnapping, both non-bailable offenses. Others advised them to think hard before charging anybody because their enemies had "friends in high places in the PNP [Philippine National Police]." The couple also went to Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., who reportedly advised them to go the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), a body not under the PNP but directly under the justice department.
According to this third source, the Bunevacz couple are both very frightened for their lives. David flew to Hong Kong the very day after the incident, but returned the following day. The couple did go to the NBI, where they told their version of the story to high-ranking officers of the bureau. They also did go to the Villaraza and Angangco Law Office, in preparation for a possible legal war with their partners. The source insists that the CIDG-CIDU is also aware of the story, but wonders why there is still no blotter there of the incident. "Maybe they're still busy with the Manila Pen incident," says the source.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS. A check by PEP with car circles on December 8 confirms that Jessica's BMW X5 is now up for sale, through BMW's Certified Pre-owned program. According to motoring journalists, David cited "financial problems" as his reason for putting the two-month old BMW back in the market.
A call by PEP to Beverly Hills 6750, also on December 8, produced only more questions. Nobody there seemed to know where she is, and we were told instead to "write to the general manager."
A call to both Jessica and David through their cell phones have produced dead air.
Speculation is rife in show business that many players-stars, managers, network executives, reporters—already have bits and pieces of the story. Jessica, at the first stages of panic, is said to have unburdened herself to trusted industry hands, including some columnists. But now, reliable PEP sources say, Jessica wants the story killed. She wants it way out of print and definitely out of television, ostensibly because she and David are still trying to broker peace with their partners. They are negotiating, according to PEP sources, from the United States, to where they have flown.
With reports from Karen A. Pagsolingan