In August 2000, Bill and Hillary Clinton attended a Hollywood fund-raiser billed as a tribute to a president ready to leave the White House after eight years and a first lady seeking to establish herself as a force of her own in American politics.
The guest list reflected the glitter of the occasion: Cher, Diana Ross, Brad Pitt and Patti LaBelle, to name just a few. But a person who later emerged as perhaps the most memorable - to the Clintons and their associates, anyway - was a well-connected figure with a checkered past who helped organize the event. He is Peter Paul, a man who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and trying to defraud Fidel Castro's government out of millions of dollars in 1979, among other things.
Mr. Paul said he spent nearly $2 million of his own on the fund-raiser as a way to curry favor with Mr. Clinton, and photographs show him chatting with Mr. Clinton at a dinner table, having a discussion with Mrs. Clinton and striking poses for the camera with both of them.
Associates of the Clintons say the couple did not know of Mr. Paul's troubled past at the time, and in the months after the event, Mr. Paul turned on the Clintons, later urging investigators to look into the fund-raiser.
Last month, the federal investigation produced an indictment charging that the cost of the affair had been underreported.
The case offers a bizarre and tangled tale of how Mr. Paul, a smooth operator with myriad connections and a troubled past, got so close to America's first couple in a political culture dominated by money. It also shows the continuing effort of a longtime nemesis of the Clintons, Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group, to make legal trouble for the couple.