The "mysterious Mr. Zzylch" boarded the posh Gulfstream executive jet for his Russian business trip accompanied by a few friends, a pizza somebody grabbed along the way and the board game Risk, just for laughs.
Zzylch, as millionaire Washington telecom mogul Walter C. Anderson once jokingly called himself, was in negotiations with Russian officials to lease their moribund orbiting spacecraft, Mir. They needed money. He had plenty.
A federal judge declined to release Walter C. Anderson, saying he might flee the country.
So there he was leaving Reagan National Airport in October 1999 on his $21 million airplane with gold-trimmed interior, full wet bar, a pizza and a game of Risk.
"It was hilarious," recalled a friend who made the trip. "Just some guys drinking a beer, playing a board game and on their way to get their own space station."
"It was the grandest adventure," the friend said. "Bunch of guys living a dream."
Four and half years later, the laughter and dreams have faded. The Mir spacecraft was "deorbited" to a fiery death in 2001, after Anderson spent millions trying to save it. He shed his interest in the jet after it burned through $4,000 of fuel one day idling on the runway. And late last month, he was charged by the federal government with evading more than $200 million in income taxes. Prosecutors called him the biggest income tax cheat in U.S. history.
Last week, a federal judge declined to release Anderson on bail, saying he might flee the country. Prosecutors noted his multiple identities -- "Mark Roth, William Prospero, Robert Zzylch, Robert Zzyllick, R. Langer, Rangor Danksjold and Dr. Paul Anderson." They also cited his collection of books about altering an identity, including "Poof! How to Disappear and Create a New Identity" and "The ID Forger." And they pointed out that he has connections around the globe.
As Anderson, 51, faces months of incarceration, friends and fellow space aficionados -- who emphasized that they know little about his business dealings -- portray a man very different from the crafty tax evader depicted in the government's indictment.
They describe a slightly eccentric bachelor whose success at making money went along with a strong sense of rebellion and an array of exotic interests, a man of spartan tastes with a sharp streak of humor.
"There was a sense of jest all the time," said an old friend, Rick Tumlinson, who brought the board game on the jet to Russia. "There was always a lot of laughter and a sense of humor . . . . The guy was a perennial kid."
Tumlinson said Anderson once showed up for a Rolling Stones concert in a stretch limousine and pulled expensive champagne from a plastic shopping bag filled with ice.
He said Anderson once broke a leg paragliding. Anderson also seemed to prefer a cheeseburger and iced tea to a gourmet meal, and he had no qualms about lodging in a cheap motel.
Anderson also had a multimillion-dollar art collection that included paintings by surrealists Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux. And he had a black pedestal in the foyer of his luxury riverfront condominium on which was mounted a tire clamped in a yellow traffic enforcement boot.
That defiant statement, said Tumlinson, "defines him and his relationship with the government."