Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beyond his means

The Intrepid from Pier 86, 12th Ave. & 46th Street. 8:35 PM. Photo: JH.
June 1, 2010. A warm, occasionally humid, mostly sunny Memorial Day weekend in New York. And very quiet (heavenly for this canyon dweller).

Beyond his means. The weekend dish wafting inland from the beaches and the hills was about Ken Starr, the “accountant/ business adviser to the stars” who was arrested last week and held without bail for using his clients personal funds for his own edification, so to speak. Mr. Starr is not to be confused with Kenneth W. Starr, the Washington lawyer who spent $50 million checking up on President Clinton’s sex life.

One of this Ken Starr’s clients, Mrs. Paul (Rachel Lambert) Mellon was quoted by her lawyer Alex Forger in the New York Times as being “shocked” that Mr. Starr, whom she has known for many years, would use more than $4 million of her money to buy himself and his new wife, a very fancy condo.

Bunny and Paul Mellon. Mr. Mellon died in 1999 at the age of 92.
Bunny Mellon, 1960s, portrait by Matl Klarwein.
The Mellon townhouse on East 70th, sold a couple of years ago.
Mrs. Mellon is famous for being rich and for her brilliance in the field of decorative arts and horticulture. She is also famous for living luxuriously, and far under the radar of the media. Although she is 99, she has remained quite active in her life pursuing her myriad interests, most of which have to do with the creation and acknowledgement of beauty. Her life is about order and industry, and the decorative arts. The number of staff for her houses and her interests is said to run in the hundreds. Although she has successfully avoided publicity most of her life, at this late date, it appears that her biography is taking form.

She is a woman who has a soft spot for people she likes. Her fondness for Jackie Onassis, dating back to the White House years, was said to be expressed very thoughtfully and generously.

She obviously also has a soft spot for creative younger men, including, it would seem at times, the slicker the better. This inclination of fate has been unfortunate for her in the past year in three different cases.

Before his sudden death last July, party planner and designer, Robert Isabell, about 35 years her junior, was an intensely close friend. There was even speculation they might marry. Then, her relationship with Senator John Edwards and her involvement in his financing is well documented. Now the focus is on her relationship with Ken Starr, a long one – more than a quarter century (he began as her accountant).

Unlike either Isabell or Edwards, Ken Starr has very little of the swain in his presence and bearing. It was assumed his magic with Mrs. Mellon had to do with his business acumen. Mrs. Mellon, it should be said, is very used to having professionals (curators, pilots, deocrators, landscape designers, couturiers, office and domestic staff, etc.) in her employ. She is a perfectionist and does not have a reputation for keeping on staff or retainer those who don’t measure up. Mr. Starr must have measured up. Or so she thought.

From that single client, in the early 1980s, doors opened for Mr. Starr, including that of Arthur Stanton, who with his brother brought the Volkswagen to America, and made a fortune. Mr. Stanton had high standards too, and evidently Ken Starr measured up. Because when he died in the late 80s and left his wife Joan Alexander Stanton about $60 million, Joan Stanton automatically went with Ken Starr.

Two years ago, Mrs. Stanton, who happened to be a friendly neighbor of mine, discovered she was very short of funds. In fact she had to take a mortgage on her East Hampton house to pay her taxes that year. This was very shocking to the woman who was 92 and who lived very well but not extravagantly. Even worse was that she, like Mrs. Mellon, completely trusted Ken Starr with everything in her life. She considered him a very close friend. He knew this.

When the lawsuit hit the papers in April of 2008, other stories emerged of clients’ disenchantment with Mr. Starr’s business conduct. One story reported to me had to do with another Starr client, an especially wealthy individual. It was said that private meetings were taken on this individual’s behalf at major banks to request making a loan. The amount of the request mentioned was $100 million. It was said at the time that the individual’s assets (collateral) were worth well over a half billion. Whether or not the funds were finally procured is unknown to me, although more than one major bank was presented with the deal; and at least one declined.
In the past year, these three men were bound by one degree of separation from Bunny Mellon. Fate playing tag? L. to r.: Mr. and Mrs. Ken Starr, the late Robert Isabell, and former Senator John Edwards.
Joan Stanton died last year before the case went to court. In the meantime her heirs are said to have made an unspecified settlement with Mr. Starr which presumably let him off that hook. (Ironically, it would seem judging from Mrs. Mellon’s “quote” in the Times, the Joan Stanton matter did not discourage her from continuing with Mr. Starr.)

The media have named a number of high profile individuals who are or have been clients of Ken Starr including Caroline Kennedy, who remained close to Mrs. Mellon after Jackie’s death; Henry Kissinger, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, the last four of whom are said to have left him quite some time ago.

There are other clients, also wealthy but not high profile, who came to Starr for his services because of Mrs. Mellon. The thinking is easy and shared by most of us: trusted by one of the richest women in America; what better recommendation. All of his clients were also made aware of his activity with Joan Stanton’s money, and that she accused him of mishandling and losing tens of millions of hers.
Ken Starr with Diane Passage.
And since that case was settled, Mr. Starr’s spending (the $4.5 million condo) has become more obvious. His new wife, the third wife, described repeatedly in the tabloids as a former “pole dancer” at Scores, the lapdancing joint under the 59th Street Bridge, has a reported fondness (that word again) for diamonds. And a besotted husband who wanted only to please.

Some friends have dated Mr. Starr’s “changes” back to when he first started dating the Scores star, as if to imply the (she)devil made him do it. However, the new Mrs. Starr was a mere child when he met Mrs. Mellon and Mrs. Stanton. Unlike his predecessor Mr. Madoff, Mr. Starr liked getting out and about, prospecting for new business and rich widows.

Last Thursday when they went to arrest him at his multi-million dollar condo (with its own swimming pool) he was reported to have hidden in a closet. They found him because they could see his feet under the door. Can’t you just see the detective, down on his hands and knees, his flashlight beaming under the closet door on some very suspicious looking toes. Like in a movie, no? (Mr. Starr was interested in investing in films, as it happens). So then they open the closet door and lo and behold, there’s their man, speaking volumes in his silence as he stands there. Guilty? Uh ... Planning on flying the coop? Not this time folks.
The happy couple.
They’re calling the case a “mini-Madoff.” Others say it’s the “tip of the iceberg,” so it may turn out to be not so mini. Mr. Starr was in the business of networking with relationships on relationships on relationships, and more than one high profile individual has been involved with his networks of investments, fund-raising and paybacks. There’s nothing remarkable about any of this. It’s common practice in all kinds of business. And it is called investment.

The difference is in the risk. And we’ve been in a high risk mode for quite some time now. Quite some time. Always wanting more. Needing more. Having more. Play now, pay later. But never paying attention. It’s a bug a lot of people caught. And it’s definitely contagious. Ken Starr’s problem is he caught the bug.
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