Boesky vs. Boesky

James Barron

May 06, 1993|By James Barron

Other Voices is usually full of earnest analysis and criticism. But every so often an article written for the news pages speaks volumes about life in these United States. Such is the case with the following, written by reporter James Barron of the New York Times.

THE divorce trial of Anonymous I vs. Anonymous II began, well, anonymously.

Guards who usually know everyone and everything about State Supreme Court in Manhattan had no idea who Anonymous I and Anonymous II were. They did not even know what courtroom the trial was being held in. Neither did clerks in the first-floor Matrimonial Office. They pecked at their computer keyboards and declared that they could not call up the case on their screens.

But soon, the word spread: the Anonymouses were Ivan F. Boesky, who was a high-flying arbitrageur before he pleaded guilty to insider trading, spent two years in jail and paid $100 million in fines and restitution, and his wife, Seema, who filed for divorce in 1991.

They have been taking their places in a courtroom on Centre Street -- not, as widely reported, next door to the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow custody trial, but down the block. They are not the first celebrities to stand under the crooked light fixtures in Justice Phyllis B. Gangel-Jacob's courtroom, arguing about their pasts and the future. Standing before the same op-art blue walls, Donald Trump was divorced from Ivana Trump.

"The people I have had in that courtroom have found the judge was listening and was careful," said Hariet Cohen, a Manhattan divorce lawyer not involved in the Boesky case. "When the trial is going on, day in and day out, she tries to convey through her questions where she thinks it ought to be going."

Justice Gangel-Jacob granted Mrs. Boesky's request for a divorce last month on grounds of "cruel and inhuman treatment." Now the Boeskys are arguing about how to divide her assets, estimated at $100 million.

Boesky, who says he has no money, maintains that she is "rich beyond her imagination." He also says that he is entitled to half, even though some of the money came from his illegal dealings. Last year Boesky asked the judge for $20,000 a week in "interim financial support." He said he was barely getting by while Mrs. Boesky spent $42,000 a month. Lawyers for both sides decline to discuss details of the case.

In testimony, the Boeskys sound like many other recently divorced couples, except that the numbers in the Boesky case are a lot larger than in most divorce actions.

"My husband was a rat," Mrs. Boesky declared before bursting into tears and taking a box of tissues from a court clerk. "He's settled, he's fine. I'm the one holding the bag, the one who's never done anything."

But if the rich really are different, what sets the Boesky case apart are the zeros. There is the $2.4 million house in La Jolla, Calif., the $750,000 condominium in Hawaii, the $427,000 property in Fishkill, N.Y.

Mrs. Boesky testified that when she married Boesky, she had $100,000 in cash, along with some art and jewelry. She also had some stock in the Beverly Hills Hotel, which her family had owned and which was sold in 1986 for $15 million.

And there is the art collection. Nancy Whyte, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's auction house, testified about three Rodins, two Degases, a Bonnard, a Dufy, a Giacometti, a Renoir.

Ms. Whyte's advice was to hold on to the collection. It was a bad time to sell, she said, with the art market depressed. Besides, the Boesky name, which once had the power to send stock prices soaring, might now have the opposite effect.

That came up in cross-examination on Friday. Ivan Boesky's lawyer, Renee Schwartz, asked whether the value would be helped or hurt if the Boeskys' name appeared in Christie's catalog. The question came after Ms. Schwartz noted that Christie's, in selling art that once belonged to the composer Richard Rodgers, had featured his name prominently in one of its catalogs.

Ms. Whyte said that what worked for Rodgers would probably not work for the Boeskys. "The general public has, shall I say, more fondness for Richard Rodgers than for Mr. and Mrs. Boesky," she said.

Mrs. Boesky testified that she learned her husband was in trouble not from him but from one of his aides, Houshang Wekili. She said Mr. Wekili told her he had a matter of "extreme importance" to discuss, and the two went for a walk.

"On that walk," she said, "I do recall my heart beginning to palpitate. I was receiving information of a shocking nature."

As the case developed, she said, "Ivan was very fearful, went over and over, going to jail, losing me and my support.

"I don't remember that he ever described the crime," she said. "He probably said insider trading. I do remember he said he'd considered lots of options, including leaving the country, but he couldn't live a life on the run. We talked about damage control. We talked about what to tell the children."

She still has not escaped the shadow of her husband's ignominy, she said. "Overnight," Mrs. Boesky said, "I went from someone who was socially acceptable to a social outcast." Charities refused to take their money and country clubs requested their resignation, she said.

A Manhattan co-op apartment building turned her down, and one of her children -- she did not say which one -- discovered that the family name could be a liability when he tried his hand at door-to-door charitable work.

"He got his name out and they said, 'Get off the property, you scum.' He said, 'Ma, I hope you don't mind, but I'm changing my name.' "

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