A crew that takes the cake may one day miss the boat

March 31, 2004|By JAY HANCOCK

ANDY McNab, yacht construction manager for Derecktor Shipyards in Bridgeport, Conn., says he hasn't paid much attention to the Tyco trial a few nautical miles down Long Island Sound.

Sure, it's a great trial, what with the alleged $600 million larceny, the "batty blueblood" juror, the $15,000 umbrella stand and the ice statue at a toga party emitting Stolichnaya vodka from its naughty parts.

But time is short and the yard is busy, making ferryboats, for instance, but also trying to unload a silvery hulk that takes second place to no umbrella stand or glaciated, anatomically enhanced beverage dispenser as a symbol of 1990s wildness.

The monster yacht, ordered by Tyco tycoon L. Dennis Kozlowski before he cruised into trouble, is the biggest aluminum sailboat ever made in the United States. It's 150 feet long, has a price tag over $15 million and was designed with teak decking, three cherry-wood staterooms and a quarter-acre of sailcloth.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair, the poet said. Now it sits part-finished just south of I-95 in Bridgeport, and McNab needs to find someone to pay to finish it and take it off his hands.

"We stopped work as soon as Mr. Kozlowski stopped the project" two years ago, McNab said on the phone yesterday. "There are people that have come by to take a look."

But no takers. Big, expensive, messy, unfinished business is Mr. Kozlowski's trademark these days.

His trial is 6 months old. It has reportedly cost both sides more than $12 million. The jury has deliberated for more than a week. The judge has turned into a celebrity - always a bad sign. And no matter how the trial turns out, you can be sure Kozlowski's legal and financial affairs will make headlines for years to come.

This is why prosecutors moon and sigh over the words, "plea bargain." Who would have thunk it? A white-collar fraud trial is giving us extended legal theater worthy of the O.J. case.

Kozlowski and sidekick Mark Swartz are accused of inflating Tyco stock while they unloaded shares and reaped what prosecutors say were $430 million in illicit gains. They're also in trouble for getting another $170 million in pay and perks they say Tyco's board approved and prosecutors say they stole.

Things got interesting last fall after the judicial discovery process dredged up a videotape of a $2 million vacation and party Kozlowski threw on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia for his wife's 40th birthday, a bash that he partly charged to Tyco shareholders.

The party featured chariots, gladiators, the aforementioned vodka appliance and male models dressed in togas or Speedo swimsuits. Plus singer Jimmy Buffett, who was paid $250,000.

Trial Judge Michael J. Obus felt obliged to censor the videotape on the theory that jurors might spend more time brooding over an erotically shaped birthday cake than the evaporation of $600 million.

"While I am hesitant to make this trial any less entertaining than it already has been," the judge said, he edited scenes of a waitress feeding guests grapes; a guest mooning the camera; and Jimmy Buffett expressing amorous intentions toward the birthday cake, The New York Times reported.

Now things are even more entertaining, and McNab, Kozlowski's former shipbuilder, is following the news again. The jury is apparently deadlocked, and the holdout for acquittal is apparently a 79-year-old former teacher and member of the Colonial Dames of America who flashed an "OK" hand gesture at defendants last week. Or maybe she was pushing back her hair.

She's been named in at least three newspapers (but not The Sun) and apparently was the juror who prompted notes to the judge describing the deliberations as "poisonous."

Now, by arguing that the process was tainted and that the holdout juror was pressured, defense lawyers have automatic grounds to appeal a guilty verdict. And in any case there figures to be another Kozlowski prosecution coming up - for alleged sales-tax fraud in connection with his multimillion-dollar purchase of paintings by Monet and other artists.

Like other Kozlowski boodle, the Monet is presumably subject to a court-ordered asset freeze. It's in limbo, like everything else about the Kozlowski case - including his megayacht.

"I've sailed with him and his crew," says McNab. "He struck me like all yacht owners - very charming and polite."

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