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Dead Man’s Float

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Tobias on CNBC's Squawk Box (foreground); coverage of his death (background).  

In July 2003, Phyllis got a restraining order against Jacknin, accusing him of assault. Jacknin denied it and retaliated with his own statement. He said Phyllis’s violent moods had reduced him to barricading himself in the nanny’s room. He said that “she will kill” if he tries to gain custody of the kids.

Jacknin also said that Phyllis was on a cocktail of Xanax, Vicodin, and Ritalin and kept coke in the house. He finished by saying that Phyllis had abandoned the children one weekend in July so she could spend time with her boyfriend at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.

The boyfriend was Seth Tobias.

Seth and Phyllis met while they were both in San Diego for the 2003 Super Bowl. The twist is, Jay Jacknin introduced them. Jacknin actually knew Seth first. The two men had met through a mutual friend, Daniel Borislow, an entrepreneur and racehorse owner from Philadelphia who spends part of the year in Palm Beach. At the time, Tobias was separated from his first wife, Tricia White, a South Jersey native. Phyllis was married to Jacknin, but they were fighting all the time and got divorced later that year.

Seth fell for Phyllis right away. Why not? She was blonde, fit, and sexy.

Sure enough, Tobias told his brothers and Circle T partners that he was moving down to West Palm in pursuit of Phyllis. “I can run Circle T from down there,” he said. He and Phyllis could often be seen around town at the Breakers or black-tie charity events.

Seth and Phyllis’s relationship was insane, even in the early days. Phyllis blasted Seth about his coke habit, but they both were heavy drinkers, especially of Champagne. A former Circle T employee says he personally saw Phyllis give Seth coke and use the drug herself on many occasions. (Jacknin denies those claims.) Seth questioned Phyllis’s emotional stability. They each accused one another of infidelity. It went back and forth like that.

Seth and Phyllis split up for a while, with Seth returning to New York. The former Circle T employee says that Seth told him that Sam Tobias was concerned, warning his brother, “That woman is going to kill you or bankrupt you.”

Tobias didn’t listen. “He was addicted,” says the former Circle T employee, “to Phyllis’s ups and downs.”

After another breakup, Seth was moping around New York and called Phyllis. By the time he hung up, the two were engaged. Knowing that Seth’s friends and family disapproved, the couple eloped on March 4, 2005. “Seth just didn’t show up for work, and we didn’t know where the hell he was,” says the former Circle T staffer. “That afternoon, he called in all sheepish and said, ‘I’m in Belize. I just got married.’”

That summer, Circle T took a big financial hit. Seth’s Palm Beach pal Doug Kass had a son, Ethan, who was looking to break into the business, and Seth took him on. In July 2005, Google went public. The question at the time was whether the $85 initial offering price was a good deal. Ethan bet it wasn’t. Circle T lost $12 million when he shorted the stock.

The trades weren’t just wrong. Seth hadn’t signed off on them. The firms’ investments, almost half a billion dollars in 2003, sank to $220 million after the Google screwup. Many hedge funds booked monster years in 2005, but Circle T was down 5.3 percent. There were whispers that Seth was distracted by Phyllis.

Tobias’s marriage was also tanking. Phyllis would often appear at the office and demand cash. “Give me 15,000 fucking dollars. Give me 15,000 fucking dollars,” she hissed on one visit, according to the former Circle T staffer. Tobias had promised Phyllis that he would stop using cocaine, but she didn’t believe him. In the fall of 2005, the couple was having dinner at Bice, a Palm Beach restaurant, with six other people. Just after sitting down, Phyllis jumped from her seat and placed her lips over Tobias’s nose and began sucking. She was searching for cocaine residue.

A few weeks later, the couple returned to their West Palm Beach home after a night of drinking, and Tobias ripped down a set of drapes that Phyllis had purchased without his knowledge. The police were called, and Phyllis claimed Tobias threw a jar at her. He was arrested for assault, a charge eventually expunged from his record when Phyllis declined to press charges.

There were more fights, more police visits. The following February, one night when she hadn’t returned home from dinner by 2 a.m., Tobias drove to Cucina, a West Palm Beach restaurant, and confronted Phyllis, who was having drinks with a male friend.


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