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Dead Man’s Float

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On April 2, 2007, the West Palm Beach police logged a report from the Tobias home at 4:19 p.m.: “Male is calling. States his wife is throwing bottle of wine and food at him. Female is in the background yelling.”

Tobias was done. Then he wasn’t. Phyllis continued consulting with Ash, who advised her not to give up on their marriage. She thanked Ash by FedExing him a $10,000 watch.

Over the last weeks of Tobias’s life, the couple fought over home renovations, over Tobias’s cocaine use, and, of course, over Ash. Seth again threatened to leave her. “This divorce is going to cost me a lot less than the last one,” Tobias told his driver in August. “I’ve lost a lot of money since then.”

The next month, Tobias was dead.

Jupiter police officers examined Tobias’s body shortly after he died. They noted scrapes on his nose and forehead. His glasses had floated to the bottom of the pool. Phyllis Tobias told Officer Elizabeth Juric that she believed her husband had been snorting cocaine at Bradley’s that evening with Brett Borgerson. Juric then called Borgerson, who admitted it was possible Seth had been doing coke earlier in the day. Phyllis gathered up McGee, the couple’s dog, and left the house a few minutes later. The police got a search warrant and found in the house two small plastic bags, one containing a white powder, the other a bluish substance.

Tobias was laid to rest in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on September 7. All his Wall Street friends were there. Phyllis sat silent mostly, occasionally letting out a sob.

Phone records show that Phyllis spoke to Billy Ash eighteen times in the week following her husband’s death, including for 81 minutes on the day after his drowning. After one of the talks, Ash made a call of his own. It was to Sam Tobias, the brother closest to Seth and Seth’s heir apparent at Circle T. Ash told Sam that he had served as the couple’s assistant, which Sam thought was odd since he never remembered meeting him. Ash then told him that Phyllis had crushed Ambien tablets into a pasta sauce that she’d served his brother the night he died.

The following day, Sam Tobias called Ash with his lawyer present. Ash repeated his story, and told Sam that he had been paid for his work for the Tobiases through both a PayPal account and with cash FedExed to his San Diego apartment. Sam passed the information to the Jupiter Police Department. About two weeks after Seth’s death, the department sent two officers to San Diego, where they took Ash’s statement and then flew back to Florida. The police won’t say what Ash told them, but they were apparently not too impressed with his story. An investigation is still going on, but the cops have yet to classify Tobias’s death as suspicious.

One night at dinner, says a former colleague of Seth’s, Phyllis jumped from her seat and placed her lips over Seth’s nose and began sucking. She was searching for cocaine residue.

In late September, Tobias’s will was read. The will, signed on May 12, 2004, divided Tobias’s estimated $25 million fortune between his brothers, parents, and friends. Strangely, he had made no adjustment to the document after his 2005 marriage. Under Florida law, this nullified the will and left his wife as sole inheritor of her fourth husband’s assets.

In a panic, and armed with Ash’s claims, the Tobias brothers filed a motion in Palm Beach County probate court seeking to block Phyllis from inheriting the money, citing Florida’s “slayer statute,” a law that prevents a spouse from profiting from the murder of his or her partner. Phyllis hired four lawyers of her own, including Jay Jacknin.

Billy Ash, meanwhile, began carpet-bombing reporters with his claim that Phyllis had confessed to him that she had killed Seth. He also added this little tidbit. Seems Seth had led a secret gay life. A brief gossip item appeared in the Palm Beach Post on October 17 publicizing Ash’s claims, but almost no one read it outside the area.

On December 4, however, the New York Times published a story on the front-page of the “Business” section about Tobias’s death. The paper retailed Ash’s more lurid allegations, including his claim that Phyllis had lured Seth into the pool with promises she would arrange a sexual liaison with a gay porn star–exotic dancer who went by the name Tiger because of the tiger stripes he had tattooed on his body. Ash alleged that Tobias met Tiger at Cupids, a West Palm Beach gay bar. The Times story included a confirmation of sorts from Adiel Hemmingway, the manager of Cupids, who said, “Seth used to come in here back when it was crazy.” Everyone read that.

Seth’s family was silent. Ash, meanwhile, hired Debra Opri, an attorney best known for repping Larry Birkhead in his successful quest to prove his paternity of Anna Nicole Smith’s child. Opri had parlayed Birkhead’s celebrity, through book deals and other projects, into more than $1 million.


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