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The Impersonator

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Kosta Kovachev.  

When the others arrived—two hedge-fund executives, both from the same firm—Dreier brought them to the conference room, where he and Kovachev fielded their questions. At one point, Steve Cherniak, the CEO of Solow Realty, walked past, saw the meeting, and shrugged and went on his way. But had he joined the meeting, he would have learned that the hedge-fund representatives believed they were there to see Steve Cherniak—the man they were told was sitting next to Marc Dreier.

Dreier had been running similar scams with different marks, prosecutors say, since 2004. Dreier would allegedly contact an investment fund like Eton Park, Fortress, GSO Capital, Westford Global Asset Management, Perella Weinberg, and, before it went under, Amaranth and say that his client, Sheldon Solow, was trying to finance his real-estate projects by borrowing money with promissory notes. Dreier wasn’t a financier; he was a lawyer. But he would tell people he was working as a marketing agent for his client Solow’s securities. Solow, it appears, knew nothing about what Dreier called the “note program,” but that didn’t stop Dreier from sending along various offering materials—information about Solow, phony notes and financial statements on fake letterhead from Solow’s auditing firm, e-mails that he said had been issued by Solow, and so on. Dreier and his accomplices forged the notes themselves, complete with the fake signatures of Solow executives. If anyone asked to meet someone in the Solow organization, Dreier would arrange conference calls with people posing as Solow executives. He set up phone lines at his law firm. He created fake e-mail addresses. He kept hard-to-trace, no-contract cell phones—“burners” like Tony Soprano used—in a box in his office. Last July, Dreier diversified beyond his Solow strategy, selling $52 million in phony notes he said were issued by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. He used part of the proceeds to pay interest on some of the Solow notes he’d already sold.

Dreier’s motives were at once shallow and profound. Even by New York standards, he was wildly ambitious. It wasn’t enough for him to be a successful lawyer; he had to be the most successful lawyer in town, and he needed everyone else to know about it. You could see his obsession reflected in the $10 million Beacon Court condominium, the fully staffed $18 million 123-foot yacht, the $40 million in Warhols and Lichtensteins and other artworks, the Aston Martin, BMW, and two Mercedes, the two Hamptons homes, the Anguilla property, the Park Avenue headquarters with his name emblazoned on the side, the star-studded charity golf tournament, the girls. When he’d couldn’t come by all of that honestly, it seems, he found another way. The whole operation was audacious to the point of sheer recklessness—from the start, he was just one due-diligence phone call from being found out—yet the very boldness of his plan was central to its success. Who would believe that such a respected and apparently successful attorney would knowingly peddle hundreds of millions of dollars worth of nothing?

Marc Dreier seemed born to be a player. The son of a Polish war refugee who settled in Long Island, Dreier was voted most likely to succeed by his graduating class at Lawrence High School in the Five Towns. At school, Dreier was more of an intellectual than a jock and presided over the student council. Friends remember him driving his Oldsmobile 442 with the top down and dating the prettiest girl in school. “The fact that the guy remained the big man on campus later on in life, that surprises nobody,” says classmate Kenneth Gross. “He had that flash in him from his early days.” Next came Yale and Harvard Law. “He had a plan even then to do well,” says Henry Kass, another old friend. “The mantra for all of us was ‘Be somebody.’ ”

After law school, Dreier went to work as a white-collar defense litigator at the New York firm Rosenman & Colin. “He was one of the shining stars,” says Donald Citak, a former colleague. “He was ambitious, bright, and full of energy—hyper but personable.” Dreier pitched on the company softball team and was always up for drinks, often at the Beach Café at 70th Street and Second Avenue, a few blocks from his bachelor apartment on York Avenue. But even Dreier’s friends didn’t fully trust him. “He never put other people’s interests first,” one friend says, “and he’d make no bones about it. Part of him wanted to have friends, but all of him wanted to be admired.”

Dreier left Rosenman in 1989, then worked at two other firms before starting his own shop with a lawyer from Boca Raton named Neil Baritz in 1996. Dreier & Baritz’s first major client was Sheldon Solow, one of the city’s real-estate titans, who, like Dreier, was wildly ambitious and had a taste for expensive art. Solow already had a reputation as one of the most litigious real-estate developers in town, suing rivals, tenants, even tenants’ houseguests. Dreier only enabled Solow’s habit. In one matter, Dreier filed eight different lawsuits on behalf of Solow in thirteen different states and federal jurisdictions—losing every time but still appealing. Opposing lawyers say Dreier was a shark. “He was the type of guy who would do anything a client asked if it was in his interest,” says Kevin Smith, a lawyer who faced Dreier in court many times. “Everybody draws a line at some point. But this guy, he would do anything. Every courthouse, he’d pull up in a limo. He had suits that were cut, watches, jewelry. He was nasty, very aggressive, and contentious. He treated me like I didn’t exist.”


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