Last year, on their third anniversary, the couple toasted their good fortune in front of a small group of friends and clients at Cipriani. Passage, holding court in that season’s Gucci, was content. She was married to a wealthy man. There was no prenup. She was never going to have to struggle again. She was Cindefuckingrella.
A couple of days later, federal agents showed up at their apartment and arrested Starr. The SEC and the U.S. Attorney’s office had charged him with conducting a massive Ponzi scheme. “It’s a mistake,” he told her, after the cops dragged him out of the bedroom closet. But it wasn’t. Documents showed Starr had embezzled $33 million from clients. Passage was named as a co-defendant, and her bank account was frozen. It was as if her fairy godmother had suddenly reappeared and said, “Sorry, wrong girl.”
In the days after Starr’s arrest, the tabloid reporters camped outside the Lux heard an agonized wail coming from inside. “I’ve done nothing,” said the female voice. “Now I have nothing.”
This March, Passage, now 35, sat in a courtroom and listened as a judge with glasses and Janet Reno hair pronounced her husband guilty. “He seemed to have lost his moral compass,” the judge said, “partly as a result of infatuation with his young fourth wife.” Passage, sitting in the front row, was startled. Starr had said she was his third wife. Maybe she had misheard?
No, she hadn’t. The Post later reported the remark, adding the observation that Passage’s “cleavage was so generous that she used it to tuck in her sunglasses.”
Great—not only was she broke, she was being publicly slut-shamed. Not without a sense of humor, Passage added “moral-compass disabler” to her Twitter bio. If you’ve got it, you might as well use it. Which is what brings her to the Peninsula on this lovely Tuesday night.
It doesn’t take that many tequilas before Barry, a friend Passage made post-Ponzi, starts to get emotional. “She’s got a good heart,” he says, laying a hairy hand on top of her left breast. “She’s a nice person.” He goes on, with the sincere clarity only the extremely drunk exhibit. “She is brilliant with men. She knows what she’s doing. She’s trying to make whatever she can with what she’s got. She’s going to get out of all this bullshit. And,” he adds with a snort of laughter, “she loves it in the—”
Passage swats him playfully. “And I love kicking guys in the balls and humiliating them,” she says. Yes, and you can imagine there are times that might feel pretty damn good.
One of the things Passage dreamed about doing, once Starr’s seemingly limitless money opened up a world of possibilities to her, was writing a book. She still wants to, although, given the change in circumstances, she’s rethinking the idea. “Something like The Game, for women,” she mused recently. “Or something called How to Get What You Want From Any Man.” She’s also contemplating a memoir.
Her story might begin with that old cliché, a girl arriving in New York and looking up at the dazzling lights of Times Square. It was 1994, and though she’d planned her outfit carefully—a distressed floral-print dress in the style of Courtney Love, combat boots, and a flannel shirt—she was less sure what she wanted to do when she arrived. As a kid, she’d dreamed of becoming a pop star or a veterinarian, but she couldn’t carry a tune and was allergic to hairy animals. By the time she was 18, all she really knew was that she needed to get the hell out of Detroit. She’d figure something out. “I always had a good head for business,” she says. “And I hustle like crazy.”
One of the first men she met in New York hooked her up with a job selling voice-mail accounts, a place to live, and a musician boyfriend, who a few years later became the father of her son, Jordan. They tried to make a go of being a family, moving to Brooklyn not long after Passage graduated with a marketing degree from F.I.T., but she was bored and restless, and she and her son soon decamped to an apartment in Times Square. Ten years, several cities, and a brief marriage later, Passage was again supporting her son on her own in New York, selling classified ads for a small agency called Bayard. She was good at sales—she had charm, a sultry walk, “a little tilt in the hip,” says one former co-worker—and had an ability to soothe even the most difficult clients. But money was tight.
“If I was you, I know what I’d do,” said a male colleague one day in 2004, when she confided her problems. He eyed her curvy figure. “I’d go straight to a strip club.”