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The Trouble with Harry Winston


In September, the two brothers briefly appeared together in a Florida courtroom, where Bruce continued to wage his civil suit against Ron. The trial judge there brought the brothers into his chambers one at a time and quizzed each for an hour. "It was the first time any judge has done that," says a friend of Ron's. "And Bruce cried out for his lawyer! He exhibited an inability to understand or discuss what was going on beyond the psychology. The judge made some progress in his understanding of what is going on. It's not really about stolen jewelry or estate planning; it's a mass feed for lawyers. Bruce is bent on fratricide."

Ron's friend and attorney Jay Lewin may be the last person to have seen Ron and Bruce Winston speak to each other outside a courtroom. Two years ago, Lewin arranged for the brothers to meet at his log cabin near Candlewood Lake, Connecticut. Ron brought in deli food from Manhattan; Bruce arrived promptly at 10:30 in the morning with Barbara at his side. But the summit was a disaster. "We all sat there for two or three hours," Lewin recalls. "All Bruce wanted to do was see his brother be as contrite as possible and admit he was responsible for all of Bruce's angst. Ron wouldn't do it. Bruce finally got bored and left." Lewin says the meeting turned truly acrimonious when Ron asked Bruce what he wanted from him. "Bruce got furious and said, 'Never ask me that!' And Barbara started yelling at Ron, too, saying, 'You know you're not supposed to ask him that!' "

More recently, an ex-girlfriend of Bruce's also tried to negotiate a rapprochement. But a week after agreeing to a meeting, Bruce backed out. According to Ron, his brother felt that because his ex-girlfriend was of Chinese extraction and because Ron Winston often traveled to China, she couldn't be impartial.

"That is the level of paranoia we're dealing with here," Ron snorts. "She's not Chinese. She's Brazilian-Chinese!"

But paranoia seems to run in the family. Ron Winston, camera-shy to the point of absurdity, has appeared at videotaped depositions wearing plastic pig masks and a Lone Ranger costume. He is mortally afraid of being kidnapped. "Look what happened to Gucci," he says. "And Versace."

Ed Wohl says that Ron's polished if eccentric veneer belies a dangerous malevolence. "Ron Winston is intelligent, well-spoken, and seductive, and it's important to . . . know this other side of him," says Wohl. In depositions, Bruce's legal team has alleged a long list of abuses, charging Ron with borrowing $845,000, interest-free, to purchase his Manhattan townhouse, and with using company funds to underwrite his ill-fated bid for the Olympics. (Then 47, he was training for the 100-meter sprint.) Ron denies both charges. "We are not talking about mismanagement," Wohl says ominously. "We are looking for wrongdoing."

Ron Winston retaliates in kind. During the three months I spent reporting this story, I became an emissary between the feuding brothers, a vessel through which they passed charges and countercharges to each other. As the exchanges grew increasingly heated, Ron Winston brought out the heavy artillery. Calling from Japan, he decided it was time to let me in on an ugly family secret. "You know," he said casually. "My brother killed a man."

Three months before he filed his first suit against Ron, Bruce Winston was driving down the Taconic Parkway near Peekskill. It was two days after Christmas 1989, and a man named Seaton Fisher was outside his disabled vehicle, which had its hazard lights flashing. Bruce's Mitsubishi struck Fisher, sending him 150 feet over an embankment. Fisher's 10-year-old son witnessed the accident from inside the car. There were no skid marks on the road prior to the point of impact, and Winston was estimated by witnesses to have been traveling at 75 miles per hour.

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