Indeed, Jeffrey Silverman lived as if the gods had commanded him to be lavish. At 56, he had a beautiful, loving wife seventeen years his junior who had her own career as a successful real-estate agent, adorable twins he doted on, a second home in Palm Beach and another under construction in Bridgehampton, a chauffeured car. And if, like so many other people in the past couple of years, he had encountered financial problems, well, surely his even wealthier father-in-law would come to his aid, as he had so often before.
According to close friends of the Silvermans', the Tarnopols had helped Jeffrey out several times, to the tune of seven figures. "A lot of fathers-in-law wouldn't have gotten that involved, but the Tarnopols are the closest family I know,'' says one. "Mickey would ask how he could help, but ultimately, Jeffrey shut down. He just couldn't ask for any more money.
Silverman grew up in a home in which nothing was denied him. His father, Harry, was a corporate raider who lived large in Forest Hills: Even in nursery school, Jeffrey traveled in a limousine. After graduating from Long Island University, he became at 21 the youngest member of the New York Stock Exchange. He spent five years on Wall Street before becoming general partner at an investment partnership and president of a cable-TV company. In 1981, he joined the board of Ply Gem, which produced home-building products, and by 1997, he had become its primary shareholder, orchestrating its sale to Nortek, Inc. He walked away with almost $100 million.
"When he came to work for us, we paid him $85,000 a year,'' recalls Albert Hersh, former president of Ply Gem. "He insisted on arriving every day in a limo he had rented from Potamkin. Even I wasn't allowed to ride in it. And I remember him pleading with me, 'Please don't tell Ron' " -- Perelman -- " 'how little I'm being paid.' But the guy used to leave a $20 tip on each drink, at a time when most guys left a dollar or two. They knew him everywhere he went. We had our table at '21' whenever we wanted it. Who wouldn't like a guy like that? He couldn't afford it then, sweetheart -- the way he couldn't afford it now.''
Silverman's life in Bridgehampton and Palm Beach revolved around the horse set, but while Lisa was a professional rider, and her father had been a competitive polo player, Jeffrey wouldn't even ride for pleasure. At the funeral, another friend recalled that when he had injured his back, he was bemoaning his inability to play golf or tennis, and Jeffrey said, "Come over to my house and I'll show you how to do nothing.''
"Their house in Palm Beach was right by the Polo Club, but he had no particular interest in riding, or in any sports,'' says Neil Hirsch, founder of the Bridgehampton Polo Club and a longtime friend. "He was there to support her hobby. He didn't really have any hobbies of his own. A few years ago, in Palm Beach, I got him to play golf with me every morning. He agreed to go as long as it was really early, before other people came out. I felt that after Ply Gem was sold, he was sort of lost without something to do. But I never realized he had financial problems."
Silverman's big venture after Ply Gem, Brand Partners, wasn't a success, and many of the friends who invested with him ended up feeling the pinch. "We all bought the stock at $7; I think it's 3 cents now. To him, it's an embarrassment,'' says Winter. As his own stake in the company plummeted from about $6 million to $260,000, the shareholders in Ply Gem filed a class-action suit against him, alleging that Silverman used his influence over the board to divert money from shareholders into his own pocket during the sale of the company. According to sources close to the situation, the taxes on both his compensation from Nortek and an eight-figure forgiven loan that was part of the sale totaled close to $31 million. Though Silverman had begun paying the IRS, he was unable to keep up payments, and as the interest accrued, he slid further and further into debt.
In early November, brand partners announced that it had an unanticipated reduction in its capital and resources in 2002, because Silverman had paid himself about $265,000 in unauthorized compensation, and more than $130,000 in unauthorized reimbursements and payments for personal expenses. The company is now trying to determine whether there is any recourse against the estate.
"This is the kind of thing that corporate guys have done for years but that winds up on the front pages of the papers now,'' says one associate.
"I was enormously fond of Jeffrey,'' says Winter. "This situation was overwhelming and potentially humiliating. I'm sure he thought, I'll never come out of this.''
"The odd part is that he was always saying this was the happiest time of his life,'' says a woman who worked for him for more than fifteen years. "He regretted that he didn't have time to spend with the children from his previous marriage, who he felt needed help, and he said he wanted to do it right this time, to really spend time with the little ones. That is the irony.''
Silverman's two previous marriages were not as harmonious as the one with Lisa. There was a first union with Pam Deutsch, which produced two children, Amanda and Jason. They divorced, and in 1976 he married a beautiful real-estate heiress, Joy Wolosoff. Joy helped finance his investment in Ply Gem, and he promised to adopt Evan, her son from a previous marriage (which he did years later, when Evan turned 18). Together, they adopted a baby girl, Jessica. But friends say the nineteen-year relationship also brought out his dark side. He tormented her with other women, and there were eruptions of violence.