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Crazy As He Wants To Be

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"I always thought Stanley was on a slightly different frequency than everyone else," says James Austrian, a consultant on AT&T's side of the deal who remains in awe of Stahl's talents. "I'd see him in a restaurant and say hello, and he always seemed distracted, like he was thinking about something else. He's complicated and extremely intelligent. At the end of the AT&T assignment, when the deal closed, Stanley gave me a gift, which was appropriate under the circumstances. It was a magnificent box, and inside was what looked like a magnificent watch. I thought to myself, This is going to be a treasure. So I took it and started showing it to people. They all said, 'That's crap.' I thought, Stanley gave this to me, it can't be a piece of junk -- it had a French name, the box was fancy, it was gold. It turned out to be a $48 watch, a really cheap piece of crap." Austrian laughs fondly. "Stanley? He dresses in Italian silks."

Along the way, Stahl had two unhappy brushes with publicity: In 1961, the tabloids had a field day with his messy divorce from his first wife. In 1977, Stahl was convicted of bribing an IRS agent to lower the valuation on his father's estate. Milton Gould won the appeal and Stahl's conviction was thrown out. By 1990, Stahl was wealthy enough to buy his own bank, leading a hostile takeover of Apple.

Stahl and Hirschfeld tolerated each other until 1992, when Hirschfeld tried to dissolve the partnership -- because he disagreed with Stahl's management tactics, Hirschfeld says; because Hirschfeld needed cash, says Stahl's lawyer. Then Stahl accused Hirschfeld of failing to distribute profits from their holdings. Hirschfeld responded by accusing Stahl of discriminating against minority tenants in Sutton Place buildings owned by the partnership. Then Stahl sued Hirschfeld over expenditures for asbestos removal at a parking garage and restaurant they co-owned. Lawyers have been hurling briefs back and forth ever since, but it all seemed fairly mundane until last year. "They're an odd couple," says Theodore Kupferman, a longtime Hirschfeld lawyer. "But the odd couple doesn't try to kill each other. They just keep arguing."

To a man who came to know Stahl during the battle for Apple, the angry breakup was inevitable. Stahl, though younger, came to see Hirschfeld as the embarrassing, unrefined little brother he'd outgrown. "Stanley thought himself smart enough to make use of Abe and then be through with him," says the banker. "These weren't guys that met each other on a mountaintop and decided they were gonna save the world. The common bond between them was greed. That was it."

The pretrial hearing in february is supposed to be perfunctory. But Judge Carol Berkman is quickly annoyed as former deputy mayor Randy Mastro, Hirschfeld's third lawyer in three months, argues that Hirschfeld's grand-jury testimony should remain sealed. "I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish," she says sharply to Mastro. "I get the feeling that I'm being dragged into a political quagmire that I want absolutely no part of."

Two hours later, in his midtown office, Hirschfeld walks over to a conference table. He picks up a stack of papers and hands them to me. It's his grand-jury testimony.

No wonder Hirschfeld doesn't care about legal strategy (he and Mastro will part company weeks later, Abe complaining in court that the lawyer is ripping him off). The grand-jury testimony is one of his finest performances. Hirschfeld attempts to sweet-talk Gilda Mariani, the assistant D.A., but ends up sounding like a dirty old man. At one point, in an exchange worthy of Abbott and Costello, he so befuddles Mariani that she has to pause and collect her thoughts. Hirschfeld pleads that he never graduated from sixth grade. He denies outright that he ever attempted to hire a hit man. Then Hirschfeld says yes, that's his voice on the tape agreeing with Singer that he wanted Stahl murdered -- but that he thought she was joking, and anyway, it was all Singer's idea.


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