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From Russia with Sex

Her new job was John Lattanzio, 49, who'd quit high school in Astoria to make his bones with the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners, where he became Michael Steinhardt's confidant and top trader, raking in eight figures annually. Divorced since 1984, Lattanzio was considered a catch; he made Financial World's 1990 list of the most eligible Wall Street bachelors. In 1993, the magazine ranked him the thirty-eighth-biggest earner on Wall Street. In 1996, he opened the Lattanzio Group, a hedge fund that launched with $100 million in assets. That year, too, he was introduced to Misan by a fellow financier who described her as a nice Upper East Side girl. Lattanzio declined to give details of their affair, but the public record of the lawsuit tells their story.

Initially, at least, Lattanzio was a careful man. Shortly after they met, Misan says in the papers, he "demanded" she take a blood test; she demanded jewelry in return. Thus was laid the basis of their relationship.

According to the complaint filed by his attorneys at Wilkie Farr, Lattanzio proposed on May 20, 1996, and gave Misan a nine-carat radiant diamond set in platinum that he'd bought at Harry Winston for $289,275. The ring is "the size of a small watch," says a friend. He followed it with a $147,220 Cartier necklace in October, a $20,026 Van Cleef & Arpels ring at Thanksgiving, another Harry Winston ring worth $12,232 in January 1997, and a $27,000 crocodile Hermès bag last November. He considered all these gifts to be engagement presents.

In her reply, Misan claims they were never engaged. But three witnesses came forward to contradict her, and their statements echoed one made to me by Ludmilla, the model, who said Misan would wave the stone, trilling, "I'm getting married."

Misan's affidavit makes interesting reading, a self-portrait of an Ultra-Natasha. The gifts Lattanzio gave her were "nonconditional," she says. And their relationship, "in actuality," was "totally nonexclusive." Right from the start, he bought her things -- six $2,000 flowering orchid trees the night after their first date, for instance -- "to buy my affections" and "satisfy himself that I would like him." Then he'd claim she didn't, start an argument, and buy her more in apology. He spent $3 million on her in all, she thinks -- on her credit-card bills, rings and earrings from Tiffany, a Fendi fur, and a Mercedes -- when he wasn't "routinely" behaving in a way "that evidenced his own insecurity and obsessive behavior." And so, despite all the gifts, he "made it virtually impossible for us to have a healthy and happy relationship."

The date Lattanzio put on their engagement was nothing more than the last of many bust-ups and reconciliations. "He expressed his unhappiness with the fact that we were not seeing each other" -- and just happened to buy her a $300,000 ring the next day. His claims that they were engaged only proved that he was "scheming to 'set up' a scenario whereby he could sue me." They had "a terrible argument" and broke up again in mid-October. But a month later, he asked her out. "At the time," she thought it was all "quite funny." In mid-November, that changed.

"While I was out of town, plaintiff broke into my answering machine without my permission and listened to my messages," Misan's affidavit continues. What he heard convinced him that Misan was sleeping with another man. When she telephoned to say she was coming home, he called her a "fucking whore" and demanded the ring back. Then, she charged, Lattanzio had her followed; she insinuated that he had mob connections "and would not hesitate to use them to harm me."

He broke up with her late in November, and Wilkie Farr sent her a letter on November 26 demanding the engagement ring. When Misan offered to sell the ring back to him, Lattanzio's lawyers responded with the lawsuit, demanding she return not only what he wanted -- the ring -- but also another $200,000 in gifts. A few days later, Misan told Lattanzio she'd "raised funds to hire an attorney" by selling some of the contested jewelry.

But according to others, Misan didn't pay for her lawyer; someone else did. As we'll see, Misan has a knack for turning up in the most interesting places.

"I fell in love with her," John Lattanzio told me. "I made a mistake. If I have any regret, it's that I asked for the ring back. The ring was a symbol of love. I don't regret falling in love."

The funny thing is, he may not have been wrong to fall in love. For Russians, dreaming is easy, says the model scout. "What is lethal about them is that when they are going after you, they convince themselves for a second that they really love you. There may be another lover coming to see them when you turn the corner, but at that moment, they love you. That's what makes them so effective."

As Lattanzio's relationship with Misan crumbled, she suddenly popped up at the epicenter of the juiciest divorce in years, Wildenstein v. Wildenstein. In June 1997, the "Rush & Molloy" column in the Daily News reported Alec Wildenstein's desire to divorce his surgically altered wife, Jocelyne. Then, last September, she and her bodyguards allegedly found him in bed in his family's townhouse with a young blonde, at which point he pulled a gun and was arrested. Speculation on the blonde's identity was intense, and quickly focused on Yelena Jarikova, born in poverty on Russia's remote Sakhalin Island, near Japan. Wildenstein had, indeed, fallen head over heels for her, but it wasn't Jarikova in the townhouse, and when she read the reports, she was said to be so furious, Wildenstein had to buy her a Mercedes to placate her.

Jocelyne Wildenstein would soon say she was "99 percent sure" that the mystery girl was Misan, not Jarikova. But now an American woman has told a friend that she was with Alec that night, that he'd ensured they weren't seen by the townhouse staff, that earlier in the evening she saw the gun, that he was well aware his wife was coming -- indeed, had been in contact with her driver -- and that he'd given the girl a drink she believes was drugged. "The girl has been located, but she's afraid," someone close to Jocelyne reports.

It's unclear how Alec Wildenstein met Yelena Jarikova, a rock-hard five-foot-ten-inch blonde. Though it's been reported they were introduced by Gaddo Cardini, a peripatetic Italian dealmaker, he denies it. "He is very sensitive about how he met somebody," Cardini says, "because he likes to show off, like all the old men. He will never say, 'I've been introduced.' "

Though Wildenstein was willing to move mountains to win her heart, the middle-aged billion-heir was unsatisfied. "He wanted to buy her the world," says an executive at Ford Models, which took Jarikova on at Wildenstein's request. "He'd say, 'I love her, but she doesn't love me.' I never got that love feeling."

Indeed, Jarikova sometimes seemed closer to the ubiquitous Inës Misan, who she may have known before either met Wildenstein. Lattanzio thinks Misan met the billionaire at Jarikova's 21st-birthday party last September. Soon after, Wildenstein appears to have appointed himself Misan's protector, despite his apparent distaste for her. "He'd say 'She isn't the same class, but Yelena likes her,' " says the Ford executive. Gaddo Cardini thinks Wildenstein let the Misan-Jarikova friendship flourish because he thought it "would help him in his relationship, which had been very difficult."

Things didn't go as planned. "Inës was Yelena's adviser," says a man who saw them together. "She was saying, 'Look, there's a world of billionaires out there, and this is how you play it.' " Cardini agrees: "Inës is more experienced. But I think the advice she give is against the interests of Alec. She was coming out from a relation with a rich guy that she didn't like, so she believed Yelena was living the same story and she probably transferred this. This is how I see it. I am very shrink in these things."

In any event, at 11:45 a.m. on December 5, the detective who served Misan with a show-cause order in Lattanzio's lawsuit found her, clad in a robe, in Wildenstein's suite at the Four Seasons Hotel.

According to people close to the case, Wildenstein also suggested Misan use his lawyer, Raoul Felder, and even paid her legal bill. (Felder did not respond to two requests for an interview but denies any Wildenstein role in his representation of Misan. Wildenstein, Jarikova, and Misan didn't return calls.) Felder wasn't Misan's first lawyer. Someone who knows Michael Bush says that after her engagement, Bush and Misan discussed whether she could get a prenuptial agreement from Lattanzio. She wanted to marry and quickly divorce him and walk away with $1 million. And then maybe do it again. Asked about this, Bush demurred: "I gave advice in this area, but I can't comment because that advice is protected by attorney-client confidentiality."

Ten days after Misan was served, she told the Post that Lattanzio's suit was like an attempt to take candy from a baby. The next day, December 16, Lattanzio settled, getting back his engagement ring but letting her keep the rest of the baubles. The Post also revealed that Misan had taken shelter in Wildenstein's room, and that may have been when he decided to get her, and Jarikova, out of town.

On December 21, Misan told the Post that she was leaving for California to see Justin Lazard, "the love of my life." But instead, says Inna de Silva, "Inës took Wildenstein's advice and went to Moscow with Yelena," and from there to Kenya, where the two were guests at Ol Jogi, the Wildenstein family's 66,000-acre ranch. Also present were Wildenstein; his son Alec Jr.; Alec's girlfriend, a model named Rubria; and photographer Wayne Maser (Misan would later have a fling with Maser before hooking up with her present beau, restaurateur Cameron Alborzian).

The Kenya sojourn was anything but sweet. A witness says Jarikova was constantly complaining, about the food (Wildenstein flew in a chef from Nobu to placate her) and about Wildenstein's Gulfstream, which she declared shabby and old. Then Wildenstein and his son had a fight. ("Inës was flirting with Junior," says the witness, and Rubria got angry.) The two Wildensteins had words and some sort of physical altercation. Later that night, Junior didn't come to dinner. Strange as it sounds, Alec Sr. seemed to be trying to protect his son from the Ultra-Natasha. Wildenstein, finally, had lost patience with Misan. At first, "he was too afraid to break the relation," says Cardini. "Then I think he regretted it." He left for Paris, where he remains, while Misan and Jarikova returned to New York.

Nobody knows whether Orhan Sadik-Khan regrets his relationship with Inga Banasewycz. After she filed her lawsuit against him, and it made the New York Post's front page, Sadik-Khan didn't even bother answering the claim. Instead, he settled instantly and paid her off.

But there are regrets to go around. "Orhan didn't get off easy," says a close friend of them all. "And Inës was furious." It seems Inga's score was even bigger than hers, and it annoys her that Inga profited by her example. The friend, an ex-lover of Misan's, smiles wryly. Then he delivers an ironic verdict. "Inës is a major fuckup," he says. "They all are."

Additional reporting by Phoebe Eaton and Braden Keil.