If you’d walked by the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue that day early in March,you might have wondered whether someone was holding a fashion show. Oneafter the next, beautiful young women filed in, sheathed in Versace, clutching Hermès bags, eyes hidden behind Dior dark glasses.
The deceased, Alexander “Sasha” Khazin, was the son of the head of production at Lenfilm, a Soviet movie studio. He’d worked here as a luxury-car salesman, a wannabe movie producer, and an entrepreneur whose last project before his untimely death at 51 was building a fertilizer plant in Turkmenistan. These enterprises bought him the trappings of American success: an apartment on Park Avenue and a place in the Hamptons, where he entertained lavishly – and romanced as many beautiful young women as would have him.
Though he’d just gotten engaged, Khazin’s funeral offered a tableau vivant of his playboy life. Most of the young women were émigrés from the former Soviet Union. “Everyone was there, because we all knew him,” says one of their number, Russian-about-town Inna de Silva. That was also true in the biblical sense: Khazin had slept with many of them.
After the funeral, they went off together to the East 64th Street co-op apartment of Inës Misan, a Latvian-born beauty who’d recently gained fame of a sort when her lover, John Lattanzio, the head of a Wall Street hedge fund, sued her for the return of a $289,000 engagement ring and she announced her displeasure on the front page of the New York Post. Joining her at the informal wake in her red-tented feline lair (decorated with Versace pillows, gilt armchairs upholstered in leopard fabric, and a bed on a balcony stage up a winding stair) were, among others, De Silva; Evgenia Gvordetskaya, another ex-model and half of the defunct Russian-born design team Ev & El; and her best friend, Inga Banasewycz. “Everybody was drinking and having fun,” Gvordetskaya recalls. But after a while, the talk turned to business.
Shortly before Khazin’s funeral, just weeks after Misan’s breach with Lattanzio, Banasewycz had broken up with her megabucks beau, Orhan Sadik-Khan of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, a married sixtysomething who was a managing director of PaineWebber and head of its Russia Fund. Now, Inga moaned to her sympathetic friends, she was running out of money. She could no longer afford the apartment he’d rented for her in the Galleria on East 57th Street – let alone the status baubles that are a Russian girl’s best friend. And to add insult to injury, Sadik-Khan hadn’t even waited for the sheets to cool before hooking up with another Russian – a girl they all knew!
It was then that Inës Misan made a modest proposal that caused the ever-so-Russian gloom to lift. If John Lattanzio could sue her, Misan said, why couldn’t Banasewycz sue Sadik-Khan? And just as Misan had gone to the newspapers to force Lattanzio’s hand, couldn’t Inga do the same to Orhan?
Banasewycz brightened. “I can sue, too!” she announced. “Go to the newspaper! Put him in shame!”
And so it was only a matter of days before news of Banasewycz v. Sadik-Khan, a $3.5 million lawsuit that read like a porn novel, put the stunning ex-Soviets back in the tabloid glare.
In certain quarters of Manhattan these days, it’s not unusual to encounter characters that seem to have come right out of a James Bond film: beautiful young Russian girls with revealing outfits and hidden agendas. They’re the latest status accessory in New York’s power game, the mistresses of the Masters of the Universe. The fact that they’re dangerous – wild, unpredictable, on the lookout for a bigger and better deal – only seems to increase their appeal. So certain women on the East Side are not seeing their husbands as much as they used to. “How old is your Russian?” one just-abandoned uptown wife asked another not long ago.
What’s happening here began ten years ago, quite a bit farther east. The unraveling of the Soviet Union created a host of new countries. And these places – Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine – were not exactly lands of opportunity, especially once the local cement plant closed. “After 80 years of Communism, morals were eradicated,” says an Eastern Bloc-born American who trades in the former USSR. “Then the state disappeared and a vacuum was created.” Into this vacuum came an influx of foreign men with nice suits and thick wallets, looking to do business and not averse to a little paid romance on the side. So becoming one of the dostupniye devochki – accessible young ladies – didn’t seem so bad. A 1990 poll of Russian high-school girls, reported in the Soviet press, found that 60 percent aspired to work as valuta prostitutes – foreign-currency hookers.
Jim Haynes, a Paris-based writer who’s long had an interest in the Eastern Bloc and its women, has an explanation for this. “In the old days, there was not much one could do in Russia except make love, and that is what everyone did, often,” he says. “Making love is a pleasure the state could not control, so Russians were – are – free to do it whenever they like.”
In northern Turkey in recent years, Russian prostitutes have been so prevalent they have even been given a nickname: Natashas. The Russian girls now so visible in New York started from the same sleepy towns and with essentially the same impulse, but they don’t do anything so crude as turn tricks. They’re Ultra-Natashas: Clever as well as beautiful, they pursue their goals with mercenary precision.
“These girls aren’t one-night hookers; they’re sink-the-teeth-in hookers,” says a television producer who knows them. “They’re playing chess. They’re looking No. 1 for freedom, No. 2 for lots of money by a quickie marriage or, failing that, a lawsuit. They’re very adept with credit cards, and they know you don’t get those the first night.”
“They’re very passionate, very beautiful, but very tough,” says a bachelor known from Bilboquet to Balthazar. “They want the big life, the money, and they give sex to get it. For a guy with a lot of money, it’s great. The girls don’t mind if you’re older, if you’re fat.”
Says another East Side swain, laughing: “They are the most coldhearted girls I’ve ever met.”
The gold-digger pipeline begins in small towns in the former Soviet heartland, whence girls migrate to Moscow or St. Petersburg, “places you can use as a trampoline,” says a Russian-born model scout. Once there, they seek out men who can help them bounce up, economically or, better yet, out of the East altogether. In many cases, these men “would not be as effective in the United States at attracting that caliber of woman,” says Richard Dean, who opened the first American law office in Moscow. “Girls started to qualify foreigners,” the scout continues. “What’s he good for? Is he a boyfriend? A potential husband?”
The path from Moscow to New York cut through the modeling business. In May 1988, the first Miss Moscow contest was held. A year later came the first Miss USSR, Yulia Sukhanova, a rangy 17-year-old Moscow schoolgirl with gray-blue eyes, blonde hair, and a beauty mark over one eyebrow.
Though she didn’t know it, her modeling career was facilitated by Richard Fuisz (pronounced fuse), a former actor, psychiatrist, pediatrician, congressional candidate, whistle-blower, and entrepreneur who declines to comment on a published report that he has intelligence ties. Fuisz, who owned a company that did joint ventures in Moscow, was approached by the then-Soviet ambassador to Washington, Yuri V. Dubinin, to set up a modeling agency to prepare the first waves of Soviet beauties for American commerce (which often meant substantial dental work) and protect them from “adverse influences” and bad publicity like magazine “spreads about their teeth,” Fuisz says.
Sukhanova was the first of ten girls he would oversee. But first, he had to free her from the Soviet Union. He did it with the help of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now one of Russia’s oil billionaires but then the head of the Komsomol, or Young Communist League, and beginning his business career in a computer venture with Fuisz. “Each time Yulia tried to leave, the Moscow City Council canceled her visa,” Fuisz reports. The hard-liners were opposed. “With Khodorkovsky’s help, I escorted her to the airport and onto a plane to get her out.” Soon, she was meeting Miss America, Nancy Reagan, and Sting, shooting the cover of Details, and filming a yogurt commercial. That’s when international model agents like John Casablancas started sniffing around Moscow like pigs after truffles.
As the Soviet Union crumbled, Yulia Sukhanova’s Americanization was proceeding apace. She left her first agent, Fuisz, and ended up in litigation with him over commissions. Her second agency, Click, soon became a sort of salon for Eastern Bloc model wannabes. Not only was the first Miss USSR there, but it was also the only agency in New York with a Russian-speaking booker. Inna (pronounced Eena) de Silva would become the linchpin of the Ultra-Natasha circle.
She was born Inna Sokolovsky in Odessa, on the Black Sea, where her family lived with three others in a communal apartment. Her mother was a department-store buyer and her father an appliance repairman, “but in Russia, everybody had to rely a bit on their wits,” she says in a gravelly whiskey voice over a late lunch and brandy at “44.” “You couldn’t survive unless you were doing something on the side. We have larcenous minds. We distrust authority. We like getting over on people. And we settle things among ourselves – sort of like Sicilians.” She laughs darkly.
De Silva learned about sex early. “Drinking and sex were the most important things,” she says. The Sokolovskys moved to America when Inna was 12, first settling in a Coney Island project, then moving up-island to Massapequa. In the eighties, after a failed marriage, Inna hit Miami’s South Beach, where she married a Brazilian surfer – the eponymous De Silva – and sold wholesale travel packages to fashion photographers. In 1990, Frances Grill, founder of Click Models, gave her a job as a booker.
The young Russians who now began heading for New York could talk to De Silva – in their native tongue. “Inna would tell them that the agency was interested, and they would just arrive,” Sukhanova recalls. “Imagine a girl from Moscow or a little town – she is in New York at the airport, and she’s like, ‘Oh, I have no ticket back.’ So Inna had to bring them here and try to give them jobs. And I guess when they didn’t work, I don’t know …”
De Silva would arrange visas and get the Russians tested by photographers. “They were very attractive girls of a certain kind, attractive enough to look like models in dark clubs,” says Grill, who called them “Almosts.” Her son, Joey Grill, who runs Click with her, thought of them as “Inna’s private test board, working little jobs.” Then he adds, “Apparently, they were going out on other jobs too.”
Inna’s group was tusovka – a happening. “She had it in her blood to be a party person,” says Frances Grill. “She liked rounding up girls to go to clubs at 2 a.m.” Restaurant and club owners began to lure her and the Almosts with free meals in exchange for their filling a table or two.
De Silva was eventually fired by Click and, discouraged and near-broke, started collecting fees for promoting dinner parties on slow nights at restaurants like Grolier and Jour et Nuit and clubs like Au Bar. Inna’s pack included a few real models she’d worked with. Buzzing around them was a swarm of more accessible Almosts. A circle of admirers “was solidified by these dinners,” says the Eastern Bloc-born businessman. “She would call the Russians and we would go.”
De Silva admits she made introductions. “The girls that might not be great for Vogue were great for something else,” she says. “They look good in someone’s arms.” Despite what many who know her claim, however, she says she never got paid for making introductions. “I know who I am,” she tells me one afternoon, sprawled in the back of a stretch limousine someone else is paying for. “I give a lot, and I’ve been very disappointed with a lot of girls. They’re very ungrateful. I introduce them to sugar daddies. I help them get their lives together. I’ve learned now: Do it and expect nothing. They live on Fifth Avenue, and I’m walking around with $300.” De Silva sighs heavily.
“I know it sounds naïve,” she says, but “I can feel for these girls. I can guess the trauma they went through. A provincial girl, born in the middle of nowhere in the ex-USSR, before she gets to the first big city, she goes through 100 guys. To get to Moscow, 300 guys. To get to the West, 500. They’re links in a chain. You meet ten, three promise something, but you go through 50 before one comes through. Russian girls are so greedy because they’re badly damaged. You meet them, and you can see the anger inside.
“I remember watching girls at the bar move to the banquettes and three weeks later, they’d have their first Chanel bag,” De Silva continues, hastening to add: “Not the ones I was inviting, of course.” But they were watching, and keeping score. “Russians are so competitive. Whose boyfriend gives them more? ‘You got a bag? I got a car!’ “
The men they meet, of course, are playing hard, too. “They think they’re running a game on us,” says a young investment banker. “They hang out; they shake their titties. They’re only after money, so we flash some, we fuck ‘em, and we dump ‘em. We trade ‘em like stocks. We teach ‘em American capitalism at its best.”
And in New York, who doesn’t play? As another investment banker points out, “These girls see New York women playing the same game under the veil of high refinement. New York society girls call them hookers and hate them. But what is the difference, except that the Russians admit it?”
Inga Banasewycz, then 19, met her aging sugar daddy, Orhan Sadik-Khan, at a dinner in 1990 at Tavern on the Green. In the lawsuit Banasewycz would file against Sadik-Khan, she said that their relationship was “purely sexual.” Sadik-Khan’s “appetite for sex was insatiable,” and he sought “control over every aspect” of her life so she would be available to him “whenever he wanted her.”
Sadik-Khan took Banasewycz with him to Russia, where, her best friend, Evgenia Gvordetskaya, says, she helped him do business. Her own suffered. Banasewycz couldn’t control her weight, so the modeling jobs dried up. And when she tried studying drama at NYU, Sadik-Khan “became upset and controlling,” Gvordetskaya says. “He didn’t let her do anything, basically.” The couple broke up briefly in September 1995 but reconciled shortly thereafter, and Sadik-Khan evidently relaxed his grip on her. He even put up the “couple of hundred thousand” that earned Inga her credit (under another name, Inga Galiullina) as an executive producer of an independent movie, Fool’s Paradise, according to its writer-director-producer, Richard Zakka.
In February 1997, Sadik-Khan rented Inga an apartment at the Galleria, insisting, she claimed in her suit, that she remain home at all times so he could have sex on demand. She charged he sneaked in and penetrated her while she slept, would pretend to be an infant and suckle at her breasts for three hours at a time, begged her to procure other women for group sex, flew home from vacations just to have sex with her, took hundreds of nude photos of her, asked her to describe sex with other men, and insisted that she have “wild” sex with him in his wife’s bed in Greenwich. Sadik-Khan begged her to have a baby, she asserted, promising her $1 million if she did, and repeatedly told her that he “wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and that if she remained with him, she would be financially secure for life.” Yet when she twice got pregnant, she claims he demanded she have abortions. And finally, when she again begged to work, she says he promised her $500,000 if she wouldn’t.
Sadik-Khan’s lawyer declined, on behalf of his client, to comment.
“What she did is pure extortion,” says a Russian model. “She lived a free life; he was supporting her. She didn’t want a career. These girls don’t work nine to five. It’s not their thing.”
Finally, in February, Banasewycz’s complaint concludes, Sadik-Khan “abruptly terminated the relationship, telling her he was ‘through with her.’ ” Curiously, Gvordetskaya disputes that, saying Inga broke up with him. “She wanted to do things; she is very ambitious; he was controlling her; so that’s all,” she says. “She just got sick of it. She was like his second wife. So it’s like any divorce. It just wasn’t an official marriage.” But Banasewycz didn’t sue until after Sasha Khazin’s funeral.
Inës Misan has just one brief scene in her only movie, Inside the Goldmine, but it’s a doozy, opening a story that revolves around her character’s murder. She plays a Russian named Scarlet Rider, who’s seen in a belly-button-baring black lace-trimmed top, talking between kitten smiles to Josh Evans, who both made and starred in the film.
“Want me to take you home?” she asks him. “You scared? Don’t be scared. I’m just a whore.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Evans scolds her. “I don’t like whores.”
“I bet your mother is whore, too,” Misan says.
“Don’t talk about my mother,” Evans snaps back. “You’re a fucking whore. That doesn’t make my mother a whore.”
“We’re all whores,” Misan concludes.
Three years later Evans says, “I thought she was perfect for the part.”
Misan comes from a little town outside Riga – “a small place even for Latvia,” says a Latvian. She married a man named Broujika but ran away to Moscow at 19 to seek her fortune as a dancer. Her next boyfriend was a Moscow gangster, now dead. She would later describe him as a man who would hand her stolen credit cards and passports and say, “Go get some Armani.”
Inës wasn’t content as a mafiya moll. She was also singing and dancing with Laima Vaikule, a nightclub entertainer, when Moscow opened up to foreigners in 1988. “It was so focused then,” says one of the pioneers. “It was 50 or 60 people going to three or four places where foreigners met. Inës was a very prominent girl in a small group. She never accepted money. It was gifts and trips.”
The man who took her farthest was Imre Pakh, a Hungarian-born, Leningrad-educated businessman who’d moved to America in the seventies. Between his two marriages, Pakh, who trades in fertilizer and chemicals from the former Soviet Union and lives in an apartment at the Galleria that he bought from Eric Clapton’s ex-lover Lori del Santo, was quite a ladies’ man.
Pakh declined to speak on the record, but according to several acquaintances, he brought Misan to Paris, sponsored her for a U.S. visa, and then paid for her East Side apartment. She called him her manager. If Pakh had feelings for her, that didn’t stop Misan from walking into New York clubs (she would boast), picking out the hottest guys, and taking them home. One choice became her second husband, David Townley, a model and California surfer who’d just hit town from Milan. (Townley refused to be quoted, but a source quite close to him told his story.)
Townley, who thought Misan looked like Paulina Porizkova, soon found out that she was something of a legend. “Her promiscuity was awesome,” says a man who had a two-day fling with her around the time she met Townley. “She made it clear not only to me but to a handful of my friends that she was an easy conquest.”
Says another ex-lover, who seems relieved to be rid of her, “She’s a man. She hates other women. Her attitude is a man’s: ‘I’m going to fuck that guy tonight.’ But Inës is not evil. She is not a hooker, even if some people don’t agree.”
Misan told Townley she was a singer, and introduced him to Imre Pakh, telling Townley that Pakh paid her a draw against her future earnings. But once Townley and Misan got together, she was on her own, and the ensuing affair left Townley penniless. When she was tossed out of her apartment (or at least said she had been), he let her move into his sublet. Then he took her home to Malibu. He decided he’d make her a model, paid for tests and a portfolio, and introduced her to agents and photographers. After a month in Malibu, she gave Townley an ultimatum: If he didn’t marry her, she’d find a green-card husband. Worried he’d never see her again, Townley married her in Las Vegas in August 1989.
After the wedding, Misan was nice enough when they were alone, but around other guys she’d be impossible, treating Townley like furniture. She spent his modeling money as if it were water, dragooned him into driving her everywhere. When he went to Milan to model for two months, he kept hearing reports from home about his wife’s wild behavior. In June 1990, he flew home and told her he wanted a divorce.
Townley didn’t see her again until her new boyfriend called him a year later. Her green-card application had hit a snag; she was going to be deported unless he came to court and convinced a judge their marriage was for real. Townley didn’t want to go, but she had all his furniture and he wanted it back. When they started bickering over where honeymoon pictures were taken, the judge said, “You were married all right.” Misan got her green card. Townley – now a waiter in Hawaii – never saw her again.
Misan’s new boyfriend was TV actor and former Calvin Klein model Justin Lazard, son of ABC foreign correspondent Sidney Lazard, grandson of the founder of the Lazard Frères investment bank. After a long romance and a brief engagement, Misan returned to New York in 1995. But she kept her Lazard connection, moving in with Justin’s parents and holding on to his checks and one of his credit cards, which she used to pay her rent and buy a VCR. Lazard wouldn’t comment, but a friend of both says, “He wanted her to know that no matter what, he’d be there.” Despite Lazard’s loyalty, Misan was playing the field again. She telephoned a friend one day and said, “If Justin calls, last night I slept at your place.”
Misan continued her modeling career, but the work was sporadic; she switched agencies, to Ford. “Inës is a really fun-loving, great girl, full of life, and it came across in her pictures,” says Katie Ford. “But she was not a serious model.” Within a year, she was gone.
She kept collecting admirers, though, among them several megabucks Manhattanites; a few sons-of, like Anthony (son of Bob) Guccione; actors Armand Assante and Val Kilmer; and Michael Bush, who asked to be described as “a handsome young lawyer.”
“After we stopped dating, she was going out with six people at a time,” says Bush, a handsome young lawyer, who remained a friend. “I realized she was a very dangerous woman.”
Even her defenders admit that Misan is liberal with her affections. “We live in a world of unbearable hypocrisy,” says photographer Peter Beard, who recently accompanied Misan to Latvia, where she owns a share of a model agency. “When Inës is friends with two or three people at one time, it’s not cheating, it’s just communicating.”
She’s quite a communicator. One East Side investor who met Misan at a charity event gleefully describes how she had the table in stitches telling filthy jokes and dropping berries in his lap and plucking them out with her fingers while his stunning wife watched, incredulous, from across the table. Luckily, the wife – who confirms the story – was amused. “I’ve never seen you stay at a dinner so long,” she told him.
Another rich young man met her at a luncheon, where she asked if she could join him and his friends. “Her car had been towed,” he recalls. “She tried to come with us so we’d go to the impound lot to ‘help’ her get her car out. When I wouldn’t, she said ‘You want to make love with me, don’t you?’ I haven’t seen her since.” He laughs. “I think we left it open.”
“Inës needs to show everybody how great she’s doing,” says a Russian model we’ll call Ludmilla, who knows but disapproves of the Ultra-Natashas. “She needs to show other Russian girls, ‘You’re like everybody else, and I’m a princess.’ She doesn’t think she’s a prostitute. She thinks she’s so great and beautiful, men just want to give her money. But there is some work involved as well.” Indeed, when Michael Bush saw Misan in a new Mercedes and asked how she got it, she replied, “I’ve been working very hard lately.”
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.