High-Class Grifter David Bloom Gets Pinched … Again

Bloom Booms (Again)

After a long time searching, David Bloom seemed to have found a home in the subterranean darkness of a fancy burger joint called Houston’s, located in the CitiCorp building at 54th Street and Third Avenue. Mr. Bloom, a 36-year-old bespectacled wisp of a guy, 5-foot-2 with slicked-back hair and a penchant for expensive suits and French cuffs, felt so comfortable he often showed up there three times a day, even though he looked like he would be more at home at the Four Seasons. And Mr. Bloom, who would often show up at opening time, 11:30 a.m., never seemed averse to ordering his customary glass of red wine–”Always the good stuff,” as one bartender recalled–before noon. There he would sip his wine and fixate on the television. Owing to the restaurant’s proximity to investment banking firms such as Bear, Stearns and Morgan Stanley, the television was frequently tuned to financial news. Mr. Bloom, who started frequenting Houston’s around the spring of 1998, would sit and watch the stocks roll by. Then he would rush out, saying he was going to meet a client for lunch at tony spots like Restaurant Daniel.

Over the summer of 1999, as he became more and more familiar to the bar staff, he started talking. According to the Houston’s staff, he said his name was David Daly, and that he handled stock portfolios for some very big clients. He said he owned a Bentley. He promised one thespian bartender that he would score him an agent at ICM; he told another that he would set her up with an interview at Allen and Company, the investment house. He said he had been an art history major at Duke University and wanted to some day open a gallery in New York. He seemed like a swell fellow. He would talk about how it might not be a bad idea to start putting money into stocks like Oracle or Biogen. A few of the people on the staff took his advice and bought some shares using their online Ameritrade accounts. They made money. Soon enough, like those old E.F. Hutton ads, when Mr. Bloom spoke, the whole staff listened.

If any of Houston’s staff had been living in New York back in 1988, they might have recognized Mr. Bloom’s face: That’s when he appeared in an eight-page feature in New York magazine, and received lots of ink in the local papers, for bilking about 130 investors out of $10 million. The investors were, for the most part, well-heeled friends of his Upper East Side parents. One scammed investor was his grandmother. At 23, he had a $1 million East 72nd Street condo, a $4 million collection of paintings by the likes of Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper and Mary Cassatt, and a generous spirit: He gave a woman on whom he had a crush a $30,000 Bulgari necklace. Another got a $3,000 Chanel dress. He bought a $2 million East Hampton home with tennis court and pool, and tooled around in a $139,000 Aston Martin convertible. But then he was caught and sent to Allenwood Correctional Center in Montgomery, Pennsylvania. He was released in March 1994 after serving five years of his eight-year sentence.

But apparently, none of the folks at Houston’s knew anything about his past. And one day, Mr. Bloom mentioned to a bartender named Bill that Morgan Stanley was offering him what he referred to as “gift I.P.O.’s”– because of the high volume of trading Mr. Bloom said he was bringing through the company, they were offering to set him up with a couple thousand shares of several Initial Public Offerings which Morgan was underwriting. “David said his clients weren’t interested in them, because they were only a couple thousand shares, and not millions of shares,” one bartender told The Observer.

Bill the bartender was the first to give Mr. Bloom money for the I.P.O.’s. He soon quit his job; he believed Mr. Bloom’s investments on his behalf had made him into a millionaire. Soon several other bartenders and cocktail waitresses joined in. Every week, they say, Mr. Bloom would announce I.P.O.’s: Amerisoft. Opus 360. Krispy Creme. And when the companies went public, the stock prices would zoom up. One female bartender said that her investment of about $20,000 had supposedly turned into over $750,000. None of them apparently asked to cash in their profits.

“Everything was on the up and up,” said a 30-year-old bartender who says she invested every penny she owned with Mr. Bloom, plus about $30,000 of her family’s money. “Except for the fact that our accounts didn’t exist.”

And on June 14 of this year, just as it had in 1988, Mr. Bloom’s fantasy world collapsed. He was arrested and since then has been incarcerated in the Vernon C. Bain maritime facility, a prison barge floating in the East River, his family either unable or unwilling to post his $75,000 bail. Neither Mr. Bloom’s lawyer, Antonio Morales, nor Wayne Salit, the Manhattan assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case, returned phone calls. Reached by phone, Mr. Bloom’s parents declined comment.

David Bloom grew up a long way from a prison barge. He was raised on 83rd Street between Madison and Fifth avenues, and attended the private Trinity School and Duke University. His father, Daniel, owned a restaurant downtown called Pizzapiazza; his mother, Lois, was (and continues to be) a restaurant design consultant. After college graduation in 1985, he got an office at 9 West 57th Street, leased a stock ticker and hung out a shingle as the Greater Sutton Investors Group. He began turning up at Petrossian and was a regular at Cipriani. He started amassing his art collection at the Fifth Avenue Berry-Hill Gallery. He took his parents to the Super Bowl; he told people that he was managing the Sultan of Brunei’s money. He appeared in a 1987 New York Times Magazine story on new art collectors, written by Carol Vogel. The section on Mr. Bloom began, “Price has little to do with David Bloom’s acquisitions. ‘First I decide what I want to buy, then I worry about how I’m going to pay for it.’”

According to a person familiar with the case, the Times story got the Securities and Exchange Commission interested in Mr. Bloom. By mid-December, he knew he was being investigated. So, over the Christmas holidays, he took his parents and Philippa Feigen, then the 21-year-old daughter of art dealer Richard Feigen, to St. Bart’s. (“She never dated him,” Mr. Feigen told The Observer.) After his arrest, Mr. Bloom pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud and securities violations, and he traded in his lavish apartment for the Allenwood Correctional Center. “He seemed contrite,” said one person who visited him there. “He really seemed like he thought it was a stupid, jerky, ridiculous thing to do.” When Mr. Bloom was released in 1994, he went home to his parents.

He started appearing at his old haunts, trying to make new friends. He popped up at Nello and Elaine’s, and began hitting the rounds of the charity galas and birthday parties of the Upper East Side’s young investment bankers. He showed up to a gala for Second Chances, a charity his mother was active in, which provided job opportunities for ex-cons. And he didn’t shy away from his jailhouse past.

“He wove a pretty compelling story,” said a woman who met him shortly after his release. “There was an element of heroism in the story he told. His story was that he was kind of this underdog who proved his mettle. But he was a name dropper. He mentioned the Hotel du Cap and how he had a credit there from before he was in prison.” Mr. Bloom told the woman that while in jail, he had become acquainted with a number of John Gotti’s associates, who protected him from any prison-yard scuffles. According to another individual who met him at about the same time, Mr. Bloom said his sentence was so long because Rudolph Giuliani, who was the prosecutor in the case, wanted to make an example of him. He also gave the man another reason. “He said he refused to rat on his friends. It was all very honorable, like he was a part of The Hollywood Ten. He wouldn’t name names.”

At about this time, in the mid-90′s, Mr. Bloom introduced himself to a theater producer, who wishes to remain anonymous. He told the producer his story, and said that before he went to jail, he had gone to Europe and met a KGB agent who wanted to give Mr. Bloom two and a half million dollars to start a theater and film production company. The producer’s initial suspicion lessened after Mr. Bloom wined and dined him at Cipriani on Fifth Avenue. “He was welcomed like a returning prince,” he said. “They would make a huge fuss out of us. Often they’d make a very big deal out of him and pay his tab. It was another thing that made me think he was the real thing.” (A manager at Cipriani told The Observer that Mr. Bloom has not been to the restaurant in a few years.) The producer added that Mr. Bloom had been given free use of the conference room in what the producer described as “a very prominent New York entertainment law firm.” Mr. Bloom told the producer he wanted to fund an Off-Broadway play, with the help of the KGB agent. The producer rented a theater, hired a cast and a director. Two weeks after rehearsals had begun, the producer finally decided that Mr. Bloom was not on the level. The producer ended up $50,000 in the hole and scratching his head. “The bizarre thing with this was, there was no gain for him,” he said with a sigh.

Not long after, Mr. Bloom–as David Daly–began showing up at Houston’s. Eventually things seemed to improve for him. A bartender from Texas said she noticed Mr. Bloom gave up his clunky cell phone and got a new Motorola flip phone. In October 1998, he moved into a $6,500-per-month one-bedroom suite at the Lombardi Hotel on East 56th Street. “Always cash,” said the hotel’s manager, Werner Hofer, who added that Mr. Bloom was a gentlemanly tenant and a “very nice guy.”

Why did the Houston’s staff fall for Mr. Bloom’s act?

“We all as a group had suspicions at different times, and then he was so smooth; without us even voicing our suspicions, he always calmed us down,” the Texan said. “I would hang up the phone and say to myself, ‘I’m so silly for not believing this guy.’” She even bought him some cufflinks.

This June, the Texan began to get suspicious. She asked Mr. Bloom for some cash so that she could go visit her father, who was in the hospital. “David said, ‘Sure, I’ll give you the money, no problem. I’ll get it to you in one to two business days.’ Then he called me back and said, ‘Yeah, yeah, like I said, three to four business days. No problem.’” She got more suspicious. She remembered that Mr. Bloom had promised her an interview with his friend at Allen and Company. She called the number and was told that nobody by that name worked there. She called the cops.

On June 14, the Texan invited Mr. Bloom to meet her for a drink at the bar of Brasserie at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue. All week, she said, as she’d been pressing him for her money, he’d looked nervous, but when he showed up at Brasserie, he looked almost serene. Twenty minutes later, three plainclothes detectives from the Midtown South Precinct came over to the bar and asked Mr. Bloom if they could have a word with him outside. She said Mr. Bloom stayed cool, looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I’ll be right back.”

Tammy Faye Loves You!

On the evening of July 20, a black Town Car with tinted windows pulled up in front of the Barracuda bar in Chelsea. After a short hesitation, the diminutive Tammy Faye Messner, in town to promote the new documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye , emerged from the backseat. The woman who is best known for her past roles as Jim Bakker’s loving wife and P.T.L. sidekick hadn’t even made it to the sidewalk before she was approached by fans clutching various artifacts they were hoping she’d autograph: a book, one of her old albums, a Bible, a box of false eyelashes. Smiling warmly, Ms. Messner obliged as many of the requests as she could. Then, batting her lilac eyelids, she humored the paparazzi with a short photo session next to a fetid pile of garbage that was cooking on the curb.

A woman in a leather porkpie hat and carrying a small dog in a tote bag approached Ms. Messner. She wanted the ex-televangelist’s ex-wife to bless the beast. “Do you see her?” the woman asked her pet, excitedly referring to Ms. Messner. “She’s the only dog here to see her,” the pet owner said to no one in particular.

Ms. Messner was glowing. Rust-colored from the neck up, her Estée Lauder Private Collection makeup base came pretty close to matching the tint of her piled-up hair. Her eyes were abundantly festooned with her trademark false lashes. She was sporting a silky black gown cinched with a Gucci belt, and a loose-fitting, pleated white jacket.

“Roe, hold my purse!” she singsonged to her new husband, Roe Messner, a slender and crisply dressed man with silver hair who obediently stayed by her side for the duration of the appearance, but didn’t immediately take the bag. “He won’t hold that,” Ms. Messner mock-whined, as she tried to better position herself for the photographers for another shot.

In anticipation of the arrival, the group inside the bar had been asked to extinguish their cigarettes in the presence of Ms. Messner, because, the announcer said, “they are from the devil.” The long dark bar was packed body to body with an after-work crowd of young gay men, mostly sporting short haircuts, khakis, dress shirts and messenger bags slung across their chests. The music pounded, and old clips of Ms. Messner played on a TV screen. Rolling Rock beers were passed around. As the guest of honor entered, someone thrust a bouquet of roses into her hands, and then the entourage carved a passage through the mob to transport her to the back of the bar.

Though the room was dark and bodies were rubbing up against bodies, there was no groping going on–at least so far as The Transom could tell. All energies were focused on trying to get a glimpse of the little lady who was slowly being escorted through the crowd. As she passed, the room drowned in applause and cries of “Go Tammy!” “She looks fabulous!” and “She’s a superstar!”

“I wish I had time to give everybody a hug and take everybody’s hand,” Ms. Messner told the adoring group, “but obviously that’s not possible. But you know in my heart I’m giving you a hug.”

Then Ms. Messner submitted to a brief interview with a journalist that took place before the crowd of men. Asked about her love of cosmetics, Ms. Messner explained, “I don’t have any privacy in life, you know, and I feel like the only kind of thing that is just mine and mine alone is the face. And I’m going to do with it what I want, right?!”

The room exploded in hoots and cheers.

Ms. Messner left the crowd with some final words of wisdom. “I would like to say,” she squeaked, “God loves you, just the way you are. He really does. Always turn to God, in every situation, He’s just a word away. All you have to do is cry out and say ‘Jesus!’ and he’ll be right there for you.”

“Jesus!” a man echoed from the crowd. “Whooooo!” Someone tossed a cowboy hat into the air, and Ms. Messner began her exit through the crush of bodies.

“She said she loves us!” someone hollered.

“She kissed me!” someone else shrieked in her wake. He turned around and kissed his friend, who kissed someone else and so on. As Ms. Messner departed the lovefest, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” blasted over the speakers and some of the men sang along softly as they filed out of the bar.

In the confusion, a young man tripped on a stair, but caught his fall. “Jesus!” he yelled.

“That’s what Tammy Faye said,” his friend told him excitedly, “cry out to Jesus. You see, it works!”

– Beth Broome

The Transom can be reached by e-mail at agoldman@observer.com.