If one of Mr. Mann’s investors hadn’t backed out at the last minute, Mr. Herbitter said, he would never have met Mr. Leviev. “Four days before the closing, when you have $25 million fall out of your package, you have a lot of scrambling to replace it. So someone introduced us to them, and they saw the building on a Thursday. On Friday, they wired in $55 million without a term sheet, just saying, ‘We want in.’”
Meanwhile, Mr. Mann’s other investors included the shoe importer–cum–landlord Ralph Braha, and Joe Nakash, who co-founded Jordache. (“Synonymous with sexiness,” the denim brand’s Web site says.) “Those pals are in many of our deals,” Mr. Herbitter explained. “We find a deal and they say, ‘All right, put me in for a certain piece.’”
Africa Israel took a 50 percent stake in the Apthorp, but agreed that Mr. Mann would manage the building.
The investors took out a $385 million first mortgage from Anglo Irish Bank, which only three years earlier had done such little American work that its annual report apparently gave one sentence about the U.S. from its chairman. This December, the bank’s CEO, David Drumm, and its chairman, Sean FitzPatrick, both resigned after regulators discovered that Mr. FitzPatrick had secretly transferred $120 million in personal loans. Anglo Irish, once the world’s best-performing bank stock, is now effectively nationalized.
But the real lending difficulties for Messrs. Mann and Leviev came from their $135 million second mortgage with William Mack’s Apollo Real Estate Advisors. On Jan. 12, Mr. Mann said he would meet with this reporter and a photographer at the Apthorp the next day to discuss it all. Later, an email from his address said: “I hate to burst your bubble and disappoint you, but, unfortunately Mr. Mann has some blood tests in the morning that I cannot change.”
IN EARLY OCTOBER, before his fight with Apollo came to a head, Maurice Mann’s people met with Lev Leviev’s. It had been four months since the attorney general had approved their billion-dollar conversion plan, but not a single apartment had been contracted to sell.
According to the Leviev lawsuit, there were several proposals at that October meeting, including one that Mr. Mann resign and be replaced by an acceptable manager. “They wanted to co-manage the building,” Mr. Herbitter explained this week. “We said no. Our partners said no. They weren’t happy with that decision. That’s all.”
On Nov. 17, there was a meeting at the offices of Mr. Nakash, the tight-jeans mogul. “Everyone got into the same room, where various options were discussed; the principals went out and had a private meeting,” a source who was present said. “I didn’t perceive sensitivity. Nobody was breaking down and crying. It was a serious meeting.”
It was decided that a brokerage would be hired to sell off the entire building for $552 million. The parties further agreed, according to Leviev’s suit, that they would cooperate on marketing, and that Mann would consider stepping down as manager.
“It’s not true. They said it and ran out of their office as they said it,” Mr. Herbitter said. “It was never, ever agreed to. … Rotem, on his way out, with his coat on, said, ‘O.K., we’re going to co-manage! Co-manage, that’s what we’ll do! See you later!’”
So what does Mann’s president think Africa Israel has been up to? “They wanted control, which their arrangement doesn’t allow them.” He pointed out the reports that Africa Israel has pulled away from American real estate; the company’s stock was $3.10 a share in November, down from $43.58 last January. “So I would guess that they would want to get out what they could—if they could.”
MR. HERBITTER is the man whom a New York City Civil Court judge passionately and, at least around the Apthorp, very famously upbraided in September when Mann Realty tried to evict Nancy Robbins from her 720-square-foot penthouse, a case that ended last Wednesday. Red ants were supposedly spreading from Ms. Robbins’ plants.
“Mr. Harbitter—I’m sorry, Herbitter is the right name, not Harbitter, I’ll correct myself,” the judge said then. “Anytime I say Harbitter, I mean Herbitter. Mr. Herbitter … was caught in several whopping inconsistencies.”
The Apthorp ant decision, which includes, for example, the judge’s declaration that Mr. Herbitter has lied about his memorization skills, is probably this young century’s greatest piece of New York real estate legal history. (A runner-up is the lawsuit at the Plaza, where billionaire Andrei Vavilov’s wife apparently burst into tears when she first saw their poorly completed $53.5 million penthouse unit; that suit was filed by Y. David Scharff, who is also Mr. Leviev’s attorney at the Apthorp.)
According to Darryl Vernon, the ant lady’s attorney, Mr. Herbitter showed up to one deposition with a gun on his belt. Tony Smith, the co-chairman of the Apthorp Tenants Association, once asked Mr. Herbitter about his much-gossiped-over firearm. “I said, ‘I’m told you carried a gun.’ He said, ‘Yes, I’m licensed to carry a gun.’ I asked why and he said, ‘I’m an EMT.’ I think a lot of people feel threatened by him. He’s very brusque and cold. I don’t think he has threatened anyone, to the best of my knowledge; I think he likes to convey a little bit of menace, I think he enjoys that.”
The N.Y.P.D. confirmed that Mann’s president has a pistol license—for a .380 Sig Sauer and a .380 Walther—but said it’s only a residence permit. “Not germane to the issue,” Mr. Herbitter said this week when asked about guns.