A Gentlemanly Fistfight at Cushman & Wakefield … A Match Made in These Pages


The press is often accused of causing pain. In the case of Lebanese socialite Mouna Ayoub, it may be guilty of starting a happy love affair.

Back in the Oct. 7, 1996, issue of the The Observer , The Transom ran an item about how Christie’s auction house had managed to steal away from its rival Sotheby’s an auction lot of Ms. Ayoub’s jewelry that had been valued at between $8 million and $10 million. The coup had prompted talk that the head of Christie’s international jewelry department, François Curiel, “was able to seduce, literally, Ms. Ayoub away from Sotheby’s,” as The Transom put it then.

At the time, Ms. Ayoub swore on her children–and Mr. Curiel concurred–that their relationship was strictly professional. Earlier that year, she had divorced Saudi billionaire Nasser Al-Rashid; when she spoke to us in October 1996, she was engaged to Italian architect Fiorenzo Cattaneo.

Well, she’s not engaged to him anymore, and guess what? The Transom ran into Ms. Ayoub at a party that she co-hosted on June 16 in the Fifth Avenue apartment of fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert Berkson, and she confirmed that she and Mr. Curiel were now an item. (The party was to announce an international benefit for Memphis’ famous St. Jude Children’s Hospital that will be held in Monte Carlo on July 24. St. Jude saved the life of Ms. Ayoub’s son, Fahad, when he was 3 years old. He’s now 18.Ms. Ayoub added that this was the first time that a foreign charity would be allowed to benefit from the deep pockets of Monaco’s wealthy citizens.)

She stressed, however, that the romance did not blossom until early 1997–several months after Christie’s very successful November auction of her jewels, which brought in a reported $12.1 million.

Ms. Ayoub added that she partly blames the press for planting the idea of Mr. Curiel as Romeo in her mind. While she was doing business with Mr. Curiel for the upcoming auction, Ms. Ayoub said, “I would look at him and say, ‘What a serious man, what a boring human being.'” But then, she said, “I started reading. I started reading that he is a seducer” in The Transom and other press accounts. “So I started looking at him.”

According to Ms. Ayoub, Mr. Curiel kept in contact with her after the auction. The calls and letters escalated in early 1997 when he vigorously lobbied Ms. Ayoub to come to a party that Christie’s was throwing in St. Moritz. “He sent me the invitation by fax, by mail. I kept receiving the invitation from every Christie’s office,” she said. The problem was that the dinner conflicted with some business that Ms. Ayoub had in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia. So, she said, Mr. Curiel “turned the world upside down” to make travel arrangements that would allow her to do both. When bad weather grounded the private plane that was supposed to take her from Geneva to St. Moritz, Mr. Curiel got a car and driver to meet her in Zurich and drive her the rest of the way. Ms. Ayoub said that she had tried to get some shut-eye during the three-hour trip but that “every 10 minutes the phone would ring.” She said the constant caller was Mr. Curiel wanting know “Is everything O.K.?”

By the time she arrived in St. Moritz, Ms. Ayoub was tired but impressed. Still, Mr. Curiel had one more obstacle to overcome. Back in ’96, when she talked to The Transom, Ms. Ayoub cited Mr. Curiel’s eyeglasses as one of the reasons he was not her type. The men of Ms. Ayoub’s fantasies do not wear spectacles. At dinner, Ms. Ayoub sat, in the position of honor, to Mr. Curiel’s right. This gave her a bird’s-eye view of Mr. Curiel, who “kept on removing his glasses,” Ms. Ayoub remembered. She then added: “He really looks very handsome without his glasses.”

“He was the star of the dinner. He was so charming and over the top,” said Ms.

Ayoub. “That evening, for the first time, I saw him as beautiful.” In retrospect, she said, “I think he wanted me to be there because that’s his world.” (Still, Mr. Curiel might want to invest in a pair of contact lenses.)

The couple’s first official date was March 19, 1997. “Of course you know the rest,” she said. “I don’t have to draw a picture.”

Ah, but she already has.

Raging Broker

Ask real estate brokers about John Dowling, executive vice president of Cushman & Wakefield Inc., and they’ll describe a big guy, 6 feet 2 inches tall, with the confidence and ego to match. They’ll call him the most successful commercial real estate broker of the 1980’s. And then they’ll say they recently heard about another little-known talent of his: He’s handy with his fists.

For a few weeks now, the real estate world has been abuzz with the story that Mr. Dowling, who is 60, recently slugged a younger Cushman & Wakefield colleague, director Richard Lambeck, during a heated moment. The Transom hears that the alleged altercation took place near the entrance to 51 West 52nd Street, better known as Black Rock, where Cushman & Wakefield’s main offices are located. There is speculation that the disagreement resulted over lease space at 125 Park Avenue, and that Mr. Dowling may have thrown his punch after Mr. Lambeck, who works on project management (usually construction-related issues) for Cushman’s clients, raised a number of points that could have interfered with Mr. Dowling closing his deal.

Mr. Dowling vehemently denied our story. He said that The Transom was being used by his competitors. When Mr. Lambeck was asked if he denied the story, he said only that we should contact Cushman & Wakefield’s managing director of corporate communications, Barbara Van Allen. Ms. Van Allen called us first, though, to tell us that “the firm is exploring all of the facts. We will take appropriate action when we’ve completed a study of the situation.”

Sawyer Once More

In September 1996, Iris Sawyer moved to London, hoping, she wrote in an affidavit, “to establish a new life with a new name, Susan Lennox,” and a new career in jewelry design.

Her desires were understandable. In the half-dozen years prior to her move, Ms. Sawyer had become a rather infamous figure in both the city’s social circles and its court system. First, as she sought to reach a financial settlement with Thomas Kempner, the husband of socialite Nan Kempner, over a town house the two had purchased around the time that they were carrying on an affair. Ms. Sawyer lost that case. Not long after that, she found herself wrangling with the estate of her late ex-husband, the political consultant David Sawyer, over money that she claimed was owed to her.

In the second case, Ms. Sawyer had some success. The estate settled with her in August 1996, agreeing to give her $160,000 up front and to put another $40,000 in escrow that would be given to her in 1999. In return, Ms. Sawyer agreed never to bring any future claims against the estate and not to write about her ex-husband, her marriage to him or the estate for five years.

But 11 months later, Ms. Sawyer seemed to have changed her mind. In July 1997, she moved in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to reopen the judgment, claiming that she signed the settlement agreement under economic duress. Ms. Sawyer wanted the money that was being held in escrow to be released early because, she argued, she needed capital to fill orders for her expanding jewelry business. Ms. Sawyer contended in court documents that if she didn’t receive the money, she would find herself in a financially precarious position. And the former socialite knew what that meant: She’d spent her last few years in Manhattan living at the single- and double-room-occupancy Martha Washington Hotel. (Rates run from $269 to $382 a week.)

In his response to Ms. Sawyer’s motion, Howard Godnick, the attorney for the estate’s executor, William Zabel, argued, “It is evident that Iris Sawyer will stop at nothing to continue her lifelong pattern of coming back to David Sawyer–or his estate–for money whenever she runs out.”

U.S. Magistrate Leonard Bernikow denied Ms. Sawyer’s motion, and after she wrote him a letter trying to re-explain her position, he denied it again. And on Aug. 19, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan affirmed Magistrate Bernikow’s decision. On Aug. 28, Judge Kaplan issued another order that said Magistrate Bernikow “acted appropriately.” Judge Kaplan noted that while Ms. Sawyer “evidently is genuinely in need of money and obviously is very unhappy with the settlement she made, the fact of the matter is that she made it. She has shown no legal basis for relief from the settlement.”

In a letter dated Sept. 20, 1997, which was obtained by The Transom, Ms. Sawyer wrote from London to Judge Kap-

lan that she was both “seriously depressed and anxious.”

“I am doing everything I possibly can to make it, including returning to the agonising effort of choking my way through a meal borrowing money”–Ms. Sawyer apparently had no trouble in adopting the spelling conventions of her new land–”when there is money of my own in escrow.”

She continued: “I shall go as far as I can within these circumstances. But I shall not return to the Martha Washington Hotel or a shelter. I am too old”–Ms. Sawyer is 64–”and too exhausted to continue this doomed pursuit.” She then mentioned the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, noting that “[w]hat the world has learned … is that sometimes more can be achieved in death in a few days than in years of life.”

Ms. Sawyer also mentioned her ex-husband, writing: “I was a paid employee as well as an unpaid advisor for all the years of our marriage [25], and I worked hard to achieve his goals. He died a rich and famous man while I have been left alone and destitute.”

Neither Ms. Sawyer nor Adeline Ellis, who has represented her in the past, returned calls (though Ms. Sawyer appears to have represented herself in this latest attempt); nor did Mr. Godnick or Mr. Zabel return The Transom’s requests for comment.

A Gentlemanly Fistfight at Cushman & Wakefield … A Match Made in These Pages