Eaten Alive: Tony Marcogliese and the Scam That Came to Dinner

A pair of tasseled loafers-no socks-worked the pedals as the pickup truck rolled past the storefronts of Madison Avenue. Behind the wheel sat Anthony Marcogliese, a compact man with grayish, generously moussed hair. He began telling the story of how he-a 38-year-old bartender–turned–commodities broker–turned garbage entrepreneur, a self-made guy with an apartment at 76th Street and Madison Avenue and a house in Greenwich-ended up getting taken for a ride.

“It’s not that I’m stupid. Financially, I’m pretty smart,” he said. He was trying to explain why he had given $40,000 to Julian Davis, a man he hardly knew, in return-he thought-for partial ownership of the 14 Wall Street Restaurant. But it now appears that the restaurant may never have been Mr. Davis’ to sell. Mr. Davis has since been arrested for allegedly trying to sell franchising rights to the Soho bistro Balthazar to a Mexican woman for $1.5 million. Mr. Davis didn’t own that place, either.

But Mr. Marcogliese fell for it. Despite his experience attempting to get the better of people in trading futures contracts, he allowed himself to be blinded by the prospect of having an interest in a glamorous restaurant. His inner show-off eclipsed his knack for making money just long enough to get him into a big mess.

Mr. Marcogliese’s tale began five years ago, when he was working on Wall Street, trading coffee and oil futures at a firm called Lloyd, Stevens and Company. He had gotten into the business a few years before, when he was a bartender at Coco Pazzo on the Upper East Side, trading currencies in his spare time.

With his clients, he went by what he called “his Wall Street name”: Anthony St. George. On occasion, he would take them to a place called La Tour D’Or. It was a beautiful spot, on the 31st floor of 14 Wall Street. It had once been J.P. Morgan’s penthouse apartment.

“Mahogany, very nice. Anyway, the place was empty,” Mr. Marcogliese said. He spoke rapidly, in a high-pitched, Bronx-tinged voice. “I said to the woman at the bar”- who turned out to be Marlene Sterlacci, the owner-“why is this place so empty? This place is beautiful.” Ms. Sterlacci said she was no longer interested in promoting the business and wanted to sell. Mr. Marcogliese offered to find a buyer in return for a broker’s fee. “I went back and made a couple of calls, and one of my friends recommended I speak to Julian Davis.”

Mr. Davis was a well-known figure in the restaurant business. He had recently been running Le Taxi, a 60th Street bistro for the blazer-and-sunlamp crowd.

“He’s like a dandy type. Like a Dudley Moore, with white hair,” Mr. Marcogliese said. Mr. Davis smoked a pipe. “He had a beautiful young girlfriend,” said Mr. Marcogliese. “He’s about 5-foot-3 and she was like 5-9 or 5-10. Blonde, Swedish. He would love walking into a restaurant, have her go first, and just watch the guys ogle her. And then he’d walk in second and go to the bar and kiss her on the cheek.”

Mr. Davis was interested and said he could bring along Le Taxi’s chef, Frederic Feufeu, as part of the deal. Mr. Marcogliese arranged an introduction between Mr. Davis and Ms. Sterlacci.

Two months later, Mr. Davis called Mr. Marcogliese and said he was buying the restaurant. Mr. Marcogliese thought he’d just made an easy $50,000. But Ms. Sterlacci balked at paying him, he said. There was no written contract.

Ms. Sterlacci, reached at home this week, said she remembered Mr. Marcogliese as a patron, but nothing else. “This guy has nothing to do with the sale of the restaurant,” she said. Mr. Davis put together the deal, she said. But Mr. Davis, also reached at home, agreed with Mr. Marcogliese’s account of how the deal was put together.

When Mr. Marcogliese found out, about the fee he called his friend, the one who had introduced him to Mr. Davis. quot;The guy who gave me Julian was, like, a tough guy. A mobster,” Mr. Marcogliese said. “I said, ‘Listen, I just spoke to Julian, I got a problem. I’m not getting paid on my end.'”

Then Mr. Marcogliese called Mr. Davis, explained the problem and said Mr. Davis had to scuttle the deal. “He calls me back in an hour and says, ‘Listen, I can’t lay out any more money, but if you give me a couple bucks I’ll make you a partner.'” Mr. Marcogliese gave him $40,000, in return for a share of the proceeds.

“I thought to myself, someone’s giving me 50 grand, it will be gone in six months.… But if I give this guy 40 grand and get a piece of the restaurant, if I think this guy’s going to give me gross, every time someone buys a Perrier, I’m making 3 cents. I’m thinking, ‘This is beautiful!’ Plus, I work at 30 Wall, so 14 Wall-I can bring clients up there. I wasn’t married at the time-I could bring girls up there. Every schmuck wants to be involved in a restaurant.”

Hired Muscle

The restaurant, rechristened 14 Wall Street, opened in 1997. Mr. Marcogliese took clients up there a couple of times a week.

“Julian would sit with us at lunch, talk with us about plans, changing the menu. He really made me feel part of the restaurant. And I felt totally comfortable.” He wasn’t getting much money, though.

“It wasn’t like I was starving, so I didn’t really care about it. I really cared about going to the restaurant, not getting a check. … ‘Hi Tony, how are you?’ ‘Hi, Mr. St. George, how are you? How’s business?’ Impressing people.”

He and Mr. Davis talked of doing more ambitious deals together. Mr. Marcogliese said Mr. Davis told him he owned a place on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, the Cinnamon Reef Hotel. “He said to me, ‘You know anybody who wants to buy the hotel?'” recalled Mr. Marcogliese. Mr. Davis pulled a black-and-white photo from his blazer. It showed him standing next to a sea plane.

What Mr. Marcogliese didn’t know was that his business partner, Mr. Davis, had left a trail of spoiled business deals, accusations of fraud and a half-dozen lawsuits through his career in the New York restaurant business. His partners in Le Taxi filed suit to push him out of the business after he allegedly failed to pay rent for five months, failed to pay vendors, failed to pay taxes and embezzled funds. A judge appointed a temporary receiver. Mr. Davis moved on.

At 14 Wall Street, Marlene Sterlacci would eventually file suit against the restaurant’s owner, charging that he failed to make $94,000 in payments as part of the sale agreement.

And here’s a doozy: According to Ms. Sterlacci and New York State Liquor Authority documents, the owner of 14 Wall Street is one Gerald Sobol, not Julian Davis.

Happiness Is $200,000

Mr. Marcogliese knew none of this at the time. Mr. Davis kept assuring him that, any day now, the restaurant would be sold and there would be a big payoff. Then, on April 30, Mr. Marcogliese opened the New York Post and saw the headline: DA Burns Restaurant ‘Scam’ Man .

According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Mr. Davis had told Carmen Donics, a regular diner at 14 Wall Street, that he owned a part of Balthazar and wanted her to invest in a branch of the bistro in Miami. The price, to be deposited in an account controlled by Mr. Davis, would be $1.5 million. He spent thousands on dinners at Balthazar-furtively paid for on the side-and a trip to Mexico City to meet with prospective Mexican investors. He gave Ms. Donics letters purportedly from the restaurant’s maitre d’hôtel, and from the real owner, Keith McNally, attesting to the deal. Ms. Donics took the letters to Mr. McNally, who denied authorship, and then to the police, who arrested Mr. Davis.

He was charged with attempted grand larceny, forgery and other charges, and released on $7,500 cash bail.

“So I freak out,” Mr. Marcogliese said. “I call him up, and I say, ‘Julian, what the fuck is this? Arrested ? What happened to you?’ ‘Oh it’s a big mistake.'”

Mr. Marcogliese went to see the assistant district attorney in charge of the case, Rahul Kali. According to Mr. Marcogliese, Mr. Kali wanted him to press charges, and assured him that if he did, he might stand a chance of getting a judge to order he be reimbursed. (The D.A.’s office confirms it is following up on Mr. Marcogliese’s story.)

“I go back and tell this to Julian on the phone,” Mr. Marcogliese said. “He must have called his lawyer and called the D.A. and confirmed that I was telling the truth. Julian comes to the restaurant and, like, kisses me on both cheeks. And I’m like, ” Whaaat ?” We don’t have that kind of relationship.…

“It was almost like a son kind of thing. Like, ‘Tony, you can save my ass.’ I said, ‘Julian, I know this, this and this about you. And with my help you’re going to-not even federal. I mean, federal-federal’s one thing. You’re going to state . I mean, no one’s gonna fuck you, but you’re gonna get pushed around, you’re gonna be intimidated.’ ‘Please, what do you want?'” Mr. Marcogliese calculated what he was owed. “I’m like I need 200,000 bucks to be happy.'”

Mr. Davis, he said, wrote a check for $1,000 that day, then a few more over the next few days. Then the checks stopped.

Mr. Marcogliese called his friend, the tough guy, and told him what had happened.

“He wanted to kill Julian,” Mr. Marcogliese said, then corrected himself. “Not kill him, but beat the shit out of him.”

Mr. Marcogliese decided to reinforce the point. He picked up his cell phone from the dash of the pickup truck. He dialed the number of his friend and said into the phone, “Just speak freely; he doesn’t know who you are.”

He handed over the phone. In a deep voice, the man identified himself as “Zeke.” “Before I became friends with him, I was told many stories about him trying to take money and use it for his own greedy purposes, going to Easthampton and playing like a big shot,” Zeke said.

He ranted a while longer, then got off the phone. “His name’s not Zeke, by the way,” Mr. Marcogliese said.

‘He’s a Thief’

Mr. Davis has his side to the story, of course. He said he had owned one third of the restaurant while a local lawyer, Gerald Sobol, owned the rest. He sold part of his third to Mr. Marcogliese, he said. But the restaurant did poorly and, according to Mr. Davis, Mr. Marcogliese sold out to Mr. Sobol at a loss. “Tony’s trying to get the money back from me, and I don’t blame him, but it’s not true, we both lost equally.”

He laughed when he heard about Mr. Marcogliese’s supposed tough-guy contact. “There were no mobsters involved in this,” he said. He denied paying Mr. Marcogliese any money in return for not pressing charges.

As for the Balthazar case, “that is being dropped,” he said. “It wasn’t true, we proved that there was a deal happening, pending.”

Mr. Davis’ lawyer, Michael Shapiro, said that was news to him. “As far as I know, the D.A. is still conducting the investigation,” he said.

“Mr. Davis’ case absolutely continues to pend,” said Barbara Thompson, a D.A.’s office spokeswoman. “There is a continuing investigation into other incidents.”

Gerald Sobol said Mr. Davis put him in contact with Ms. Sterlacci, but never owned any portion of the restaurant. (Ms. Sterlacci confirms this account.) Mr. Sobol said he has only talked to Mr. Marcogliese once, after Mr. Davis was arrested. Mr. Sobol said he employed Mr. Davis as a salaried manager and nothing more. He knew Mr. Davis sometimes introduced himself as the owner of the restaurant to customers.

“He ran the restaurant. I was an absentee owner, so he would tell people he was the owner,” he said. “That didn’t bother me.”

Mr. Sobol resisted getting into the specifics about why Mr. Davis stopped working at 14 Wall Street. Until he was told Mr. Davis claimed to have lost money on the place.

“If he said that … ” Mr. Sobol said, his voice rising. He said Mr. Davis stole thousands from the restaurant. “Julian Davis is a thief-you can print that-who was caught red-handed.”

“There was no stealing whatsoever,” Mr. Davis said. What about the other “incidents” the D.A. is investigating? “He was referring to something that had to do with another restaurant in Florida that never got off the ground,” he said.

Mr. Davis does appear to have told Mr. Marcogliese the truth about at least one thing. He really seems to be planning to head down to Anguilla. Richard Hauser, who said he was-surprise-the sole owner of the Cinnamon Reef Hotel, said that he had been in contact with Mr. Davis.

“He applied to work for me,” Mr. Hauser said. He had heard about Mr. Davis’ successes at 14 Wall Street. “He told me he just sold it.” He was amazed to hear that Mr. Davis had represented himself as the owner of the hotel. “I am trying to sell it,” he said. “He told me he was trying to put some people together.”

Mr. Hauser called Mr. Davis, who later told The Observer , “I don’t own [the Cinnamon Reef Hotel]. I can’t afford to buy it . ”

Mr. Marcogliese said that he had talked with Mr. Davis as recently as a week ago, and Mr. Davis was still telling him a sale of 14 Wall Street was right around the corner.

Nowadays, Mr. Marcogliese uses his real name. He left Lloyd, Stevens in 1997. (And in the nick of time: In November 1998, Lloyd, Stevens was drummed out of the National Futures Association for using “deceptive, misleading and unbalanced promotional material” and for touting returns that were “dramatically better than the losing performance experienced by the overwhelming majority of [the firm’s] actual customers.”)

Goodbye Anthony St. George, hello Liverpool Carting.

“We pick up all these stores,” Mr. Marcogliese said, as he drove his truck down Madison Avenue the other day. “You know, when you got Prada’s garbage you can make a lot of money picking that stuff up.”

He’s thinking about expanding into window washing soon. “I think that could be more profitable than garbage,” he said.

He said he hasn’t been back to the restaurant since he heard about Julian Davis’ arrest. “I’m always tempted to go in there, but I’m sure Julian polluted them when it comes to me,” he said. “I don’t think I’d get a free lunch anymore. That’s the real reason.”

-with Alex Riccobono Eaten Alive: Tony Marcogliese and the Scam That Came to Dinner