Picture-Perfect Madoff Casualties Selling ‘Gleaming’ Townhouse?

Because it’s distinctly more amusing than worrying about the obliteration of the city’s real estate market, top brokers have lately taken to chatting about which players in the Bernie Madoff fiasco will have to sell their Upper East Side homes, when they’ll have to sell, how much they’re hoping for and how desperately they need the money.

Did you read that Warburg’s Richard Steinberg told The Times recently that he hopes to list the East 67th townhouse that Charles Murphy of the Madoff-aligned Fairfield Greenwich Group bought for $33 million two years ago? Had you heard that another Madoff middleman, the money guru J. Ezra Merkin, might have to part with his 740 Park duplex? And Fairfield’s fallen founder Walter Noel has a co-op at 812 Park! It so happens that members of the Mets-owning Wilpon family, who lost hundreds of millions of dollars invested with Madoff, are neighbors.

Things were so much cleaner this time last January.

Picture Mr. Noel’s daughter Marisa Noel Brown, one of the five Noel girls smiling in a Bruce Weber Vanity Fair portrait under the subhead “picture-perfect”—a blonde with a John O’Hara chin and a J. Press brow; a co-host of private dinner parties where the fresh white towels are embroidered with phrases like “Handbags Are Fashion Candy.” On Jan. 31 of last year, she and her husband, Matthew Brown, who had been made a managing director at Fairfield, paid $13.5 million for a townhouse at 12 East 78th Street, with a facade of “pale gleaming Indiana limestone,” according to a listing.

The couple took out a $9 million mortgage.

In May, they filed plans with the Department of Buildings to renovate—and to expand their square footage from 6,260 to 7,752. According to one permit, the work was going to cost $2,839,000. On Sept. 12, there were three more permits for structural, plumbing and underpinning work. A week later there was another permit for $70,000 worth of demolition.

By the next month, Fairfield was said to have suffered violent losses, and announced it was “paring down its staffing in alignment with the rest of the industry.” On Dec. 12, Mr. Madoff was arrested and accused of running what might be the most monolithic fraud in the history of Wall Street. Fairfield, whose multibillion-dollar success was built on providing access to Mr. Madoff, who was apparently just running a very awesome Ponzi scheme, has since been accused in lawsuits of, for example, negligence and unjust enrichment. There haven’t been any more townhouse renovation filings.

A source said it’s likely to come on the market, though the would-be sellers are ambivalent: “They kept saying, ‘No, we’re only thinking about it, we’re not serious.’ And I kept thinking, ‘Of course you are.’”

That source and one other said the asking price would likely be around the $13.5 million they paid last year, but Stribling’s Patricia Farman-Farmaian, who is said to have represented the couple when they bought the house last year, did not return messages. 

The question of the family’s financial and social ruin aside—and people like the Noels are never really entirely ruined—it seems unlikely that the young couple would want to worry about renovations right now. “When you’re dealing with these things, it’s not smart,” the source said. “Do the Noels need a massive project while they’re in the middle of this? Does Charles Murphy need this stuff? Does anyone need this stuff?”

“They’ve told me that they plan on keeping it, so that’s the way we’re preceding,” said John Woell, a partner at Steven Harris Architects, the firm listed on those renovation filings. “It’s going to have a lot of open space; interconnection between the floors; a lot of light. At the same time, it’s going to maintain some traditional sense of detail and materials, so I think it will have appropriate Upper East Side character to it.” Any noteworthy rooftop pools or secret stairs? “I think it will be noteworthy in just, kind of, the elegance and ease you’re going to feel when it’s done.”

“It’s under renovation,” a spokesperson for the family from Rubenstein said. “There are no plans to sell the property.”

mabelson@observer.com Picture-Perfect Madoff Casualties Selling ‘Gleaming’ Townhouse?