THE wife of NAMA developer Sean Dunne claims to have been swindled out of $500,000 (€375,000) which was to be used for a property deal in the US.
Gayle Dunne (36) is suing a New York lawyer for the money which she had planned to use as a down payment on real estate in Chicago.
She claims the money was lodged in an escrow account -- a holding account often used for property transactions -- controlled by her New York lawyer, Philip Teplen, last November.
However, according to court papers seen by the Irish Independent, Mrs Dunne got cold feet and asked her lawyer to transfer the money back into her own account.
But the cash was not handed back despite repeated demands, and Mrs Dunne has now filed a lawsuit against Mr Teplen at the New York State Supreme Court.
The court papers do not explain where Mrs Dunne, a former gossip columnist, got the $500,000 to invest in the land deal.
Her husband, dubbed the Baron of Ballsbridge, is currently dealing with NAMA and was left nursing huge debts with non-NAMA banks following unsuccessful plans to redevelop the Jurys and Berkeley Court hotel sites in Dublin.
Mr Dunne and his wife were prominent figures on the Dublin social scene before controversially moving to a wealthy enclave in Greenwich, Connecticut, last year where they are living in a rented mansion.
The exclusive area, which has private security, is also home to singer Diana Ross and several billionaires.
Mr Dunne is believed to be seeking out new business opportunities in the US, but has denied owning any land there. However, the dispute between the developer's wife and her lawyer is complicated by the fact Mr Teplen is acting as a trustee for a property in Greenwich which has been linked to the Dunnes.
The property is now subject to a planning dispute after locals claimed that demolition at the site exceeded what was permitted.
Mr Teplen, whose practice is based in the Empire State Building, was also in the process of helping secure an investment visa for Mrs Dunne so she could remain in the US when the dispute over the funds arose.
According to an affidavit filed by Mrs Dunne, Mr Teplen advised her to put $500,000 in the escrow account of his law firm Teplen and Associates so it could be used as a deposit on the Chicago land.
"He said that having the funds in escrow with his firm would support the visa application, because it would show the immigration authorities that Mrs Dunne had funds on hand for the investment," the affidavit said.
However, Mrs Dunne decided not to go ahead with the deal and on December 10 she asked for $170,000 (€127,000) to be transferred to another law firm as she needed the funds for an alternative property investment.
Mrs Dunne told Mr Teplen in an email that the new investment would form the basis of her visa application. But Mr Teplen wrote back, stating the withdrawal of funds would damage the application.
Mrs Dunne said alarm bells began ringing at that stage and she insisted on the whole amount being transferred to another law firm.
She said Mr Teplen agreed he would transfer the money on December 13, but failed to do so.
She said he made repeated promises to give the money back. On December 16 a colleague of Mr Teplen admitted that the money was no longer there. In court documents, Mrs Dunne also said it was her belief that the entire account had been "deleted" and that Mr Teplen had been "dissipating assets".
Her lawsuit alleges fraudulent conversion, misappropriation of funds and breach of fiduciary duty.
Mr Teplen declined to comment when the Irish Independent contacted his office last night, while Mrs Dunne was unreachable.
In a recent statement, issued through a law firm, she said she would not be responding to press queries about her affairs in the US. She said her marital affairs, her place of residence, and her finances were not legitimate matters of public interest.
Mrs Dunne also said she had no NAMA loans and did not have any debts with any financial institutions covered by the bank guarantee.