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Property remains king for Baroness Dunne

"Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over."

F Scott Fitzgerald

GAYLE Dunne of Belle Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut, and formerly of Shrewsbury Road, Dublin, Ireland, wishes to announce that out of "natural love and affection" for her husband, Sean Dunne, she will be the one wearing the trousers in the Dunne household in 2011.

While the above notice is patently a fiction, few would be surprised to see its contents presented as fact somewhere given all that has been said and written, about Sean and Gayle since their first fateful meeting at the Galway Races in 2002. Indeed, there have been many instances in their years together where the truth has quite literally been stranger, or at least just as interesting, as the fiction.

From the Bacchanalian excess of their 14-day wedding celebration in 2004 on board the Christina O, a yacht formerly owned by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, to the near-mythic account of how Gayle set the level of her husband's winning bid of €275m for the Jury's hotel site in Ballsbridge in 2005 based upon the year of her birth (1975), the Carlow-born developer and his wife have intrigued, entertained, and enraged Ireland's chattering classes to levels scarcely imaginable in the years before or since the boom.

And now that our boom has turned to bust, the Dunnes have upped and left for the United States to seek out yet another fortune to replace the one he so spectacularly lost in Dublin 4. But while they might have gone quietly from Shrewsbury Road, discreetly negotiating a long-term lease on their house there to the South African Embassy as they did so, Sean and Gayle's arrival in the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) enclave of Belle Haven in Greenwich, Connecticut, has, to date, been anything but low-key.

For what started as an inconsequential squabble with neighbours in Belle Haven over the demolition and redevelopment of a house there has quickly escalated into something of a cause celebre covered by newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Not helping matters of course is Sean Dunne's status here in Ireland as a so-called Nama developer, arising out of his borrowings with the Irish Nationwide Building Society on Hume House in Ballsbridge. While it is by no means a crime to be associated with the State's so-called 'bad bank', the influx of Irish reporters on the hunt for 'the Dunner' has not been welcomed by the residents of Belle Haven -- a community where one's wealth is there to be seen, but certainly not heard from. Even the relatively-staid pages of the local newspaper, Greenwich Time, have woken to the possibilities presented by their new arrivals from Ireland, publishing several breathless reports of Dunne's alleged strained relations with his new neighbours over the redevelopment of No 38 Bush Avenue -- a house which the Carlow-born developer vehemently denies having anything to do with.

"He's just so out of character with Belle Haven. Of course we've all read about him. Who wouldn't?" says Belle Haven resident, Elaine Buss, expressing her clear distaste for Dunne in one report carried in the paper. But whatever Ms Buss makes of Dunne's arrival in her neighbourhood, she will shortly find (if she hasn't already) she has her work cut out for her, if she tries to move him on again.

That's where Gayle enters the fray. For a while Gayle -- whom Greenwich Time insist on referring to somewhat dismissively as a former gossip columnist -- might possess the requisite combination of charm and guile to keep in step in with Belle Haven's Stepford Wives, she also has it within her to mix it with anyone who threatens either her or her husband's ambitions to master the universe.

"Irish socialite in Belle Haven home flap sues lawyer," cried the headline in last Monday's edition of the paper, in reference to Gayle's filing of a lawsuit in December in the Supreme Court of New York against her own lawyer, Philip Teplen. At issue was the not-insignificant sum of $500,000 (€387,266) Gayle had transferred from her bank account into the escrow account of Mr Teplen's firm, Teplen & Associates, on November 17 last to begin the process of applying for an investment visa from US immigration authorities.

While the news that Gayle was now looking to make America her home on a more permanent basis may well have come as a surprise to many, copies of email correspondence included in her affidavit to the court have proved to be even more revealing.

"You are aware that I already have a visa and that I am here to develop property," she declared in one communication on December 14 last, as relations with Mr Teplen steadily worsened over his failure to return her $500,000.

Gayle Dunne, property developer? Who knew? Her family always did, it seems. And now, we do too.

"Gayle didn't just marry a builder. She comes from a long line of builders and engineers," a positively unimpeachable source revealed to the Sunday Independent, before going on to outline in some detail the former journalist's pedigree in the construction industry -- from the plant hire company that her Leitrim-born maternal grandfather Harold Bridges owned, to the civil engineering firm run to this day by her uncle, Gary Killilea, in Africa. There are also cousins directly involved in property development in the US, according to the same source.

But back to the more pressing issue of Mr Teplen and the $500,000. Papers filed in New York's Supreme Court revealed Gayle's exhaustive efforts over the period of a month to retrieve her money through email and phone requests at first, and then through two separate teams of lawyers employed by firms in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut.

By last Wednesday, those efforts appear to have paid off with Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich granting an order for attachment in her favour against Phililp Teplen and Teplen & Associates for the sum of $500,000 plus costs and damages, with instructions for its recovery to the New York State Sheriff.

Less than 24 hours later, the search for the missing money was already well under way, judging by the filing of a letter from TD Bank with the Supreme Court.

It read: "Dear Sir or Madam, please allow this letter to confirm that TD Bank NA was unable to locate any accounts of the defendant or defendants in the above referenced case."

The trawl of Philip Teplen's accounts and assets continues apace, according to sources close to the case. Efforts by the Sunday Independent, meanwhile, to reach Mr Teplen for comment through his office at New York's Empire State Building by phone and email, proved to be unsuccessful.

"I'm sure he will call you if he wishes to speak with you," a receptionist at Teplen & Associates said in response to one call from our reporter.

By last Friday evening, Gayle's new lawyers had yet to make direct contact with Mr Teplen.

They were getting closer, however, judging by the filing in the New York Supreme Court of papers showing that a summons and complaint had been successfully served on Mr Teplen on December 30 last, through the acceptance of the papers by a Ms Lorraine Berk -- a woman described as a co-tenant of Mr Teplen's in Greenwich, Connecticut. For the avoidance of any doubt or denial that the summons had been served, Ms Berk's physical make-up is listed in the court filing as: "45-year-old Caucasian female, black hair, 5ft 4ins in height, weight 130lbs."

Mr Teplen's reluctance to comment, while regrettable, is not altogether surprising given the contents of other papers lodged in New York's Supreme Court against Mr Teplen.

Canadian-born businessman David Waldorf and his wife, the Ivy League educated real-estate heiress Kristin von Summer Waldorf, appear to have encountered difficulties of their own with Mr Teplen when they went looking for $480,000 held in his firm's escrow account following the sale for $4.8m of their condominium on Manhattan's Upper East Side last summer. Mr Teplen came up with a litany of excuses, similar to those he gave to Gayle, as to why the monies -- paid as a deposit on their New York apartment -- could not be handed over immediately which ranged from family illness to travel away from his office to most bizarrely of all, "the Irish economic crisis".

Having put up with his excuses for several months, the Waldorfs engaged the services of another lawyer, the equally splendidly-named Harris Cutler, of Harris Cutler and Houghteling, to contact Mr Teplen with a view to seeking the release of the money from his firm's escrow account. Despite his numerous phone calls, emails and letters, Mr Cutler has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts. A petition filed by the Waldorfs in the New York Supreme Court last November seeking an order for attachment has yet to be advanced and remains unanswered by Mr Teplen, the records show.

Efforts by the Sunday Independent to contact the Waldorfs through the offices of Alexander Summer (the real-estate firm owned and operated by Mrs von Summer Waldorf's family for the past 85 years since its establishment) to see if their dispute with Mr Teplen was now resolved proved to be unsuccessful.

That a resolution has been found is indeed possible, given their stated intention in court documents of settling the matter in a "civil and ethical fashion".

If relations between Mr Teplen and the Waldorfs became strained then the lawyer's dealings with Gayle must have reached the positively poisonous stage, judging by her swift and severe response to his less-than-professional handling of her $500,000 and application for an investment visa.

With her three children -- Bobby Luke, Harrison and Ryan Emmet -- all under the age of six, and a career as a property developer now in the offing, Gayle's impatience and anger with Mr Teplen is hardly surprising.

But what exactly do Gayle and her husband make of it all?

Contacted on his mobile by the Greenwich Time newspaper for comment on his wife's legal action against her own lawyer, Dunne is reported to have said curtly: "Don't know anything about anyone else's lawsuit," before hanging up.

The Sunday Independent understands from impeccable sources that neither Sean or Gayle bother to read the Irish newspapers' coverage of their affairs anymore. But that's not to say that their lawyers don't read them, judging by the speed with which any editor on either side of the Atlantic could expect to receive an undertaking to sue for defamation if the Dunnes believe they have been libelled by a reporter. According to the same sources, Gayle now has more than enough to deal with in her enhanced role as family breadwinner. "Like everyone else in Ireland, Gayle is doing whatever is needed to give her children financial security, something which they don't have at the moment," one intimate friend of the Dunnes told the Sunday Independent.

Explaining their decision to seek out a new life and opportunities in the US, the friend added: "Gayle lived in Ireland for over 30 years of her life. One day she decided that life was just too short and the world was too big to live on the same island forever. And that was during the boom. Now there's nothing in Ireland for her to go back to."

Commenting on the rather unfortunate experience Gayle has had so far in the US, the source added: "Look, there's no doubt she has had a run of bad luck but she likes the US and she finds the support of Irish Americans and the Irish there really impressive."

Of the reception in Belle Haven, the source said: "In fairness, most people in Greenwich are very decent, and were embarrassed by what has been written and said in the papers.

"People they don't even know have come up to Gayle and Sean and called to their door to express their disgust and give their support. It really is a case of the negative ones having made the most noise."

Asked if the couple intended to remain stateside, the source said: "Gayle hasn't said if she plans on settling down in the States for sure just yet, but she hasn't lived in Ireland for five years now and she has no plans to return there at the moment. If it isn't the US, it will be somewhere else.

"When her kids are older, she might come back to Ireland."

As for Sean, there are more than a few loose strings to be tied up back in Dublin 4 with the redevelopment -- one day -- of the Jurys, Berkeley Court hotel and Hume House sites as well as the AIB Bank headquarters on the nearby Merrion Road. All in all, the embassy-belt portfolio cost the Carlow-born developer an eye-watering €710m in the heady days of the boom.

It remains to be seen if Dunne will ever get the chance to fulfil his goal of bringing a piece of Knightsbridge to Ballsbridge but he still travels to Dublin for several days every month to discuss future plans for the D4 sites with his principal financial backers at Ulster Bank, and more recently with Nama which now controls the €100m in borrowings he had with the Irish Nationwide. On certain days, the Baron's presence in Dublin is evident from the highly-valeted silver Lexus hybrid parked outside the front door of the Berkeley Court Hotel.

Seen from the roadside, it serves as something of a reminder of the way things were, or rather the way they may never be again.

Sunday Independent