Monaco. How anyone could vacation in that hell-hole of a country, I'll never know. Every time the "vacation" word comes up in my conversations with people, I tell them about this to make sure they'll boycott the place. Please do the same.
PAULO LIMA When billionaire banker Edmond Safra died in a suspicious fire at his Monaco penthouse in 1999, a Bergenfield nurse died beside him, the two huddled together in a bathroom.
More than two years later, a Fort Lee attorney is suing the nurse's widowed husband, alleging the man landed a $2 million settlement in the case, then refused to turn over the lawyer's share.
The nurse, Vivian Torrente, was 50 when she died from toxic fumes emitted by the fire. The fire was allegedly set by another Safra nurse as part of an elaborate ruse, intended to make the other nurse look like a hero in Safra's eyes. When the fire got out of control, the other nurse escaped, leaving Torrente and Safra to die.
Torrente's husband, Irineo, still lives in Bergenfield. The complaint was filed by the law firm of Maggiano, DiGirolamo, and Lizzi.
The complaint alleges the firm's senior partner, Michael Maggiano, spent months negotiating with lawyers for Safra's estate and made at least one trip to Monaco between March and November 2000.
However, Torrente decided in November 2000 to fire Maggiano's firm and negotiate directly with the estate, ultimately reaching a $2 million out-of-court settlement, the suit says. Maggiano would not disclose Tuesday how he learned the terms of the settlement.
"The legal work and services of plaintiff ... were instrumental in convincing the legal representatives of the Estate of Edmond Safra that an exposure of liability for both compensatory and punitive damages in the millions of dollars was likely,'' the complaint states.
Maggiano contends Torrente cut his firm out only when it became clear a settlement was likely. Attempts to contact Torrente at his Grove Street home in Bergenfield were unsuccessful.
The suit asks for $540,969, or about 27 percent of the $2 million settlement. It also asks for another $2,652 in out-of-pocket expenses the firm incurred while representing Torrente. The complaint also requests punitive damages.
Maggiano declined to discuss the case in detail , saying he did not want to violate the attorney-client relationship he once had with Torrente.
"The complaint is a matter of record and, to some extent, it speaks for itself,'' Maggiano said.
The lawyer said he had not spoken with Torrente since he received a letter from him ending their professional relationship. He said his firm specializes in "complex personal injury litigation'' that often transcends state and national boundaries. Maggiano said another lawyer referred Torrente to his firm.
"The letter of termination states that he's found another avenue or words to that effect,'' Maggiano said.
Maggiano said that, before his firm got involved, Safra's estate had offered Torrente only a negligible sum, to reimburse Torrente for the cost of recovering his wife's body and for attending the criminal trial of the nurse charged with setting the fatal fire. Maggiano said that sum was "less than six figures.''
Maggiano's firm initially demanded $10 million from the Safra estate and expected to recover a "high seven figure'' amount, the suit states. Maggiano said he sent Torrente a letter outlining his demands for compensation after Torrente negotiated his own settlement. When Torrente did not respond, Maggiano filed suit.
The lawsuit is the latest twist in a bizarre case with plenty of trans-Atlantic intrigue.
The 67-year-old Safra was the founder of the Republic Bank of New York. He hired Vivian Torrente as part of his private nursing staff about a year before his death. Safra lived in a secure penthouse in Monaco - a tax haven for the wealthy on the French Riviera.
On Dec. 3, 1999, one of Safra's other nurses, Ted Maher, allegedly stabbed himself in the leg and stomach, set a small fire, then told Safra masked intruders had broken in and attacked him. In a confession that has been the subject of much debate, Maher allegedly told authorities he wanted to look like a hero.
Safra and Torrente retreated into a bathroom to await help. By the time the fire was put out, the two had suffocated on its toxic fumes. Maher is still awaiting trial in Monaco.
Staff Writer Paulo Lima's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org