Spitzer Mulls Starting Vulture Fund

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The New York Sun

Eliot Spitzer, in his first big business venture since he was shamed out of office by a prostitution scandal, is shopping around a plan to start a vulture fund that would scoop up distressed real estate assets around the country, revamp them, and flip the properties for a profit.

Late last month, the former governor of New York gathered a group of high-level Washington, D.C.-based labor union officials in a conference room at the headquarters of his father’s real estate business in Manhattan and pitched them his idea for starting such a fund, a source said.

During the meeting, Mr. Spitzer expressed relief that he was no longer burdened with the frustrations of being governor, according to the source. And, in contrast to his repentant resignation speech that he delivered beside his tearful wife, Silda Wall, he took a more relaxed view of his indiscretions.

He has told friends and associates that he is consoled by passersby who stop him on the city sidewalks and tell him that sex is “no big deal” and that the disclosure that he frequented prostitutes was distorted out of proportion, the source said. Europeans, the former governor has noted, have been especially supportive of him and perplexed by the fallout from the scandal.

In the half-hour meeting, Mr. Spitzer told the officials that he was determined to take his ailing father’s real estate company to “the next level,” the source said. Mr. Spitzer said he would lay out his business plan in greater detail at a later date, and would ask the labor officials to consider investing pension fund money under their control.

Mr. Spitzer is moving aggressively to occupy a niche created by the credit crunch, the subprime mortgage crisis, a surge in foreclosures, and a declining real estate market. He is looking to mine for riches in projects that banks are no longer willing to finance.

Distressed real estate funds — also known as “vulture” or, more euphemistically, “opportunity” funds — typically promise returns of more than 20% and are active in Florida, Nevada, and Southern California. They rely heavily on pension and university endowment investments. Mr. Spitzer is said to be envisioning projects valued between $100 million and $500 million.

Mr. Spitzer, who would be competing against much larger investors, such as the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group, is seeking to leverage the reputation of his father’s business as a successful manager of real estate assets. In approaching the national labor unions, he is also trading on the goodwill he earned in that sector during his days as attorney general, when he was known as the scourge of Wall Street.

In doing so, Mr. Spitzer, who turns 49 today, is attempting to breathe life into the real estate empire built by his octogenarian father, Bernard Spitzer, whose real estate holdings, which include the Corinthian apartment building on East 38th Street, have not changed significantly since the early 1990s.

Mr. Spitzer works out of the Crown Building at 730 Fifth Ave., a 26-story structure his father and two other real estate investors bought in 1991 (in what turned out to be a highly lucrative investment). Playboy Enterprises leases commercial space in the building.

Speaking to the union leaders, Mr. Spitzer noted that the conference room in which they were sitting would have been his personal office had he entered his father’s business after graduating from college, a source said.

Mr. Spitzer’s entrepreneurial activities are the latest indication that the former governor is plunging himself more deeply into a life of business, rather than following, for instance, the model set by a former British war minister, John Profumo, who spent the rest of his life volunteering for a charity after he was caught in a scandal involving a prostitute and a Russian spy.

Mr. Spitzer, who resigned in March just days after it emerged that he had hired high-priced call girls while serving as governor, is quickly making the transition to real estate power player even as his legal standing is in limbo.

While two women who operated the call girl ring connected to Mr. Spitzer have pleaded guilty to money laundering and prostitution-related charges, federal prosecutors have not given any signal as to whether they will charge Mr. Spitzer with a crime.

Mr. Spitzer, who has not spoken substantively to the press since he resigned, did not return a call for comment.


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