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Headhunter for the Rich Turns on Them

Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group

Wall Street's masters of the universe have a new enemy: Adrian Barrie Smith.

Mr. Smith, a British recruiter who supplies butlers, maids and other domestic workers to some of the world's wealthiest families, has turned on his former clients.

Over the last 18 months, Mr. Smith has filed lawsuits against the families of some of the most prominent names in finance, including Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman of the Blackstone Group; Carl C. Icahn, the activist investor; Leonard Blavatnik, the Russian investor who recently acquired Warner Music; Howard Lutnick, the chairman and chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald; and George Soros's former wife, Susan Soros Webber. To top it off, he filed a suit against Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica. Before that, he sued Ron Perelman, the billionaire investor, and the singer Mariah Carey.

This week, Mr. Smith is expected to be in court with case againstthe wife of Kenneth A. Buckfire, co-founder of Miller Buckfire, the restructuring firm.

In virtually every instance, Mr. Smith has accused his clients of some form of breach of contract and has then trotted out a list of complaints about race and age discrimination. His targets see it as mudslinging, even extortion. Mr. Smith says he is simply trying to get the truth out about New York's powerful.

"I could tell you stories that you simply would never believe," Mr. Smith told me in a recent e-mail. "Who sits in the private planes and homes, dinner parties of the elite? The butlers, the nannies, the housekeepers." He added, "And who do they e-mail, and tell all the gossip to? Me."

When I first heard of Mr. Smith a little more than a year ago, I have to admit, I was intrigued. He promised the secrets of the city's biggest names and stories worthy of a Park Avenue version of the TV show "Desperate Housewives." He offered himself up as a Robin Hood crusading on behalf of the working class that serve the wealthiest.

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But I came to believe that his intent could well be to tell fanciful stories in hopes of drawing media attention to extract settlement payments in his lawsuits.

In 2011, Mr. Smith was convicted of aggravated harassment of a potential client, Tania Higgins, the wife of a hedge fund manager. "I will have a really great laugh when I see your house crumble," he said in a voice mail message to her that included profane language that can't be printed here. "I will have my revenge."

When it became clear that I intended to write about him, Mr. Smith sent a series of blistering e-mails threatening me with a lawsuit. "Bring your lawyer. You personally will be sued," he said in one e-mail. "You are on notice! A jury made up of New Yorkers will judge you, plus all your colleagues, and the press worldwide," he told me.

One of his early rambling e-mails said, "It would be nice if someone focused on the truth rather than merely just making me look foolish." But he quickly moved to more threats: "Who are you taking money from? Who are you doing a favor for? Someone got to you today. Right?" His final e-mail on Monday said, among other things, "You throw dirt on me, and surely it's my right to return the favor. Walk away. That's my advice."

In an interview last year with a colleague of mine, Mr. Smith admitted that he had a temper, and that "curse words were used" in some of his previous business dealings. But he defended himself against allegations that he was a bully who had harassed, or even blackmailed, his high-powered clientele.

"Do I look like a bully? Do you see any tattoos on me? I don't even drink," he said.

And yet his Twitter account is an unfiltered diatribe against his targets.

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"Gail Golden Icahn is so lazy she cannot squeeze her own toothpaste, or switch on the TVs, cook, clean or drive a car. She hires someone!" he wrote.

Another, misspelling included, said: "Rupert Murdock apparently aided his friend Nelson Peltz to burn his house to the ground for insurance money. Tommy Mottola helped. Wow." (Mr. Mottola's former wife is Ms. Carey.)

In his case against the Seinfelds, he contended that the family's butler rejected a qualified housekeeper because the butler said the Seinfelds would think "she is not cute enough and she's a little fat."

I mention these claims not to dignify them, but rather to illustrate the nature of his claims.

In my reporting, I discovered that Mr. Smith had outstanding lawsuits against media organizations including the News Corporation, the Daily Beast, and yes, even The New York Times. (Ms. Higgins's case against him was mentioned in passing in an article about housekeepers in the New York section last year.) He also brought a case against The Daily Telegraph in Britain, contending that the paper used a photograph of Mr. Smith without his permission.

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In a twist, after threatening to sue the musician Lou Reed in 2011 and getting into a heated argument with Mr. Reed's manager, Mr. Smith had the manager arrested on charges of harassment. That case was dismissed, but a separate case was brought against Mr. Smith, who pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated harassment in the second degree.

In Ms. Icahn's case, Mr. Smith was hired to find a housekeeper but was quickly fired after she discovered he was finding potential prospects on Craigslist, not from the pool of experienced housekeepers he said he had relationships with, according to people briefed on the case. The cases against the others seem equally thin.

When I called many of the subjects of his suits, virtually every one of them refused to speak about him or even provide a "no comment." They all said that they feared his retribution, name calling and other backbiting.

Oddly enough, Mr. Smith's litigious efforts appear to be working, at least outside of court. Mr. Schwarzman paid about $19,000 to settle his case, according to people briefed on it, hoping Mr. Smith would go away. Ms. Icahn offered him $1,500, which he rejected.

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But the courts could be slowing Mr. Smith down. Last December, the city's small-claims court barred Mr. Smith from bringing any new cases without receiving permission from the court in advance, citing 51 cases he has brought since 2006. The order said it was intended "to avoid the possibility of the use of the small-claims part for the purpose of harassment." On Tuesday, Mr. Buckfire's lawyers are planning to seek a permanent injunction stopping Mr. Smith's lawsuit against their client.Mr. Smith now says he is writing a book. The title? "Filthy & Rich in New York City."

By CNBC Anchor and New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin.