Slay suspect complained about working with Stein, Elliman sales manager testifies

TRD New York /
Feb.February 05, 2010 10:08 PM
Elliman sales manager Ronald Tardanico

Four days before high-power real estate broker Linda Stein was beaten to death in her Upper East Side apartment, the personal assistant now on trial for her murder complained to the Prudential Douglas Elliman sales manager about the way Stein was treating her and requested another assignment.

Ronald Tardanico, the sales manager in charge of Elliman’s 980 Madison Avenue office, testified today that on Oct. 26, 2007, Natavia Lowery approached him and complained that Stein was forcing her to do non-real estate-related tasks such as applying Stein’s makeup and answering personal e-mails. When defense attorney Thomas Giovanni asked if Lowery also complained about Stein yelling and screaming at her, Tardanico said, “I don’t recall that.”

After listening to Lowery’s complaint, Tardanico said he gave her some options about how they could handle it.

“I told her that she could resign, we could reposition you in the company, if such a position exists, or you could work things out,” Tardanico said on the stand in Lowery’s trial on murder and grand larceny charges in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Tardanico said he told Lowery to, “sleep on it over the weekend. Let me know on Monday what you want to do.”

When Monday came and passed without Lowery bringing the subject up again, Tardanico said he assumed she had dropped it and was going to try to work things out with Stein.

The next day, Stein, 62, was found bludgeoned to death inside her Fifth Avenue high-rise. The murder weapon, which was never found, is believed to be a weighted yoga stick.

Giovanni asked Tardanico about a civil lawsuit that Stein’s family has brought against Elliman for failing to properly vet Lowery before hiring her in July 2007 to act as Stein’s personal assistant. Tardanico said he was aware that Stein’s family was suing his firm but had not been made privy to the details of the lawsuit.

As The Real Deal reported last November, the suit claims that Lowery told Tardanico, an executive vice president at Elliman, that Lowery was unhappy working for Stein. But the brokerage did not inform Stein that her assistant was unhappy, thereby placing Stein in a dangerous situation as they worked in close quarters in Stein’s apartment, the suit alleges.

“Linda Stein was one of the top producers in the company,” Tardanico testified, though he admitted that Stein, a former punk rock manager for groups such as the Ramones, was “rather difficult” to deal with at times and sometimes confrontational with the other brokers.

Tardanico said that when he informed Lowery that Stein had been murdered the day after the killing, Lowery seemed surprised.

Later that night, Oct. 31, 2007, when NYPD Detective Angelique Loffredo questioned Lowery at Lowery’s Brooklyn home, the personal assistant acted anything but suspiciously. “She was very pleasant; nice, polite, friendly,” Loffredo said in court today.

Lowery allegedly told the detective that she had previously worked for a public relations firm that did work for rock star Elton John and Lowery thought that connection was what got her the job as Stein’s assistant. But instead of solely assisting Stein with duties related to the real estate business, Loffredo testified that Lowery said Stein, whose battle with breast cancer limited some functions of her arms and hands, increasingly had her doing personal chores: washing and curling her hair, dressing her, putting on her makeup, answering personal telephone calls and replying to non-business emails. Loffredo said that Lowery also said that Stein, “asked her to stay late sometimes just to keep her company and that angered Miss Lowery.”

The detective also testified that Lowery described Stein as pugnacious, loud-mouthed and even racist at times.

On one occasion Stein got into it with men who were doing roofing work in her building and screamed slurs at them, Lowery allegedly told the detective. “Linda got irate and she started screaming at [the workers] and they had to call the super to come and calm everything down,” Loffredo said, allegedly relaying what Lowery told her. Lowery’s defense attorneys contend that while Lowery stole money from Stein, someone else, such as possibly the roofers, did the killing.

But while Stein was confrontational to others, Loffredo said that Lowery told her that her relationship with Stein was “fine.” Lofredo added: “She said [Stein] wouldn’t treat her that way.”

Loffredo testified that Lowery told her that on the day of the murder she went to Stein’s apartment around 11 a.m. Lowery helped Stein get dressed in leggings, sneakers, a thermal shirt and a fleece with a hood. Then Lowery packed a small pipe with marijuana for Stein to smoke while she took her daily walk. Lowery always left the computer’s Outlook e-mail program on and played Bob Dylan music, she allegedly told Loffredo. Then about 45 minutes later she left and returned to the Elliman office.

According to Loffredo’s testimony today, Lowery told Loffredo that she didn’t hear from Stein again that day. Around 5 p.m., Lowery said she returned to Stein’s apartment to drop off her handbag, which she said Stein had left at the office and which contained Stein’s cell phone. The door to Stein’s apartment was uncharacteristically locked, Lowery told Loffredo. So Lowery said she left Stein’s handbag on a table outside her front door. A bag containing prescription medicines Stein had delivered was already on that table.

Lowery also told the detective of Stein’s daily use of marijuana and how she smoked it pretty much anywhere: in the apartment, on the street, in a cab, Loffredo testified. The detective said Lowery detailed how Stein received a $600 baggy of pot every month, delivered by people who always showed up in business-style clothes and carried business cards. Stein also had problems with alcohol, Loffredo said Lowery told her, to the point where her daughters talked her into going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Stein went to only one meeting but lied to her daughters telling them she was regularly attending meetings, Lowery told Loffredo.

On Monday, another NYPD detective, who obtained Lowery’s confession, is scheduled to testify about his interview with Lowery. An official from the Boys & Girls Club of America is also set to take the stand to talk about a $4,000 donation that prosecutors say Lowery made with Stein’s stolen money in exchange for tickets to the movie premier of “American Gangster” as part of that organization’s fundraising drive.

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