Faith Hope Consolo’s secret family probes her will

Half-brothers of “queen of retail” hired lawyer after learning she faked family history

Jan.January 28, 2020 07:00 AM
Faith Hope Consolo (Credit: Getty Images)

Faith Hope Consolo (Credit: Getty Images)

As friends and associates of Faith Hope Consolo come to terms with revelations that the late broker fabricated details of her upbringing, her real-life relatives have some questions of their own.

A probe of her will has been initiated by two sons of the father that New York’s self-described “queen of retail” hid from her New York world until her death in December 2018.

Mark Consolo, 52, a police chief who lives in Fairfield County, Ohio, and his brother Matt, 48, were sons of Faith’s troubled father Frank Consolo from his second marriage. They last saw their half-sister, who was more than two decades older, when they were children.

When they learned that documents filed with her will reported that she had no siblings, and that she had claimed her father died when she was young, the brothers hired a lawyer in early 2019 to investigate.

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right,’” Mark said.

In fact, Frank Consolo died in 2012 in Columbus, Ohio, at the age of 94. His obituary listed “Faith of New York City” as one of three of his children.

The brothers plan to request a formal evidentiary examination at Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.

There is likely no money in it for them: Despite the retail dealmaker’s seemingly opulent lifestyle, court filings indicate she died with little personal wealth.

A copy of one document at Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan showed she owned no property in New York — the Fifth Avenue apartment she shared with longtime partner Jerome Sidel was a rental — and her assets were estimated to be worth between $10,000 and $20,000. (The value of the estate will be established when a final accounting is completed.)

Consolo’s will listed her closest friend, Rebekah Cox Tianga, and four charities to be selected by her executor as beneficiaries. Each will get 20 percent of the estate.

At the examination, which has yet to be scheduled, witnesses will be called to answer questions about the circumstances around the drafting of the will, their relationship with Faith and her competency at the time.

Alan Berkowitz, the executor, said in the many years he knew Consolo she had never mentioned any brothers. Berkowitz said that before any court appearance takes place, he plans to ask for a court order to publish a newspaper notice calling for any living relatives to come forward.

The attorney representing the two men, Oshrie Zak, said that wasn’t necessary. “He’s going to waste $5,000 [on the notice] because he’s stubborn and doesn’t want to admit that she has two siblings,” he said.

In response, Berkowitz said he had a “responsibility to do what is best for the estate.”

He acknowledged that the process had been somewhat delayed — Zak first contacted him in early 2019 — because there had been issues “collecting the assets and dealing with some of the creditors.” Some of the broker’s belongings were sold after her death to pay debts.

Mark Consolo said he wants to correct inaccuracies in a document her estate filed — notably a claim that she had no living relatives — and to make sure the circumstances of its drafting were aboveboard. The law enforcement veteran described the inaccuracies as a “red flag.”

The brother said he isn’t looking for money and has no plans to challenge the will. That is still a possibility, though, depending on what the hearing finds. Zak said a will can only be contested based on grounds such as forgery, undue influence or mistake of fact.

A photograph supplied by Mark Colonso shows Frank Colonso with Faith as a child. (Click to enlarge)

A photograph supplied by Mark Consolo shows Frank Consolo with Faith as a child. (Click to enlarge)

Known for her extravagant style and regular appearances in the media, Faith Hope Consolo was a transformative figure in New York’s retail scene, responsible for bringing Zara and a host of other international brands to New York City. She died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

After writing Consolo’s obituary for the New York Times, journalist Julie Satow got a tip from a childhood friend of the broker’s that the stories she told about her privileged upbringing in Connecticut had been an elaborate fiction. Satow wrote an investigative piece about the ruse this month, revealing that Consolo grew up in difficult circumstances in Brooklyn and that her father served at least two stints in prison.

For decades, Consolo had told friends in New York that her father was a real estate executive named John who died when she was a child. In reality, he had left her mother and married Bonnie Consolo, a union that produced Mark and Matt. His third wife, Rose Consolo, shared the details of Frank’s daughter’s death with his two sons.

The truth of Faith’s life was news even to Joseph Aquino, her business partner for more than two decades. “I remember once we were together in Westport, and I was all excited for her to show me the house where she grew up,” Mr. Aquino told the Times. “But she got really vague and seemed sad, so I just dropped it, figuring she didn’t want to talk about it.”

A probate petition filed at Manhattan's Surrogate's Court identified Faith as having no siblings.

A probate petition filed at Manhattan’s Surrogate’s Court identified Faith as having no siblings.

Speaking by phone from Ohio, Mark Consolo said he had a difficult relationship with his father, who was mostly estranged from Faith throughout her life. Still, he believes the elder Consolo should be recognized correctly in her will.

After his parents divorced, Mark said he lived with his father for a while but eventually left home to join the Navy. He later returned to Ohio and married, working for many years as a cop on street patrol before moving up the ranks of management.

Asked why he never made contact with Faith as an adult, Mark said he didn’t have any details for how to get in touch, and the strained relationship with his father made it a sensitive topic to broach. “I never really explored it with Dad,” he said. “He was difficult to communicate with.”

The revelations about his half-sister’s life have been confusing, he said, but he accepted that everyone has layers, including their father.

“I knew my dad had a troubled past, but what person doesn’t have problems?” he said. “Sometimes when people conceal things, there are things going on in the background.”

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at [email protected]

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