Millionaires Clash Over Shadyside Mansion

Despite all the Tenth Commandment strictures to the contrary, coveting the mansion next door has led millionaire executive Tony Petrello to years of depositions and lawsuits.

Bill White, the mayor at the time, had only this to say in an e-mail to the Houston Press: "Municipal law does prohibit some types of discrimination against disabled people, and I support enforcement of those laws."

What else is known: Berg and Petrello are important political forces in Houston. Both were friends of Bill White before his political career and benefactors during it, according to campaign contribution records. Petrello even threw White a large fund-raiser at his Shadyside mansion in the mid-2000s. But Berg, especially, is a renowned donor. He poured nearly $100,000 into local and national Democratic causes in late 2007 and 2008, (most of which went to Obama's presidential race) and his links to White extend beyond money. In 2006, White asked Berg to work some pollution cases pro bono. Berg, who's done pro bono for the city for decades, told The Texas Tribune in 2010, "I know Bill White very well."

With the added discrimination wrinkle, the case eventually got scheduled for trial, and an unusual cast of characters assembled involving colorful lawyers, a disabled girl, an embattled doctor, a real estate agent, an oil tycoon — and, finally, one extremely puzzled photographer named Patrick Bertolino. Doing a photography session for the defense, Bertolino was dispatched to Petrello's Shadyside house to get pictures of the interior to evidence whether or not Petrello did, in fact, need Nath's house for his daughter's rehabilitation. What happened next was both hilarious and elucidating.

Tony Petrello's house (left) and Rahul Nath's home (right) have little space between them. If Petrello ultimately succeeds in buying Nath's house, he'll have the largest estate in Shadyside.
Photo by Patrick Bertolino
Tony Petrello's house (left) and Rahul Nath's home (right) have little space between them. If Petrello ultimately succeeds in buying Nath's house, he'll have the largest estate in Shadyside.
Tony and Cindy's art collection is renowned in Houston...
Photo by Patrick Bertolino
Tony and Cindy's art collection is renowned in Houston...

Much yelling. "No! You can't take that picture!" Bertolino recalls David Berg screaming at him as he tried to photograph a sun-washed atrium strewn with items for Carena's therapy. Bertolino then attempted to document a hallway, and some of Petrello's artwork landed in his lens finder. "No!" Berg yelled. "Delete that picture. Delete that!"

Bertolino didn't know what to do. Behind him, everyone was yelling at everyone else. Berg screamed at the defending attorneys, Murray Fogler and Mano DeAyala, who bellowed back. "It was very surreal," Fogler said. Petrello, in a blue bottom-up and black dress pants, glowered, saying he didn't want his art photographed, and fretted over security. Bertolino became so flummoxed he didn't know whether to delete the images, and ultimately left exhausted and perplexed.

"If there's one story I share about all the sessions I've done, which is like 500, this is the story," he later said. "I feel for his daughter, but I don't know. It's a mansion. It's a mansion, man. It's a fucking mansion."
_____________________

The days leading up to the trial got yet stranger. Samuel Kent was the first judge who took up the Shadyside lawsuit, but was soon disgraced in a sexual-harassment scandal and sent to prison as the first federal judge convicted of federal sex crimes. The case then spilled over to U.S. District Judge David Hittner, and finally, on February 23, 2010 — more than two years after the Naths had moved in — the week-long trial began.

Before the stand were three tables, each with eight chairs. Crammed into them were lawyers upon lawyers, defendants and a suited Tony Petrello with Cindy at his side.

At hand, David Berg intoned in his opening statements, were events more sweeping than a housing dispute. This, rather, was a case of discrimination, and things took on a very dramatic and expansive air. To prove the allegations, Berg called Petrello to the stand.

Petrello said Carena's needs were many, as were the demands of his $12 million estate, which included a pool, tennis courts, a garden maze, a greenhouse and something called a "carriage house." Petrello needed six staffers to maintain it all. How could Carena, with all of her needs, live in a house of such complexity after he and his wife die? She couldn't. And that's why he needed the Naths' house, which, he said, would act as a "playroom" for Carena for several years but would later be her home. "It's just another structure," Petrello said. "And I am going to use it for my daughter and her therapists and whatever else." He said they all knew it, too. The Naths, the Pruckas, McGee — all of them. They'd conspired against him.

But had they? And even if they had known Petrello's plans and ignored them, would that have constituted discrimination? Can the law determine whom you sell your house to? Were the Petrellos victims of a hate crime? These questions were raised time and again during the trial but never really answered. Instead, the lawyers did what lawyers do best: They muddied everything up in confusion. Extraneous comments were entered. Bad jokes were made. As Rahul Nath's lawyer, John Raley, in the heat and hyperbole of closing arguments, said of Berg: "He morphs time. He morphs space. He takes a word here and moves it over here and inserts it."

At the end, apparently no one was sure what had transpired. Just that they were befuddled. The jury was hung, and the case was ruled a mistrial. Later, after another judge took up the suit, it was immediately dismissed. Federal Judge Kenneth Hoyt said Petrello hadn't made a written offer and therefore wasn't covered under any housing fairness law — nation, state or local. Boom: Case closed.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
21 comments
BMJ247
BMJ247

Petrello bought the adjacent house at 18 Sunset and tore down the historic home there.  That's why Prucka thought Petrello might do the same with his.  But that didn't matter when he got a full price cash offer from the Naths.  Petrello recently bought another house at 1816 Rice for $4.5 M.  He purchased it through his friend Avi Ron's corporation, CAC Campus Holdings.  He had previously made an offer of $4.9M through realtor Laura Sweeney at John Daugherty Realtors.  After the offer was accepted he screwed her over too and anonymously used the co. to buy it for less.  Such a class act!

2012houstonproud
2012houstonproud

 @BMJ247  HCAD shows 1816 Rice as having a homestead exemption.  How can an LLC qualify for a homestead exemption?  

2012houstonproud
2012houstonproud

 @BMJ247 "No one has lived in the Petrellos' house for nearly three years."  Yet HCAD shows both 10 Remington and 18 Sunset as having a homestead exemption.  How many homestead exemptions can someone have?  Don't you have to live in the house to qualify?  Doesn't sound fair.  

Anon2012
Anon2012

I used to own a house on Dora which is the street that backs up to Petrello's property. In fact, most of the traffic to and from Petrello's house uses Dora for access. Dora street is very prone to flooding. During Allison and Ike, and other big storms, the street could easily be under five feet of water in no time at all. Then it would take forever to drain - resulting in cars getting flooded, garages getting flooded, etc. 

 

It seemed as through Petrello's house was always under renovation as traffic to the house was constant. During one of these renovations, they installed a pump that cleared his property of water during storms. I found this out the hard way - during a bad storm, I was looking out in front of my house to see where the level of water was reaching, then looked down the street towards his property and saw a gusher of water. I walked over to investigate, and yeup, every few minutes, there would be this gusher coming from a pipe installed underneath a new sidewalk coming straight from his property. I've never met the man, but knowing that the street he uses on a regular basis, Dora, floods easily and then installing a pump that forces even more water onto the street not only makes him a bad neighbor, but also a DICK of monumental proportions. 

2012houstonproud
2012houstonproud

Anon & Insider.  What lot are you finding that Petrello purchased from Ms. Hobby?  When I search for the owner name "Petrello" on HCAD.org all that shows up other than 10 Remington is 18 Sunset. That part of Sunset is  too busy and too public for the daughter's place anyway if somebody had the money Petrello supposedly has, and  HCAD shows that Petrello purchased that property from a C M Hudspeth (not Hobby).   (I drive through that section of Sunset a lot, and it is often basically a traffic jam at peak times.  Still nice because of being right by Rice, but not in the zone of being super nice.)  Has Petrello used some sort of a front company for another purchase?  

anon
anon

He already bought connecting property from ms hobby as mentioned below. his insurance doesnt cover the amount of damage endured to his house because he was cheap and he didnt think his house would burn down... i assume theyre waiting for insurance money which if it depends on them and their slacking group of servants to finish....will take forever... ive never done an insurance claim as high as theirs must be.

private1701a
private1701a

Duh. CapObvious.  Petrello’s probably actually leveraged to the hilt and nearly broke.  Happens to lots of super high income guys that try to keep up appearances.  Otherwise he would have just written checks and moved on.  If you really had that kind of wealth, would you live in a hotel or a on a huge estate in a hyper exclusive gated community?  Yep.  Out of dough.

thecaptobvious123
thecaptobvious123

If Petrello really wanted the Nath’s property for his daughter and was going to renovate the house anyway as he said, why doesn’t he just purchase some other contiguous property and move on  with his life?  Just asking.

miss_msry
miss_msry topcommenter

Shouldn't the hed have read:  Millionaire Mansion Mash?

Insider.
Insider.

Ms Hobbys land was purchased by Mr Petrello, the house was torn down so that he can use it for gardens and a large poolhouse for parties. He already has plenty of land to build another house on and he could build it exactly as he wanted. This is a case of a very grumpy angry wealthy man not getting his way and USING his poor daughter as the "reason." Hes just a sore looser and refuses to not get his way. 

wearealltrash
wearealltrash

"Everyone, listen! Shadyside could be cool and groovy if we treated each other fair! It's Petrello ! He's made us all into a pyramid, and he put himself on top!"

johnjay739
johnjay739

Hmmmm ...... I've wondered why someone called Petrello a "modern day Satan" in the Vanity Fair story.  This story may provide insight.    I voted for Bill White for mayor as well as governor, but after finding out he took money from Petrello, he wouldn't get my vote again.

miss_msry
miss_msry topcommenter

Oh, John Bradshaw, sneaking into Montrose to eat ice cream while perusing the skin magazines at Hollywood.

Hilda311
Hilda311

Sounds like another reality show... Not interested but thanks for letting me know.

 

reedpappy
reedpappy

Shadyside was originally a neighborhood of friends, where everyone knew everyone prior to moving there.  The original owners were among the wealthiest and most powerful people in Houston.  The restrictions required that anyone wishing to move to the exclusive neighborhood in the future would have to have unanimous approval of the other residents.  The purpose of this was to keep riff-raff out -- including people of the caliber mentioned here.  Restrictions also prohibited external architectural changes, unless unanimously approved by residents.  Mrs. W.P. Hobby wanted to make some changes to her home which were vetoed by at least one other resident.  She responded by having her house torn down and leaving the land vacant, while moving elsewhere.  She has since passed on, and I have not heard what became of the land. 

Ronbo12
Ronbo12

This is a case of Bullying, just like the stuff that goes on in grade schools. This guys theory is "my way of my way" and uses his $$$ to enforce his will. I have alot of compassion for his situation with his daughter but his inability to accept life's dissappointments discredits his achievements and contributions.

mjhellund1
mjhellund1

It's a bitch out there for a rich guy. I say, the one with the car elevator wins. It's only fair.

Anse
Anse like.author.displayName 1 Like

I just hope Romney wins and gets these guys a tax cut pronto. Imagine the job creation in the legal industry!

Modernsnob
Modernsnob

@HoustonPress Wow, better than a made for TV movie..long reads is an understatement. I had to make notes to stay connected #longreads

Discgolfer22
Discgolfer22 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I hope I don't get sued for this, but what an idiot!!!!

 
Loading...