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.

Millionaires Clash Over Shadyside Mansion

See pictures of 8 Remington Lane and 10 Remington Lane in our slideshow.

It was just after 6 on a still Friday evening in December when a man Rahul Nath had never seen before approached his beige-brick two-story mansion tucked behind the iron gates among the oak trees. The doorbell wasn't working, so the man walked inside and began calling for Nath. In the weeks and years that followed, as this day was laboriously parsed and unpacked over hours of court testimony and depositions, this man, J.J. Cortez, was called many things. He was cast as a servant, a chef, an employee, someone who could intimidate. But at this moment, as Nath, an affluent surgeon, descended a broad stairwell to greet this unexpected stranger, Cortez wasn't anything other than a messenger.

And the message was this: You've been summoned. Your next-door neighbor, Tony Petrello, wants to see you. Nath, still clad in scrubs from work, had never heard of Petrello. He'd just agreed to purchase the house — for the staggering sum of $8.3 million — earlier that week. Nath, surprised and fearing some medical emergency, pattered after Cortez. They passed through an eight-foot iron gate and onto a driveway where, before a 17,000 square-foot manor, Petrello waited. Then began an encounter unlike any Nath had had before.

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...
...and the sheer amount of space they have — 17,000 square feet — is enormous.
Photo by Patrick Bertolino
...and the sheer amount of space they have — 17,000 square feet — is enormous.
Tony and Cindy Petrello have attempted to give their disabled daughter, Carena, the best care possible — and that has included this atrium where their daughter once exercised.
Photo by Patrick Bertolino
Tony and Cindy Petrello have attempted to give their disabled daughter, Carena, the best care possible — and that has included this atrium where their daughter once exercised.

Arms crossed and leaning forward, was a bespectacled and jowly Anthony G. Petrello, one of the richest men in Houston. A widely known philanthropist in the medical community, he's the CEO of Nabors Industries, the largest land-based oil-drilling company in the world. "The most powerful man in town," one lawyer calls him.

Their conversation as they stood there, reconstructed through court testimony and depositions, is remembered very differently by both men. Neither agreed to speak with the Houston Press. According to Nath's deposition, he said hello to Petrello, but moments later felt threatened and discomforted. Petrello, whose every word carries New Jersey twang, was shouting and wouldn't make eye contact. Petrello started in on his demands: He and his wife, Cindy, needed Nath's house. His daughter, Carena, was disabled, and the house effectively belonged to him. He'd already orally claimed it, and Nath had to leave immediately.

Nath's house, a 1920s affair with a wine cellar and servants' chambers, was supposed to be a personal "clinic" for his handicapped daughter, Petrello said. There were plans to reconfigure it entirely. Petrello, Nath said, then raised his arm and pointed down the street, 100 yards in the distance. "You'd be better off living down the street, not next door," he said. "We could buy your house and you could potentially rent it from us for a few days, but you'd be better off living down there."

Nath, of Indian ethnicity, discerned bigotry, saying Petrello belittled him like "one of his servants." He surmised the oilman didn't want people like him and his wife, Usha, as neighbors, and was "humiliated." (Everyone the Press talked to who knows Petrello vociferously decried allegations of ­bigotry.)

Judging from Petrello's deposition, it seems as though he'd attended an entirely different meeting. To him, this was a "pleasant" talk — downright neighborly. He told Nath, who was exceedingly friendly, that his daughter had cerebral palsy and he wanted to use the house for her care. He'd heard another house was about to open up in the neighborhood. So would Nath kindly step aside? The men parted like bowling buddies.

Despite the competing narratives, one fact never changed: Petrello's got a huge crush on the house next door. This became utterly apparent over the coming years as the oilman deployed fleets of expensive lawyers, voluminous lawsuits and millions of dollars in what would become something of a crusade to claim the property — Petrello's whale, sitting in eyesight at all times, but out of reach. His dedication to the quest has made some Shadyside residents a little nervous. Murmurs shot through the community, three unrelated sources familiar with Shadyside said. Perhaps Nath's house was only the beginning. Everyone knew Petrello was rich. Maybe there were plans to annex more of the neighborhood.

The few agreed-upon facts are these: In 2007, Petrello's former next-door neighbors, Matt and Sheri Prucka, decided to move to Park City, a mountainous resort town in Utah, departing this small and wealthy community. Petrello heard the news and told Prucka he was interested in buying his house for $8.2 million, and without brokers' fees, but — and this would become extremely important — never made an offer in writing. Prucka ultimately refused and sold the house to Nath, who furnished $8.3 million in cash. So Petrello, a man of incredible academic and professional achievement who some say gets his way no matter the financial sacrifice, dialed up his lawyer, David Berg.

Shortly after, the lawsuits began — and they haven't stopped. Seeking the house, Petrello sued Prucka and the involved real estate agent, Peggy McGee, alleging breach of contract and, later, conspiracy and discrimination against his daughter. Nath, himself no stranger to lengthy litigation, sued Petrello when the oilman placed a lien on the manor to stop the transaction, accusing Petrello of bigotry, an unsubstantiated claim later dropped. Petrello sued him back, and a bizarre and confounding story began to unfold, its arc enveloping the City of Houston and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court itself.
_____________________

Even on the brightest of days, sunlight rarely falls on the streets of Shadyside. Giant oaks rise everywhere, offering a dome of respite, and, settled behind electronic gates, the neighborhood is almost preternaturally quiet and peaceful. The only cars belong to residents, and parents allow their children out during the day and in the evening without concern. At Halloween, trick-or-treating occurs exclusively inside the gates — where parents say it's safe. Where everyone knows everyone else.

Bought in 1916 by oil tycoon J.S. Cullinan, Shadyside was intended to be exactly as it is today. Where "congenial parties" could raise families inside one of its 16 houses, designed by famous architects like John Staub or Harrie T. Lindeberg. The homes still reflect the tenor of the time, with grand entranceways and wings intended for fleets of servants. It's a neighborhood steeped in history; Howard Hughes married Ella Rice here in 1925 — right in Tony Petrello's front yard no less. But as the city grew around the neighborhood, privacy and safety assumed greater importance.

In 1983, the Shadyside property owners' association bought the only two streets inside the community, Remington and Longfellow lanes, from the city, officially making the neighborhood private property. Gates were erected, meaning a stroll through Shadyside is actually trespassing, explained a private security officer who recently escorted me out of the neighborhood. That sense of exclusivity, or as Heritage Texas Properties puts it, "mystique," has attracted some of the city's most important people for nearly a century, and still does. Prolific writer and theologian John Bradshaw lives here, as does Donald Short, the former CEO of Minute Maid.

But even they, along with numerous other residents, expressed reluctance to discuss what happened in the Shadyside litigation involving Tony Petrello, Rahul Nath and the Pruckas, which has in some ways injected rumor and intrigue into this otherwise calm community. People have their theories about what really caused the lawsuits, but no one actually knows. "Once the litigation begins, no one talks," one Shadyside resident said.

On one side of that dispute there's Petrello, 57, who pockets $16 million in annual income and has launched at least five separate civil suits from New York to Houston. They've ranged from grand to not-so-grand. He once sued Enrique Senker and Senkgard, Inc. over a dispute involving his alarm system. One of the highest-paid CEOs in the nation, Petrello makes 22 times more than the median executive salary at Nabors and $24 million annually in realized compensation, according to data provided by GMI Ratings, which tracks executive pay. "Nabors has been one of the poster boys of excessive compensation," said Paul Hodgson of GMI Ratings. "This is not how you compensate a team. That's how you compensate a star, and servants."

And on the other side are the Pruckas, who made millions from engineering — and Rahul Nath. Once peer-edited as one of "America's Top Doctors," Nath, 55, has been one of the nation's leading researchers on conditions restricting range of motion in the brachial plexus, a dense network of nerve fibers running from the spine to the armpit. He's gotten loads of accolades. In 2007, both CNN and People did pieces on him after he offered to operate, for free, on an Iraqi infant.

But he's also gotten loads of criticism, and if any of the Texas Medical Board's pending allegations against him are true, Rahul Nath may have an entirely different, previously unknown personality. The board's 2010 complaint says Nath "performed prohibited procedures after notice to cease," exhibited "disregard of patient care and selection in the interest of financial gain," and evinced "a pattern of charging patients excessive sums of money to perform experimental surgeries."

Nath's lawyer, Daniel Shea, countered, "It's all bullshit," later saying, "He's the victim of a vendetta."

Nath's legal troubles, however, go deeper than problems with the Texas Medical Board. In 2006, in Harris County, Nath sued a former associate, Texas Children's Hospital, and the Baylor College of Medicine alleging he'd been defamed — a claim he lost, and in spectacular fashion. State District Judge Steven Kirkland said Nath's "groundless" accusations were "brought in bad faith" by a "bully," and ordered the doctor to pay $1.3 million in attorney fees.

It gets worse. Nath's former office manager, Brenda DeVaul, entered some damning deposition against him in that case. She described a doctor who "frequently" skipped out on patients to play golf, called resident doctors "lazy motherfuckers" and had expressed racism. DeVaul said Nath, whose private practice apparently made $6 million in 2006, was reluctant to see blacks and Mexicans because "they're on Medicaid" and don't pay as well.

In one of the stranger moments of that deposition, DeVaul said Nath had told her to arrange a meeting with — because why not? — Tiger Woods so he and Nath could play golf together:

Q: Was he kidding or serious?

A: He was serious. Because he wanted to play with Tiger Woods. Because he said, "He is good."

...

Q: Did you express the impossibility of —

A: yes.

Q: — setting up a Nath-Woods golf match?

A: Yes I did.

But that apparent disconnect with reality doesn't seem aberrant when one analyzes the Shadyside litigation, how it came about and what happened afterward. Nath and Petrello, in perhaps the greatest testimony to their litigious natures, had exactly one meeting before the lawsuits began. They haven't spoken since, instead corresponding exclusively through a tizzy of amended claims and lawyerese. Indeed, even for this article, their refusal to discuss anything hasn't been surprising. What has been: Almost no one's wanted to talk, and especially not if his or her name would be printed. Why risk a million-dollar defamation suit? several people asked.

One source, who cryptically signed his name as "DT" (er, Deep Throat?), explained it in an e-mail to the Houston Press: "Don't expect any person with any ties to a service provider (legal, architectural, financial, etc.) to talk with you on the record. Keeping quiet provides real rewards and the downside from talking includes getting sued or just knocked out of the business."

Another person familiar with the Shadyside lawsuit initially spoke on the record, but called the next day, crying and frantic. The source pleaded for anonymity and expressed regret for talking. "I am naive — I'm very naive," the person moaned. "You're scaring me. You're scaring me. You don't understand how dangerous Petrello is. You need to promise me you're not going to put me in harm's way."
_____________________

There may be good reason to be scared, said a woman sunning in her front yard on a recent Friday in Shadyside. "After that Vanity Fair piece, you can imagine why no one wants to talk about Tony Petrello," she said.

In July 2011, Vanity Fair published a 4,700-word article about a lawsuit Petrello filed against a 90-year-old potato farmer named John C. White, whose family has owned and tilled the oceanfront land east of New York City since 1695. Yes: another real estate problem. Tracking more than a decade of bitter disputes between Tony and Cindy Petrello and the Whites in Sagaponack, New York, the story framed Petrello as an archetypal .001-percent villain intent on wringing land from a diffident, hog-tied farmer.

Though Mayor Donald Louchheim says the real tale was more nuanced than that, it's continually regurgitated as some epic, metaphoric clash straight out of the testaments. "Classic story of David versus Goliath," said Michael Wright, who reported on the dispute for the Southampton Press. It all began in 1998, when Petrello, originally from a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Newark, signed a contract to buy 9.56 acres from John White, a man he apparently loved, for $2.1 million.

Though that's a lot of money, the Whites are worth substantially more. Son J.N. White estimated his family's net worth at around $10 million, but it's tied up in real estate. "We don't have very much cash," he said.

Petrello first discovered the farm in the early 1990s, around the time he left his New York job as a managing partner at Baker & McKenzie, a spot he'd snared after — whatever else people may think of the guy — some remarkable collegiate achievements for a Newark neighborhood kid. Petrello finished the requirements for his bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics at Yale by age 19, before attending Harvard Law School, and landing at Baker & McKenzie. But his tenure there was not devoid of controversy.

In 1986, a Baker & McKenzie associate named Geoffrey Bowers, who later died of AIDS-related illnesses, said he was fired after exhibiting skin lesions. He filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which in 1993 awarded his family $500,000. According to a 1988 Newsday article, Petrello, who denied at the hearings that Bowers's condition spurred his termination, was nonetheless a "key figure in the dismissal of Bowers." The film Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks, was partly inspired by the Bowers saga.

More than a decade later and 100 miles away in Sagaponack, the Petrellos' relationship with the Whites was unraveling.

Here's what happened: The "Titans of Wall Street," as Louchheim calls them, had arrived. Property prices in the Hamptons went bonkers. Castles soon rose over the dunes. And Petrello's $2.1 million started seeming paltry, not even enough to cover the White farm's estate taxes, said J.N. White. So the potato farmers asked Petrello for more money and help restructuring their estate plan, stalling the deal's closure.

Now, Petrello — if his lawsuits are any indication — isn't a man who takes delay well. So he brought the hammer, suing them in federal court in 2001 so they'd fulfill their contract and for damages he'd allegedly incurred because of the heel-dragging.

It began a ten-year legal cluster fuck Petrello eventually won — the court completely ruled in his favor — though it ruined his friendship with the Whites. Even today Petrello's revised complaints haven't slowed, an additional summons hitting the Whites in early August. "If Tony thinks he's been screwed, he will fight all the way," said close friend Sam Stubbs, a Houston attorney. But, really, there may be more to it than that.

What becomes apparent after reading through Petrello's complaints and depositions is that, in a sense, he's still that Yale mathematician he once was. And that meticulous nature, which has made him profoundly rich and successful in the law and business, also emerges in his civil suits. He evidently cannot abide broken contracts. That's why he sued the Whites over land. That's why he sued Enrique Senker over an alarm system. And that's why, in 1999, he sued Chandler Robinson over an addition to his house.

"Obviously he knows the legal profession very well, knows what he can do with it," said Robinson, whose lawsuit with Petrello was settled out of court. Afterward, Robinson wrote a letter to the Petrellos, copying dozens of local construction and landscape crews, saying the couple was "honorable." But today Robinson's got a different story. "Petrello uses (the law) as a cudgel to get his way," the builder said. "To me, that's evil, what he does to people."

Similar things have been said about him by those entwined in the Shadyside dispute, though this wrangle would have one overarching difference: Nothing would get settled out of court. And even if it, too, had sprung from a "breached contract," the suit wouldn't stay that way for long. Morphing into a discrimination complaint, the emerging contention became perhaps Petrello's widest-ranging and most-ambitious personal litigation. But only after a certain trigger was tripped — Carena, the Petrellos' disabled daughter.

Tony and Cindy, who met in New Haven while Tony was at Yale, tried for many years to have children, but couldn't, according to court testimony. Then, in the summer of 1997, Cindy, a petite former New York tap dancer, got pregnant and six months later delivered Carena who was born with physical and neurological problems.

Despite this, Carena showed improvement up until when, at age three, she suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak. Her parents later erected in their courtyard a small bronze statue of Carena with Cindy in which the child almost looks healthy, even ordinary — "Carena at her best," attorney Sam Stubbs said. "Carena is a testament to the endurance of a pure soul," Petrello said in testimony.

The stroke's aftermath, however, was grueling. "In the world of families who have children with severe disabilities, they feel all alone," said Stubbs, who himself has a son, 24, with severe autism. But, Stubbs said, Petrello never discusses his daughter. "He's shy," Stubbs said. "Tony's a kind, warm, gentle man. But, like most who are as intelligent as he, he doesn't have a lot of chit-chat."

True, Petrello's money has been far more public than the man. It has splashed across Houston's opera and theater circuit, into local and national political coffers, and finally, in his and Cindy's largest contribution, toward the Neurological Research Institute at the Texas Children's Hospital to help cases like Carena's. They pledged $7 million, and Tony chaired the finance committee to build the center, ultimately netting more than $250 million. In February of 2011, Tony and Cindy received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.

There has, of course, been another use for his money: civil litigation suits. Numerous people estimated the Shadyside litigation alone has cost Petrello at least $2 million — and the lawyers' fees just keep coming. This, oddly enough, for a house Petrello wouldn't pay an extra $100,000 for and meet the Pruckas' asking price of $8.3 million.

But there was one more twist. And that was the City of Houston.
_____________________

Matt Prucka couldn't make sense of it. What had begun as something extremely ordinary — the sale of his house — had somehow turned into lawsuits filed in state and federal court against him and his wife, Sheri, and accusations that they and the Naths had conspired to discriminate against a disabled girl. "This is crazy," the Pruckas said to each other one night. Matt said, "This is all just a game to Petrello."

For one, the original lawsuit over an oral breach of contract was deeply confusing. Verbal agreements, even if there had been one, don't mean anything in Texas real estate — everything's got to be written. According to the state's statute of frauds, which governs land deals, a handshake just ain't enough. But what Prucka may not have understood then was that the original complaint didn't necessarily require merit, Sam Stubbs said. It just had to get them into depositions and afford David Berg, Petrello's long-time and immensely expensive lawyer, a crevice. Just a crevice. And then let Berg do his thing.

The discrimination allegations were "100 percent David Berg being creative," one Shadyside resident familiar with the litigation said. "David Berg is so fabulously skilled he could get you to say you have 12 toes...This never had anything to do with Carena. Nobody thinks it had anything to do with Carena in the neighborhood. Nobody.

"These houses turn over once in a lifetime and if you miss the opportunity, you're screwed. That house will never come up again. If you want to control your destiny, you have to buy the house. You got to get it and if you don't get it, you're screwed."

The resident later added: "It doesn't matter if you win (the case). It's a war of attrition."

The first battle was on May 14, 2008, when Berg launched a circuitous line of inquiry on Prucka. Prucka mentioned the home for Sheri was "enchanted." Things then picked up, question melting into question, later culminating in a very direct exchange. Prucka told Berg that Petrello had "a strike" against him because he wanted to change the home's "architectural integrity" by making it handicapped-accessible with an elevator, wider hallways and larger bathroom for Carena. He said his preference had been to sell to someone else.

With that, Berg apparently had everything he needed for a discrimination suit. "Berg had to figure out a plan B," Prucka's lawyer, Tom Fulkerson, said. "I don't know if he knew it going into the deposition, or stumbled into it." The breach of contract complaint vanished, and puzzling things began to happen.

The city got involved when the city attorney filed a criminal citation against Prucka for alleged discrimination against a disabled person under the fair housing ordinance — a first for the city, which had ostensibly passed the law in 2006 to protect the poor. The penalty carried a whopping fee of $500 — insignificant compared to the $8.3 million mansion at stake in the civil litigation. Later, after Annise Parker took office, the complaint was dismissed in 2011, and today the administration questions why the city had pursued the case, a spokesperson said. City Chief Prosecutor Randy Zamora, declined comment. Gordon Quan, who championed the ordinance while on City Council, also expressed surprise the city had filed the complaint. "The whole law was about poor people getting stomped on," he said, adding that the city wouldn't have even recouped its lawyers' fees with a $500 penalty. "I thought it was very novel they used it on some wealthy person, or maybe some smart lawyer decided we can hit them on this."

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.

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.

Not quite. The oilman challenged the decision with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that the fairness in housing act doesn't explicitly say an offer needs to be written. But what does say that, if you'll recall, is the statute of frauds, said Matthew Festa, a professor of administrative law at South Texas College of Law. Regardless, appeals went forward. And while that was going on, Berg took it a step further, shooting off an "emergency" request to the United States Supreme Court in early March. He wanted the court to stop any further transfer of the house; Justice Antonin Scalia denied Berg's request that day. In August, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a three-judge panel, rejected Petrello's case, but for an entirely different reason — namely that Petrello had offered less money than Nath, negating claims of discrimination. (At trial, Berg said Petrello's oral offer was cheaper than Nath's because of waived broker's fees.)

Meanwhile, amid this legal maelstrom lawyers predict could only end at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Naths have today spent five years in their Shadyside mansion. The Pruckas are gone — and, in one more baffling turn, so are the Petrellos, who neighbors and lawyers say reside at the Hotel Granduca, perched along Uptown Park Boulevard near River Oaks. No one has lived in the Petrellos' house for nearly three years.

Before noon on December 30, 2009, Petrello's house burned. The flames slathered the interior in soot and ash. Nearly 100 firefighters swarmed Shadyside that day. The Petrellos haven't been around much since, and reconstruction on the mansion hasn't yet begun — presumably, one Shadyside resident said, because Petrello may yet wrench the Naths' house away by some measure of legal wizardry.

"All the assumptions are that this will go on forever," that resident said. And, as such, reticence to talk about the housing dispute lingers. Residents close doors on those who ask, scared they too will take lawsuit shrapnel.

So for now, everyone waits. They wait to see if there will be more appeals. They wait to see if the burnt house will be rebuilt. They wait to see what Tony Petrello will do next.

terrence.mccoy@houstonpress.com

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22 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!

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

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

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

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

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

2012houstonproud
2012houstonproud

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

private1702
private1702

@private1701a You have no idea what you're talking about.

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.  

 
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