Giuseppe Cipriani: ‘I’m Not on the Lam’

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Giuseppe Cipriani Photo: Patrick McMullan

Vanity Fair tracks down Arrigo Cipriani and his son Giuseppe now that it’s been a year since his empire was forced to cough up $500,000 to the SLA for tax violations (shortly after that, an aide to the governor was accused of exerting pressure on the SLA to renew Cipriani’s liquor license). First, some fun facts about Giuseppe as a child.

“He was always full of energy—a lot of headaches for us, I’ll tell you,” Arrigo says of his son’s wild youth. “At 13 he looked 18,” says Giuseppe’s sister Giovanna. Older women would “kidnap” the boy for dirty weekends, says Arrigo, and Giuseppe’s sister Carmela calls him “a Latin lover—like Casanova.”

From there, the piece recaps the rise of the Cipriani empire, including the purchase of 55 Wall Street and their controversial union-busting upon taking over the Rainbow Room.

In Milan one morning in 1997, Arrigo saw in the Corriere della Sera the headline “Cipriani buys 55 Wall Street for $28 million.” “I didn’t have a penny,” Arrigo tells me, “so I called Giuseppe and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘Don’t worry.’ That’s what he always says, ‘Don’t worry.’”

Arrigo claims that everything was smooth sailing until the Ciprianis won a contract to do their $154 million project, Leonardo at Pier 57, near Chelsea Piers. The Ciprianis believe that Roland Betts, the Chelsea Piers developer who was competing for the contract, used his connections (to George W. Bush, among other people) to get state and city authorities on their case, and to out supposed mob ties. Whether or not Betts was responsible for the investigations (he has claimed he was not), it was all downhill from there. After an anonymous letter tipped off Robert Morgenthau’s office to underreported revenues, the family ended up signing a plea bargain agreeing to pay $10 million for tax evasion.

Giuseppe left New York in the fall of 2008, and neither he nor Arrigo have been back since (advisers have told them they might be put in jail), but they both insist they aren’t on the lam. Meanwhile, Giuseppe has plenty of other projects to work on.

The bust has hardly broken him; bigger is still better for Giuseppe Cipriani, who insists he’s going forward with a “fantastic” half-million-square-foot Cipriani hotel, restaurant, catering facility, and residential tower in Miami’s South Beach. He’ll break ground on a 100-suite Cipriani hotel and catering facility in São Paulo in March. He’s opening a restaurant, hotel, and ballroom in Istanbul, then a restaurant in Moscow. The Miami project is “huge, the best project on South Beach,” he says. “And if you look at the new projects, they’re probably bigger than all the ones we’ve built up to now.”

And, rest assured, he’ll be back in New York once his lawyers work all this out.

“I can go back. I will go back. I’ve lived in the United States since 1985. I employed thousands of people in the U.S. I paid millions in taxes in the U.S. The crime that I was convicted of was a plea deal with Robert Morgenthau. Usually, when you plead to something, it means that you make a deal. So we made a deal. And that’s why I will go back to New York.”

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