MORE GUCCI DRAMA
MURDER CHARGE FOR MAURIZIO’S EX
Byline: Sara Gay Forden
MILAN — Patrizia Reggiani made no secret of her hatred for Maurizio Gucci, the man she married in 1972, the man with whom she had two daughters, the man who, over the years spanning their marriage, separation and divorce, became the target of her obsession with money.
“At a human level, I’m sorry. I can’t say the same on a personal level,” Reggiani flippantly told journalists at Gucci’s funeral in 1995 as she self-righteously took her place in the front row of mourners, while Paola Franchi, the woman he loved, lived with and had hoped to marry, stayed home.
When the charismatic and controversial Gucci was cold-bloodedly shot down on the stairway of his Milan offices by an anonymous gunman in March 1995, few seriously believed the spiteful Patrizia Reggiani could have been responsible, even though she had a textbook motive: Gucci was reportedly on the verge of marrying Paola Franchi, and those who knew Reggiani said she was worried about losing access to his multi-million-dollar estate — mostly funds he had received from Investcorp for selling his 50 percent stake in the company in 1993. There were also plush apartments in Milan and New York and a chalet in St. Moritz.
Money was of supreme importance to the petite Reggiani, a spitfire of a woman with dark, highly coiffed hair, flashing eyes, a stinging tongue and an extravagant lifestyle to maintain. Several years ago, dripping in jewels, an indignant Reggiani told an Italian television talk show hostess she could hardly survive on the mere $3 million a year her ex-husband was giving her in alimony and child support payments.
“After all, I have two children to support,” complained Reggiani, who was born Martinelli but later was adopted by her mother’s second husband, transportation magnate Fernando Reggiani.
“She may have been nasty, but she wasn’t stupid,” said one family friend. “She knew how Maurizio handled money, and she knew in a few years he would have spent it all,” the friend said. “And Paola was a legend in Milan for the way she spent money. Patrizia was probably afraid there wasn’t going to be anything left for his daughters,” the friend added, referring to Alessandra, 21, and Allegra, 16.
In the two years since Maurizio’s sinister death, the investigation took magistrates to Switzerland, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, probing Gucci’s business ties for signs of foul play. After losing control of his family company, Gucci was said to be eyeing investments in the tourism industry, including a casino operation in Crans Montana — raising the specter of a mob-style hit.
But as a tragic story unfolded over the weekend here, with all the elements of a big-screen thriller, the smoking gun is now alleged to have been close to home: At 4:30 Friday morning police arrested Reggiani, on suspicion of ordering the murder of Maurizio Gucci for $375,000 (600 million lire).
Four other people were simultaneously arrested in the case: Giuseppina (Pina) Auriemma, a Neapolitan psychic and confidante of Reggiani; Auriemma’s sometimes boyfriend, Ivano Savioni, a porter in a Milan hotel; Orazio Cicala, the alleged mastermind behind the killing and the driver of the getaway car, and Benedetto Ceraulo, the alleged triggerman. Cicala was already in jail on unrelated drug charges.
Officers found Reggiani in her plush apartments on Corso Venezia here, the quarters where Maurizio Gucci was living when he died, and into which she wasted little time moving once he was gone.
The Italian press had a field day with the arrest, with the police even inviting one reporter to accompany them to Reggiani’s apartment. The Corriere della Sera gave a blow-by-blow description of her arrest, stating that when she refused to answer the door, the police called the house. “You have to open up — it’s the police,” they told her. A disheveled Reggiani answered the door.
“Do you know why we’ve come?” they asked her.
“Yes, you’ve come about the death of my husband,” she said, donning an ankle-length mink as police led her away.
Reggiani’s mother later exchanged the mink with a subdued rain jacket more suitable for jail.
Reggiani was booked at police headquarters on Piazza Santo Sepolcro: just across the street from the church where she and Gucci took their vows 24 years earlier.
It had been a marriage Maurizio’s father Rodolfo Gucci — fearing that Reggiani was only after the Gucci money — opposed from the start. He even went to the Archbishop of Milan to try to block the wedding, as the story goes. None of the Gucci family attended the ceremony.
Police said they now have a confession from one of the accused, Savioni, who, police said, capitulated under interrogations over the weekend. Reggiani’s interrogation is set for today. Currently being held in Milan’s San Vittore prison, she faces a life prison term for murder. “They are saving her for last,” said one police source.
Reggiani, according to police sources, told police she never really meant for anyone to kill her ex-husband, and that after Gucci was shot the killers threatened her if she didn’t pay them for the job. According to press reports, Reggiani was overheard as saying at the time of her booking, “I was afraid of them. They said they thought they had done me a favor. I paid them because they were terrorizing me.”
However, as of Friday afternoon her lawyer, Marco De Luca, said he hadn’t yet been allowed to meet with his client, and that none of her comments out of his presence would be admissible in a trial.
Investigators could hardly contain their satisfaction over breaking the case, which had turned up little for more than two years.
“It just goes to show you should never give up hope,” said investigating magistrate Carlo Nocerino, who credited Milan’s Criminalpol police detectives with making the final push. According to police sources, the breakthrough came just in the last month, when their spiderweb of hidden microphones started catching some revealing flies: the killers were disgruntled over their money and decided to threaten Reggiani for more. Little did the assassins know that the surly Colombian — who had a violent reputation — with whom they contracted to shake up Reggiani was really an undercover agent, said police sources.
Stunned by the news of Reggiani’s alleged role in the murder of her former husband, many of Gucci’s former friends interviewed in the last few days said it was important to reevaluate his image, which they felt had been tarnished by allegations of bad debts or shady business deals.
“We can brush away all insinuations of a death due to any strange ties of Maurizio’s with the malavita,” said public relations executive Carlo Bruno, a longtime friend and spokesman. “And remember, the success of the Gucci company today has been obtained by putting in place the strategies that Maurizio initially laid out.”
Others who had worked with Gucci expressed sadness at how he had been unable to realize his dreams for the company or even to live to see them come true.
“The last year I worked for Gucci, Maurizio had disappeared from our lives,” said Pilar Crespi, who was a public relations staffer for Gucci until about three years ago and now runs her own public relations firm in New York with partner Angela Mariani. “But one morning, about six months after he had sold his shares, I arrived early to work and saw him sitting, at 7:30 in the morning, on one of the benches in Piazza San Fedele,” where Gucci headquarters had been located in downtown Milan before Investcorp’s new management transferred it back to Florence.
“There was an expression of extreme sadness on his face,” Crespi said. “San Fedele had been his dream.”
Gucci had fought a bitter battle to hold onto his company, which, in an ironic twist, has gone on to achieve resounding international success — including a fantastically buoyant international stock market listing — in the hands of others: first Investcorp’s management and then under the direction of Gucci’s current chief executive officer Domenico De Sole, the former chief of Gucci’s U.S. operations and a long-time friend and associate of Maurizio Gucci.
Until the two years before his death, when he had all but dropped out of public life, Maurizio Gucci was a colorful figure in the luxury goods industry. In 1983 he inherited 50 percent of the Florence-based luxury goods firm founded by his grandfather, Guccio Gucci, in 1922. After reemerging triumphant from allegations of tax evasion and falsifying his late father’s signature on documents that transferred ownership of the company, he managed to consolidate control of the company from a consortium of hostile relatives and entered into a partnership with Bahrain-based Investcorp in 1989.
His dream was to reposition the Gucci name, which had been cheapened by uncontrolled overexpansion, and bring it back to the top of the luxury goods market. With Investcorp’s support, he set about cutting back distribution and bringing in new talent to revive the Gucci product. It was his decision to hire Dawn Mello away from Bergdorf Goodman, and she in turn brought in designer Tom Ford, who, with Domenico De Sole, has won credit today for Gucci’s rebirth.
But Maurizio Gucci didn’t have the business savvy to match his dreams, and Investcorp started seeing its initial investment dwindle. Relations with Gucci soured, and by 1993 the two partners were at each other’s throats and the company was on its knees. In 1993, shortly before Gucci sold his stake in the company to Investcorp, Patrizia Reggiani called a WWD reporter to her home to explain she had helped Gucci arrange financing to support his battle against Investcorp, despite the fact that she had no love left for him.
Those funds became famous when Gucci said he had found the money “under the floorboards” in his St. Moritz home after his father “came to him in a dream.”
“I did it for the children,” she explained at the time, dressed to the teeth in diamonds, gold and pastel knits in a luxurious apartment overlooking San Babila in downtown Milan. “If Maurizio loses his company, what will become of them?”
In a long harangue, peppered with personal details, she further described what for her was his ultimate betrayal, years after he left the marriage in 1984.
“I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor,” she explained, indicating with a finger where her carefully coiffed hair just covered a scar. “On the morning they wheeled me away for surgery, he didn’t even bother to come and see me,” Reggiani said bitterly at the time. “Even though we weren’t married anymore, I was still the mother of his children, and I might not have come out alive.”
Reggiani survived the operation, but now her two daughters have lost not only their father but possibly their mother in a harrowing scandal.
“It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy,” said Gucci’s ceo Domenico De Sole. “My heart goes out to those two girls.”