Nicolas DeMeyer: The murky story of a man who looted $1.2m of wine from a banker's cellar

In January, Nicolas DeMeyer was arrested for stealing millions of dollars’ worth of wine from the home of the Goldman Sachs executive he was working for. Nine months later, he jumped to his death. Jacob Bernstein unravels his story

Jacob Bernstein
Thursday 27 December 2018 16:40
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Goldman Sachs president and co-chief operating officer David Solomon in October 2017
Goldman Sachs president and co-chief operating officer David Solomon in October 2017

Nicolas DeMeyer was a man centrally concerned with his image who also always seemed to be hiding something.

He had no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account. Close friends can barely recall what he did for a living between 1999, when he graduated from Vassar College, and 2008, when he became the personal assistant to David Solomon, now the chief executive of Goldman Sachs.

Friends did recall plenty of white lies and flights of fancy – in college, DeMeyer said he was the son of German nobility – but for the most part, DeMeyer’s evasions and prevarications seemed relatively harmless.

But in January, after 14 months of travelling the world, he was arrested by federal agents at Los Angeles International airport before he could even collect his luggage. His crime? Looting $1.2m (£950,000) of wine from the cellar of Solomon’s home in East Hampton, New York.

Nine months later, DeMeyer was in New York for a scheduled court appearance and was expected to plead guilty. Instead, he jumped to his death from the 33rd floor of the Carlyle Hotel.

Had he robbed a random 0.1-percenter, it would have been easiest to think of DeMeyer as a modern-day Tom Ripley, just a grifter unworthy of empathy.

But Goldman Sachs had become a flashpoint in the rise of economic inequality – and DeMeyer lifted more than 500 bottles of Solomon’s wine without anyone noticing. So perhaps there was a certain inevitability to the recasting of DeMeyer as an Hermès-clad Butch Cassidy.

His long con made DeMeyer’s tale something of a parable of our age, a dark fantasy for millions of people who serve the plutocrat class and dream of getting even.

***

“You never knew the truth of things with Nick. The appearance of things was very important to him,” says Andrew Fitzpatrick, who went to high school with DeMeyer in Findlay, Ohio (population estimate: 40,000), and for a little more than a year was his best friend.

Back then, DeMeyer was Nickolas Meyer. His parents were divorced and he was mostly raised by his mother, Jane Rettig, who owned a self-storage business.

According to friends, he got through geometry by obtaining an advance copy of the final exam from a senior student, and he won an award for his French mostly by charming his teacher.

Fitzpatrick says DeMeyer drove a white Mustang to school, shopped for clothes at Benetton and the Limited, and had a girlfriend named Pamela, who was “the right girl to date – trendy, popular and doing the Clueless look before the movie came out. She had gorgeous red hair and drove a convertible. We would leave school during lunch and drive around in her car, singing Abba and talking about how we had to get out of this town.”

In a rare photo from Findlay High School’s 1995 yearbook, DeMeyer looked Kennedy-esque in a dark ribbed sweater and a white button-down, a backpack hanging from a shoulder.

Fitzpatrick is now known as the drag performer Mona Mour. In 1995, he was out; DeMeyer was not. After school, the boys rehearsed for class productions of Bye Bye Birdie and The King and I. On weekends, they slept over at DeMeyer’s house, snuck out in the Mustang and picked up Pamela, bound for Bretz, a gay dance club in nearby Toledo.

Things ended poorly for the three, Fitzpatrick says: “One day, I was in the cafeteria, and Nick walked up to me and said ‘You have to decide: are you my friend or Pamela’s?’ I said, ‘Well, Pamela never asked me anything like that, so I guess her.’ But I never understood how he could just cut me out of his life in an instant like I didn’t matter.”

***

Vassar College, once known as the alma mater of Jacqueline (Kennedy) Onassis and Meryl Streep, was, by the time Meyer arrived in 1995, a haven in Poughkeepsie, New York, for worldly artistic kids who were too urban for Kenyon and Oberlin but didn’t have the grades or scores for Brown or Yale.

On campus, DeMeyer drove a black BMW, carried his books in a black Louis Vuitton knapsack and kept a stuffed animal named Aloysius, after the one in Brideshead Revisited, in his dorm room. He also started dating guys.

He dropped the “k” from Nicolas and changed his last name to Von Meyer. Eventually, he settled on DeMeyer.

“I can’t say I was friends with Nick, but you couldn’t help but notice him on campus,” says Carl Cade, who graduated in 1996. “I even bought the German nobility act, despite that I looked him up in the Vassar directory and wondered how the hell a German noble was from Findlay, Ohio. It didn’t really stand out because there were so many of us who were scholarship kids pretending to be posh and there were so many of us who were rich kids pretending to be street. Vassar was a grifter’s dream. I remember he once announced that he was getting rid of a Gucci camel coat and whoever came over first would get it free.”

Ray Windsor, another classmate, doesn’t buy the idea that DeMeyer was a Mr Ripley-in-waiting. “He was well dressed for no other reason than that he liked being at aesthete,” he says. “He was an art history major.”

But Windsor does recall that there were gaps in DeMeyer’s story. The first several years they were friends, Windsor was under the impression DeMeyer’s father worked in real estate and lived in Germany, possibly in a castle.

DeMeyer’s mother ultimately told Windsor that the story was untrue. “She told me he just was a regular old dad in Ohio and asked me to please not say anything because Nicolas was going to tell me himself,” Windsor says. “And then Nicolas did, about six months later.”

***

There was never really any question DeMeyer would come to New York after college. It was less clear what he planned to do there.

Windsor recalls hearing about an internship at The New Republic, some time spent working at an art gallery. The two hung out together at gay bars like the Cock, Boiler Room and Phoenix. “I think he was always kind of supported by his family,” Windsor says.

After a few years, DeMeyer moved to Rome for a graduate degree. By the time Windsor visited him in 2005, DeMeyer was fluent in Italian. He also had a new boyfriend, Sandro Ribeiro, a handsome Brazilian. They lived in a stylish apartment in the Trastevere neighbourhood.

The couple moved back to New York in 2007, taking an apartment in the Meurice, a prewar building on West 58th Street. There, they entertained debutantes, gay men and nightlife characters.

DeMeyer liked that he was finally living in a building with a name. But there was no way – in a city teeming with lawyers, art dealers and bankers – for a man without a professional reputation to become a world-class saloniste.

Plans to start a jewellery business and an interior design firm never fully took off. Practically the most distinguished guest DeMeyer poured drinks for was Amanda Lepore, the transgender night-life diva – and she arrived with Windsor, who was then a party promoter. So in 2008, DeMeyer got with the times and pledged fealty to one of the city’s financial barons.

***

At the time, David Solomon led Goldman Sachs’ investment banking division and he thrived in part by playing a bit against type. He wore sweatpants to the pitch for the Lululemon Athletica initial public offering and was a DJ at bottle-service nightclubs.

After DeMeyer went to work for Solomon and his wife as the couple’s full-time personal assistant, he and Ribeiro often stayed at the Solomons’ Hamptons home.

DeMeyer seemed to know a lot about art, furniture and movies. “He would show us trailers for obscure foreign gay films,” says Ash Blount, who became a friend around 2009. “For someone who I assumed was just another trust-fund baby, he actually had a lot of depth.”

But his snob side did come out.

Once Blount, who lived in Brooklyn, arrived at DeMeyer’s with a shoulder bag. “He cracked this joke like, ‘That’s one of the great things about living in Manhattan. I never need to pack a bag,’” Blount recalls.

Another time, Blount once arrived with a cheap bottle of wine.

“He put it away, opened something better and said, ‘We just got back from Rome,’” says Blount, who now wonders whether the wine was stolen.

The two fell out in 2010 or so. “I would call and say ‘I’m in your neighbourhood,’” Blount says. “He would say ‘I’m in Rome.’ That’s how we lost touch.”

Windsor’s relationship with DeMeyer was severed by one boozy night in 2012. “There was an incident that was half my fault and half his,” Windsor says.

***

One constant presence in DeMeyer’s life was Ali Can Ertug, a well-dressed Turkish classmate from Vassar who went on to help both Christie’s and Sotheby’s open their Istanbul offices.

Ertug, who was briefly DeMeyer’s boyfriend, also served as a mentor to him, a conduit to the good life and a representation of everything DeMeyer was hoping to become. At Sotheby’s, a number of colleagues were put off by a status anxiety they said bordered on obsession, but that also served Ertug well in his work.

“Ali Can seems great,” DeMeyer wrote in an email in 2009. “As fun and silly as ever.”

The next year, Ertug committed suicide, jumping from the window of his Central Park West apartment. Before this event, according to people who knew him at work, he’d become fixated on a Middle Eastern billionaire who had lost interest in him.

After Ertug’s death, DeMeyer joined Blount, Windsor and a couple of other Vassar graduates in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, where they drank wine, looked up at Ertug’s apartment and told stories about their friend.

Windsor was shocked. He found it hard to reconcile the death with Ertug’s nature and with his status as the most successful member of their group, he says.

But there was also, Blount thought, a manic quality that suffused Ertug’s life. When DeMeyer died in a similar fashion eight years later, the parallels were hard to ignore.

***

Wine theft became DeMeyer’s primary source of income in January 2014, according to prosecutors. Over the next two years, they said, he stole more than 500 bottles from Solomon without even arousing suspicion. Most bottles were sold to a wine distributor in North Carolina named Ryan Chaland, who runs the wholesaler Wine Liquidators.

In October 2016, Solomon bought seven bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Not a month later they were sold by Chaland to the Napa Valley dealer Patrick Albright.

Albright was pleased to get his hands on such exceptional stock but found it strange that the bottles had wound up with a dealer like Chaland. “They really aren’t wines that would typically go to a liquidator,” he says.

Worried that they might be counterfeits, Albright put out calls to colleagues who discovered from the serial numbers on the back that they were real but stolen.

Solomon had no idea the wine was even missing. He also did not suspect DeMeyer, who calmly led East Hampton detectives around Solomon’s wine cellar on 7 November 2016, according to a source who spoke with the New York Post.

But the next day DeMeyer was back in New York, and his demeanor had changed.

According to prosecutors, DeMeyer arranged to meet Solomon and his wife Mary (they later separated) at Locanda Verde, where the Solomons were having dinner at an outdoor table on an unusually warm election night. While returns came in from Florida, showing Donald Trump was likely to win there, DeMeyer confessed to stealing the seven bottles.

He promised to pay the Solomons back and made a plan to meet Mary in the morning at his bank. Then he left the restaurant, headed to Kennedy airport and used his American Express card to purchase a $5,300 plane ticket to Rome.

A week later, prosecutors said, he called Mary Solomon and again confessed to stealing from her. He said he left for his “home in Italy” because he was scared of being arrested and couldn’t bear the idea of going to prison. She told him the decision to press charges wasn’t up to her.

***

DeMeyer did not have a home in Italy. He did have a pair of $17,500 cheques from Wine Liquidators that he left with his mother. Over the next year, she slowly deposited money into his bank account.

DeMeyer spent November and December in Rome and Capri. In January 2017, he travelled to Marrakech for a friend’s birthday party. In February, he went to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, then back to Rio. The relationship between DeMeyer and his longtime partner Ribeiro broke up, and DeMeyer started seeing someone new. The new couple spent part of that summer together in Zurich.

Around that time, investigators discovered $153,000 in cheques and wire transfers from Wine Liquidators to Ribeiro’s JPMorgan account from 2014 to 2016. Hundreds of other bottles had been stolen.

It wasn’t until September that DeMeyer was indicted – on one charge of interstate transportation of stolen property. (There, his name seemed to change again: to Nicolas De-Meyer.) Four months later, he nonchalantly returned to the United States and was arrested – probably a surprise to him, as his indictment had been sealed. According to Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer who took his case, he was in Los Angeles to meet someone about a job prospect.

At his bail hearing, which came after weeks of bouncing between jails, she pointed out that he’d travelled under his own name. “At any point, they could’ve put a flag on him, put up a request for a warrant, put up an Interpol warning, arrested him and brought him here,” she said. “They seemed to have done no such thing, and I’m kind of confused as to why. All of his travel was transparent and open and clear.”

The judge ordered set his bail at $200,000 and took away his passport. He was given an electronic ankle bracelet and, after his mother eventually put up the bail, shipped back to Ohio while he awaited trial.

He was not happy to be back in the hometown he spent his life running away from.

***

Conor Corcoran, a Vassar classmate, is one of many who says he was not surprised that DeMeyer had turned to white collar crime.

“The character of a man who lifts a million dollars’ worth of hooch was on display in Poughkeepsie 20 years ago,” he says, calling DeMeyer a “socially carnivorous”, “talented Mr. Ripley type” who “was always peddling a patently false image of himself.”

“He was not a mean guy,” Corcoran adds, “but there was a beady quality to him. Something was off.”

Fitzpatrick, whom DeMeyer mistreated all those years before, mostly agreed. But he also felt a hint of admiration for DeMeyer’s chutzpah.

“Before he died, everyone I know was like, ‘Go girl, get the money,’” Fitzpatrick says. “There was a part of me that was cheering him on and rooting for him. This guy from Goldman Sachs was so rich he never even noticed any of the wine was missing. Had Nick not stolen seven really rare bottles, he could still be doing this and the guy would have no idea.”

***

On 9 October, DeMeyer was in New York for his hearing, staying at the Carlyle.

According to the Post, DeMeyer had been exchanging text messages with his sister – they were worrisome enough that she called his hotel.

Security guards were sent to DeMeyer’s room and saw him naked outside the window. They exchanged glances. DeMeyer smiled and jumped.

Suicide is contagious, but there’s no way to know how much Ertug’s death operated as permission.

His death seemed senseless to his friends. “He would have done a year or two and people would have embraced him because the whole city operates on avaricious class-aspirational indentured servitude,” Corcoran says. “Somebody would have taken him in.”

“It could have been not the end but the beginning of something far greater,” says Windsor, drawing a comparison to the jail time served by Martha Stewart.

There was also way DeMeyer reportedly made guards witness his death. That really bothered Corcoran, who saw it as yet another act of disassociation and self-absorption, a thing for others to “carry” with them for the rest of their lives.

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Back in college, DeMeyer and Windsor had read Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, a novel about gay life in the Seventies that ends with the protagonist killing himself to avoid old age and icy stares.

Windsor memorialised DeMeyer on Facebook last month with a quotation from the book: “Dreams are all equipped with revolving doors. Someone is always walking into the one you are leaving.”

He added some words of his own: “Anyone who walked in to Nicolas’ life felt like they were in a dream. He was so exceedingly charming and elusive.”

© New York Times

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