New York's epic article about Annie Leibovitz in this week's issue is well worth a read, particularly since it sheds a little light on how it is one of the world's highest-paid photographers now finds herself on the brink of financial ruin. (If the only person you'll allow to repair your air-conditioner has to travel to NYC from Vermont to do the work, that's probably not a good sign.) Leibovitz's financial fate will likely be sealed in September when the $24 million loan she secured from Art Capital Group last year is due. Interestingly, though, Leibovitz appears to be hinting that the terms of the loan— which required her to put up the rights to her photos and real estate holdings as collateral—only became apparent to her after the Times reported on Art Capital Group back in February. Friends of the photographer suggest that Leibovitz had no idea she was giving up so much when she took out the loan; they also seem to be shifting some of the blame to Ken Starr, the financial adviser who took the photographer on as a client in 2007 and who was also responsible for introducing Leibovitz to Art Capital Group. Pinning the blame on Starr, who boasts an insanely long list of celebrity clients, may be a hard argument to make.
Ken Starr runs an accounting firm called Starr & Co. and he isn't widely known, which is hardly a surprise considering he's an accountant. And given he shares the same name as the man who led the investigation into Bill Clinton's liaison with Monica Lewinsky, mentions of him in the media routinely mix him up with the lawyer and former judge who also happens to be named Ken Starr.
But you'll recognize the people on his client list. Over the past decade, he's handled the finances of Uma Thurman, director Martin Scorsese, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Caroline Kennedy , former William Morris chairman Jim Wiatt, actress Candice Bergen, designer Isaac Mizrahi, actress Goldie Hawn, sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, CourtTV founder Steve Brill, director Ron Howard, billionaire media heir Robert Ziff, author Donna Tartt, and veteran ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is currently President Obama's special adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Given the list of people who have entrusted their finances to Starr in the past, Leibovitz's suggestion she wasn't adequately briefed on the terms of the loan before signing the papers is a tad suspect. Presumably the accountant has dealt with desperate and slightly clueless celebs in the past. And if her plan to somehow extricate herself from the mess by pinning the blame on Starr, she may have an uphill battle ahead.
Not that other Starr clients haven't tried it in the past. Sylvester Stallone filed suit against Starr in 2002 after his investment in Planet Hollywood didn't turn out as he'd hoped. (Although considering in the past Stallone has sued his father-in-law, landscaper, former nanny, real estate broker, and several of his ex-wives, a suit was probably something Starr should have anticipated.) The case later turned messy for the celebrity accountant when he retained Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields to represent him against Stallone; Fields, in turn, allegedly hired notorious—and now imprisoned—private eye Anthony Pellicano to allegedly wiretap Stallone's phone. You know, allegedly.
In this case, the implication is that Starr was somehow negligent when the deal with Art Capital Group was presented to her. Per Andrew Goldman in New York:
Leibovitz has told people that she didn't understand the ramifications of the agreement she signed. She did not show the contract to any member of her family or even her agent before she signed it, nor did she hire her own attorney to review the document. Instead she relied on an attorney whom Starr provided. "Trust me," says her sister Paula. "She thought it was a pure loan. That New York Times article was as much news to her as it was to anybody else."
So Leibovitz assumed she'd be getting a $24 million loan without putting up anything in return? That's hard to fathom. As is the suggestion Starr rushed her through the process, especially since he's known for being pretty meticulous. Take, for example, all those celebrity clients mentioned above. How would Starr's client list be public information?
It isn't. To protect their privacy, Starr has all of his clients list the offices of Starr & Co. when they make political donations, which is why if you didn't know any better, you might think all those people happen to live in the same generic office building on Third Avenue (left). They most definitely do not. Nor does the Starr client—and Democratic donor—listed under the name of "Natalie Hershlag." Even though she's been known as Natalie Portman for years now, it seems that when Starr & Co. turns in Portman's tax return every year, it still has the name "Hershlag" stamped on the front.