It’s a well understood fact that when the super-rich get divorced, they try to keep the matter out of the papers. This isn’t only about wanting privacy in a difficult time, whatever the text of their public relations statements may say. There’s another very important reason to avoid publicity when dollar figures may routinely be published next to your name: safety.
Wealthy families often employ security staff and bodyguards to protect themselves and their children, but one of the best ways to prevent untoward interest is to avoid unnecessary publicity. For a fabulously rich family of art collectors, divorce has plunged them into the tabloids – and brought various parties out of the woodwork with threats designed to extort money from them.
The family is the Mugrabis, two generations who’ve amassed a fortune of many billions of dollars through buying and selling art. The family has the largest private collection of Warhols in the world, up to 1,000 pieces, and is collectively one of the most prominent modern art collecting institutions in the world. The enterprise took off under the watchful eyes of patriarch Jose Mugrabi, and when his sons David and Tico came of age, he invited them into the fold as well.
David, now 47, married his longtime girlfriend Libbie 14 years ago. It may have been a relief for the family to see him settle down, as older brother Tico has long been a bit of a jetsetter and a playboy. Tico didn’t end up tying the knot until 2016, at the tender age of 46. The stable home life of David and Libbie, including the two children their marriage produced, is exactly the normal, discreet, scandal-free lifestyle that billionaires usually appreciate in their children.
It was all going according to plan until the summer of 2018, when the tabloids roared with the news that art world luminaries David and Libbie Mugrabi were divorcing. Early on, there were allegations that David had gone skinny dipping with a woman who was not Libbie, though subsequent reporting by outlets like the Post revealed that the story was a little different than originally told.
It seems that during the Fourth of July weekend last summer, the Mugrabis hosted a group of friends at their Water Mill, Long Island, estate. After dinner, and perhaps having consumed a considerable amount of very expensive alcoholic beverages, six people, including David, wandered down to the pool together, peeled off their clothes, and hopped in. According to one participant, “It was fun. It was nothing sexual. As if we were teenagers.”
Libbie ultimately confronted one woman from the swimming party, accusing her of infidelity with David while Libbie’s nanny recorded the episode. The woman told the Post, “I honestly think she used me as a tool . . . to get leverage in [her] divorce. She was like ‘What’s your relationship [with my husband]?’ She was putting words in my mouth, and I was really scared because she started to threaten me with my job and a community of collectors I work with.”
Within a month, David had formally filed a petition for divorce, but the behind-the-scenes jockeying began much earlier. On July 10, Libbie was dining with friends in Manhattan when she received a call notifying her that all of the artwork in the Hamptons home had been removed. She rushed, her friends in tow, to her Upper East Side apartment. She was profoundly upset and wondering how she would pay for a lawyer if David was removing everything of value. Her friends went through the apartment and collected items of note, including jewelry, a Basquiat plate, and a Keith Haring statue.
The statue has been the source of much scandal in recent months. According to the original story that made its way into the papers, Libbie was trying to move the statue when David came upon her and the couple wrestled. Libbie ended up on the floor; 911 was called, but no one was arrested. Going from testimony in a recent hearing, the incident played out slightly differently.
Libbie’s friends were gathering up what they could and told Libbie to grab the Haring statue, which weighs about 25 pounds. David walked in and became incensed, shouting, “You’re taking my things!” They wrestled and Libbie was pushed to the floor. She yelled for one of her friends to call 911, but instead, David pushed the group out the door. Once the women were in the hallway, he kept opening the door again to taunt them, calling them “lowlifes” and “gold diggers.”
Things only got worse from there. In October, she screamed in court that David was trying to kill her. She’s sued him to try to block the sale of a $72 million Upper East Side townhome that the couple has been renovating for years. Meanwhile, both parties are the subject of rumors of infidelity, and media headlines have proudly blared every new accusation they’ve made against each other.
In other words, it’s been a total mess, and something of a nightmare scenario for the uber-rich who prefer to keep their names – and the sizes of their fortunes – out of the papers. Sure enough, Page Six is now reporting that Libbie has received death threats and that a would-be extortionist has been trying to shake her down for $50,000 in bitcoin. Friends say she’s genuinely scared, and in late March, Libbie went to court and won an order that would force David to increase the $200,000 a month he’s already paying in maintenance and child support to also cover a security detail.
It seems that, at least for the moment, the threats have put David and Libbie back on the same page. In a joint statement, they wrote, “The Mugrabis are committed to the health, safety and welfare of their family. Anonymous e-mails alleging threats against Mrs. Mugrabi’s safety were received and appear to be extortion, and prudent precautions have been taken for the well-being of the family.”
It’s not known when this divorce will wrap up, or whether it will be a court-ordered settlement or a negotiated one. For the time being, the Mugrabis are working to keep themselves and their kids safe, which is absolutely the most important thing they could focus on.
If your marriage in Queens is ending, get the help you need to take care of yourself and protect your priorities. Call Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino today at 718-523-1111 for a free consultation with an experienced Queens divorce and child custody attorney.