Libyan leader in New York

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: The UN General Assembly meeting starts tomorrow in New York. And while delegates from all 192 member states will be welcome at the UN, not all will be welcome in New York. In fact, some of the more controversial world leaders have had some trouble finding a place to stay. Libyan leader Moammar Al Qaddafi, for example. He tried to rent a mansion in an upscale area of the Bronx. Qaddafi's entourage wanted to put up at Villanova Heights, so they got a hold of the developer, John Fitzgerald, and his people.

FITZGERALD: We were contacted through the real estate agents. They had been working with this Mr. Tomar, who was acting as the agent and attempting to find housing.

WERMAN: And did this Mr. Tomar say, �We represent Colonel Moammar Qaddafi and we'd like to rent a house from you for a few days?�

FITZGERALD: No, he did not say that. [LAUGHS]

WERMAN: What did he say?

FITZGERALD: That's exactly what he didn't say. We were told they represented the Sri Lankan government.

WERMAN: Obviously, we know that's not true. How did you find out who they really were?

FITZGERALD: As negotiations proceeded, they started on Thursday and they were really talking about trying to wrap something up within 24 hours and a move in on Friday. Mr. Tomar was suggesting that the lease be made out in his name as �Agent,� which gave us some things to think about.

WERMAN: Maybe he meant �Secret Agent!� [LAUGHS]

FITZGERALD: Well! You know, I think if we had just let him rent as �Agent,� you know there's a possibility the thing might have gone through. But I had some concerns over those. I mean, these homes are in the 10 million dollar range. I'm not about to turn over those type of assets to someone who says he's the agent. So we wanted the government on it, in any event. You know, the Sri Lankan government. I assume they're good for it. I wanted someone to authorize it so that we had recourse to a sovereign country.

WERMAN: So when they came to you saying falsely they were from the Sri Lankan government, did they say how long they were going to rent for? And how much do these townhouses go for?

FITZGERALD: Well, we didn't have a price on it. What they were talking about doing is paying us a month's rent for seven days.

WERMAN: That's a good deal.

FITZGERALD: A month's rent would have been $25,000 per house, and they wanted two houses.

WERMAN: So, when did you finally figure out that this was not the Sri Lanka, it was actually Colonel Qaddafi's assistants who wanted to rent this?

FITZGERALD: What happened is late Thursday night, I told them, �Look. I don't want to even have further discussions on this until you wire some money into an escrow account. Because I want to make sure people are for real, otherwise, I don't even want to spend the time talking about this.� So, that wire did not go through, and we began talking about it again Friday morning. And Friday morning, they started to say, they no longer needed the houses for 6 days, they wanted to renegotiate a little bit. And then, it was at some time in the morning, there was some mention of a tent. We thought maybe they were gonna have an outdoor party, and they just wanted to make sure they didn't get rained on. I mean, we didn't know too much about the tent, and it was just kinda mentioned in passing. It didn't seem to be a problem. But then, when I came into the office, Mr. Daily was on the phone with this agent. And I said, �Look��

WERMAN: And this Mr. Daily is?

FITZGERALD: John Daily is my attorney.

WERMAN: Right.

FITZGERALD: I said, �Look: I wanna know who the principals are here. And I wanna be certain, what country are they from?� So then he got back and said they're from Libya but they don't drink, and they'll be good tenants, and they don't create a lot of noise or anything like that. So, you know�


FITZGERALD: So, I just told Daily, forget it, it's over, we're not renting to these people.

WERMAN: Did you have a particular problem with Colonel Qaddafi?

FITZGERALD: Yeah. He condones terrorism! And if that was his agent, his agent's also a liar! And I don't like to deal with liars or terrorists. It was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned.

WERMAN: I imagine that in the last few days, Mr. Fitzgerald, you've had a couple of �Whew!� moments, where you just are imagining the brown stain on your lawn with a tent over it.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Oh my God�. I gotta tell you. Well, that would've been the least of the problems. I mean, I don't think the community would have been too happy.�

WERMAN: Not to mention the traffic! [LAUGHS]

JOHN FITZGERALD: Well yeah. Right. Oh my God, yes, if they'd ever moved in�. and we didn't have to think that far about it. I'm thankful we made an immediate decision as soon as we were sure who we were dealing with.

WERMAN: John Fitzgerald, an attorney and a developer at Villanova Heights, in the Bronx. Thanks so much for your time.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Okay, good. Thanks.

WERMAN: Attempts to reach Mr. Tomar were unsuccessful