The Truth Behind the Paolo Zampolli Lawsuit

Page Six and The Real Deal both reported about the suit that Paolo Zampolli, founder of ID Model Management, filed on Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court against Cristina Calori and her company, Monster Real Estate; Massey Knakal; and Heian Bunka Center. Zampolli is a licensed agent for Paramount Realty, who is named as the plaintiff in the suit. We went straight to Zampolli himself to get the real scoop.

He informed me that the suit is for a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The claim: Zampolli was cheated out of commissions on the sale of a property at 31 Bond Street (owned by Heian Bunka Center), after he introduced the buyer (Cristina Calori) to the broker (Massey Knakal Realty) listed on the sale, which is expected to close soon. The asking price for the property is $8.5 million, so Zampolli’s cut should have been $212,500 (half of a five percent commission).

I just got off the phone with Zampolli, who is more than a little perturbed, and rightfully so. The suit that he filed details how Calori, who is based in Italy, contacted him in the summer of 2008 to help find her some properties in New York. “I have been working with this client for years,” Zampolli said. “I showed her 30 properties in total, and at least a dozen of Massey Knakal’s, because Massey Knakal has a niche market that was really fitting for the client.”

He said that he had a long-standing agreement with Massey Knakal to work on clients together; Zampolli would introduce clients to Massey Knakal and receive a commission on anything that closed. In this case, he and Calori went into contract two times with Massey Knakal, but neither end up closing. “I was taking her hand-by-hand with James Nelson [of Massey Knakal] to see properties. So James got to know the client. And as soon as I turned around, they [Massey Knakal] called my client directly and told her, ‘You should deal with us, you don’t have to pay broker fees, you are going to save money.’ The client, as much as she loved me, as soon as she found out she could save money…” He trails off. In this economy, who doesn’t want to save money?

The suit alleges that in November 2009, Nelson and Calori began to discuss the purchase of 31 Bond, without Zampolli’s knowledge, and then “Nelson and Calori agreed to execute the purchase of 31 Bond Street without involving Zampolli in order to wrongfully deprive him of a 50 percent share of a five percent broker’s commission,” as the suit states.

This wouldn’t be a problem if Zampolli had a signed contract with Calori or Massey Knakal stating he would receive a commission on the sale of any property that he introduced Calori to. But in the real estate business, he said that having a written contract is not always standard practice. Your word is your bond. “It’s tough to do business. People, whom I call amateurs, say, ‘Oh you need a contract,’” said Zampolli. “There is no written contract when you take around a client and show properties….This is normal business practice. You don’t screw people. How many people have contracts for every property that they show?”

Whether or not it’s legal, it certainly isn’t moral, and New Yorkers are weighing in. Mateo Prandoni, an agent at Mark David, commented in an email, “That’s very disappointing. Paolo introduced me to this client few months ago. I saw him several times wining and dining her at Cipriani and even driving her around in his Rolls-Royce Phantom. To have a client stolen is a fear we all live with as brokers. It surely has happened to most of us. I’m confident that many would have loved to have Paolo Zampolli’s capabilities (financially speaking) to file a lawsuit against that.”

A power broker at Cushman & Wakefield, who prefers to remain anonymous, said, “In this economy, people don’t have much business and sadly chose to steal clients to make more money. We know who Zampolli is. Some of his cousins own our firm: the Agnelli/FIAT family.”

Zampolli said that many people are running into this kind of situation with Massey Knakal, but it’s very expensive to challenge your rights. “Lots of people have told me that they have a problem with Massey Knakal, but they don’t want to go on the record,” he said.

What’s strange is another broker at Massey Knakal, whom Zampolli was working with to buy a town home for himself, is still trying to close the sale. The broker even emailed Zampolli yesterday of all days about the deal. This time, we can assume that there will be a contract involved.