Vivi Nevo, that international man of mystery, surfaced yet again at the Sun Valley mogul confab held by Herb Allen.
For a couple of years I’ve been among those trying to figure out who Nevo is, and why he enjoys the intimate status he apparently does among media moguls.
Is he a fraud? A poseur? Or a real serious player?
It’s been hard to tell. He’s supposedly a huge investor in Time Warner and News Corp. But neither company can confirm this. (Indeed, News Corp confirms he is not a major investor.)
He’s certainly close buddies with everyone from Dick Parsons to Brian Grazer. He flies in private planes. He has a house in New York, and another in Malibu Colony. He's engaged to Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang.
At the bar at the Sun Valley Resort he flitted from one buddy to another, passing from one conversation pod to the next.
But there’s something weird there, as a former employer of Nevo’s suggested to me.
Stan Berk is a former hedge-fund manager who hired Nevo in the 1980s after they met at a Los Angeles gym.
“His problem as an employee was that he had the attention span of a hummingbird on crack,” said Berk, who was very fond of Nevo. “He had no interest in doing actual work. I couldn't fire him against everyones advice because he was so entertaining he livened up the day.”
Berk, who now lives in Lake Tahoe, says there is no way Nevo could have become a savvy investor, or a consigliere of consequence to the likes of Dick Parsons.
Berk said that Nevo bugged him incessantly for a job at the gym, where they both played a pick-up game of basketball on most days.
“Somehow he found my office, starting showing up,” said Berk. “He’s a very engaging guy.”
What did he do? “Nothing, that’s the whole point,” said Berk. “He was like a go-fer, basically. He really didn’t do anything. The people who worked for me were traders and assistants to traders, money management guys. He didn’t work full time. He couldn’t keep to a schedule.”
Nevo worked there from 1985 to 1988. Then in October of that year, Berk said, “He just disappeared. I have no idea where, he didn’t tell anyone. All of a sudden he didn’t show up to work. I went by his apartment. They said he moved out. No one knew where he went.
“He reappeared a few years later. He called me from a brokerage firm in New York and wanted to solicit doing business,” Berk said. “He was very friendly with my family, my kids. We thought maybe he was in the Mossad and had a new assignment, we never could figure it out. It was really weird.”
And even weirder to Berk when he saw that Nevo had befriended billionaires and media titans.
There isn’t any evidence that shows Nevo to be a major or minority shareholder in Time Warner or News Corp.
He owns one house in Brentwood, according to local real-estate records. According to the real estate registry run by the New York City Department of Finance, he owns no property under his or his corporations name in the five city boroughs.
This despite the fact that the New York Times said two years ago that he owned homes “in Malibu, Calif.; the Los Angeles-area neighborhood of Brentwood; the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York; London; and two homes in Tel Aviv, including his modest childhood home outside the city.” (I emailed Tim Arango to ask the source of this, but Arango is out covering real news in Baghdad.)
Says Berk: “Vivi does not know the difference between a stock and a bond. I promise you.” And more: “He has no family connections. He’s a vagabond. He’d be a great movie character. It would be like the Peter Sellers character in ‘Being There.’ Ingratiates himself to these people – I don’t know how. But I’ve never had a conversation with him. He can’t carry on a conversation.”
I called Nevo to ask for comment, but could only leave messages.