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Hoarder in Rent-Stabilized Apartment Died With $18M, Widow Says

By James Fanelli | September 8, 2014 7:31am
 Lewis David Zagor, a hoarder who was an investing wizard, died being worth $18 million, records show. His widow said the financial documents detailing his money is buried under boxes and paperwork in his home office.
$18 Million Buried in Hoarder's Apartment
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UPPER EAST SIDE — An eccentric investor who hoarded expensive clothes, exquisite silverware and pricey paperweights left behind $18 million when he died last year — but the documents detailing his fortune's whereabouts are buried under piles of paperwork and boxes in his locked-up pigsty rent-controlled pad, his widow and court records say.


Lewis David Zagor, a towering 300-pound-plus Wall Street genius with a doctorate in business administration, made a killing putting his cash in stocks and mutual funds. The reams of dividend checks he received each quarter allowed him to go on shopping sprees at Saks Fifth Avenue and travel the globe, his family and friends said.

Despite his wealth, Zagor chose to live in a cluttered two-bedroom rent-stabilized apartment on Park Avenue and East 96th Street, where he paid $1,640.85 a month. He lived there for more than 38 years.

His third wife, Valentina Phillips-Zagor, was with him for the last 10 years of his life until his death at 77 on Dec. 5, 2013.

“You have no idea the amount of wealth that is in the apartment,” Phillips-Zagor told DNAinfo New York. “The most important are the financial documents.”

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Phillips-Zagor, 68, said she has been locked out of the apartment since May when the building's management company, MSMC Residential Realty, changed the locks on the home because she owed rent. She said after her husband died, MSMC wanted to charge her the market rate for the apartment and she refused.

She said she had already moved into another apartment on Fifth Avenue, but she was still in the process of cleaning out her husband's home, which was packed with debris, tchotchkes and boxes of clothes.

Phillips-Zagor said when the locks were changed, she still hadn't sorted through her husband's home office, where he kept most of the information on his bank and brokerage accounts. 

Zagor, who apparently has no living relatives other than his wife, also never made a will, complicating any resolution of his finances and their distribution.

Last month, MSMC filed a petition in Manhattan Surrogate's Court, asking a judge to appoint a public administrator to oversee the administration of Zagor's estate so it could file a lawsuit against the estate in housing court to recoup back rent.

MSMC claims in the court papers that Zagor's lease ended on April 30 and it was extended on a month-to-month basis to Phillips-Zagor, but she has not paid rent for the last few months and owes nearly $5,000.

On Aug. 26, Phillips-Zagor filed her own petition in the surrogate's court, claiming that her husband's estate was worth $18 million and she is the only beneficiary.

To prove her husband's fortune, she showed a DNAinfo New York reporter some of Zagor's bank account statements that she managed to find. One account held more than $2 million as of this spring. Two other accounts each had several hundreds of thousands of dollars in them.

She also showed monthly checks that Zagor continues to receive, totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

Phillips-Zagor can't cash those checks or access her husband's accounts until the case is sorted out in surrogate's court. But she said she is in no rush because she currently lives comfortably in a Fifth Avenue apartment and has a studio apartment in Kensington, where she stores furniture and artwork.

She said she prefers to have MSMC deal with the headache of sorting through her husband's mess.

“I said, ‘You go to the court. You go to the apartment and go through the ocean of papers and you will file the petition to become the executor,” she said.

Phillips-Zagor said that her husband was an only child whose father was a real estate investor and stock trader.

Before he moved into his rent-stabilized pad, he lived directly across the street in an apartment with his parents.

Zagor's quirky nature came from spending so much time alone, his wife said. When he moved into his Park Avenue apartment, Zagor drew the shades all the way down on the windows and never opened them again, she said.

Zagor worked for a while as a programmer, but later made investing his own money his full-time job. While he was in some ways frugal with his cash, he also splurged to blow off steam, Phillips-Zagor said.

"He liked to go on a shopping spree each time he was in a bad mood," she said. "He did not have family, he didn't have any moral support from anybody. The only moral support was a shopping spree."

She said he spent so much that places like Saks and clothing boutiques would deliver his purchases in boxes.

"He would put the boxes one on top of the other and never open them," Phillips-Zagor said.

Zagor’s close friend Marvin Stiglitz, a retired electrical engineer, said Zagor also told him of his $18 million fortune. The two became friends in the 1960s doing a stint together on jury duty, where they passed the time crunching calculus problems.

Stiglitz described his longtime pal as a financial whiz. He said Zagor encouraged him to take a stock market predicting course, but he credited his pal for any success he had investing.

“I noticed whenever I did something against his judgment, I lost money,” Stiglitz said.

Stiglitz said he would sometimes go to Zagor’s apartment to fix a light bulb or help him hang art. He described the apartment as a “big mess,” including one room where Zagor had “pandas and all kinds of little stuffed animals and anything else from any kind of party where he had been to.”

"If he bought something, he would save that box in case he had to give it back. He had a lot of boxes," Sitglitz added.

Zagor, who was in the Navy in his youth and earned high praise for his marksmanship, also had a cache of rifles and revolvers. Police officers had to remove them from the apartment after his death, Phillips-Zagor said.

Zagor's wife has lived as colorful a life as him.

She was born in the Ukraine and said she worked as a translator in the Soviet army and later ran a successful travel business. She also lived around the world, including, for a time, in Peru.

To prove her own financial success, she showed a DNAinfo New York reporter her bank card and copy of an ATM receipt showing her checking account with more than $1 million in it.

She said she and Zagor met through a mutual friend. At the time, they were both grieving the recent deaths of their spouses. She described Zagor as a “charming man” with a great sense of humor.

The two married in 2003. She said she didn’t know how much money he had until after they wed. At a table in their apartment, Zagor would go over his accounts and teach her about the stock market.

“I would sit at a chair, two hours a day, and listen to him lecture about his investments because he would say, ‘One day you will have to do it on your own,’” she said.

She said her husband was cheap, always opting for the subway over a cab, even when he was nursing a bad knee. Sometimes they had rows over her simply asking for $10 to go to a museum, she said. Other times, he was extraordinarily generous, she said.

“He had a weakness. If I asked for something obnoxiously expensive, he wouldn’t say no,” Phillips-Zagor said as she modeled a fur coat she claimed he bought her for $18,000.

But Phillips-Zagor said she believes his scrimping may have ultimately done him in. Her husband, who suffered from diabetes, died of heart and kidney failure while being treated at Mount Sinai Hospital for an infection in his knee.

She said while he was being treated there, she beseeched him to use his money to pay for a private room at the hospital, where she thought he would get even better care. He refused because his insurance covered the room he was sharing with another patient, she said.

“He said, ‘I’m getting the best treatment for free. He loved it for free,” she said. “My husband died because he was cheap.”