NEW YORK CITY — Shortly before his death in 2007, Manhattan landlord and lawyer Edward Giaimo Jr. revealed to his two siblings a secret — he had hidden a stash of silver and gold worth millions.
While being treated for cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital, Giaimo allegedly told his brother and sister that he had stowed away a large amount of precious metals and they would need a truck to move it. The lifelong bachelor added that the metals, believed to be silver bullion and South African gold coins known as Krugerrands, were safe, but they needed to be removed from their hiding spot in the near future.
What he didn’t say was where it was hidden — and that missing bit of information caused years of litigation and a treasure hunt that has, apparently so far, come up empty.
Since Giaimo’s death at age 64 on March 26, 2007, his brother and sister have been pitched in an acrimonious court battle over how to split his $48 million fortune, including his share of a family real estate business with 18 properties on the Upper East Side and other parts of Manhattan.
One part of the legal tug-of-war has been over what Giaimo told the siblings and others about his hidden precious metals and access to documents that might lead to the bounty.
Giaimo’s brother, Robert Giaimo, seized on the deathbed confession — and a 1998 note written by Edward indicating that he had roughly 200,000 Troy ounces of silver and 1,000 Krugerrands somewhere in the United States — as proof of the secret stash. He has claimed in court papers that the silver bars and gold coins, worth about $4.5 million today, could be in an unknown storage facility or buried on family property.
Their sister, Janet Vitale, said Robert’s search has turned into a costly fishing expedition.
In March 2008 Robert accused his sister in a legal filing in Westchester Surrogate’s Court of blocking him from searching the Pelham Manor, N.Y., home that Edward and their mother shared and Edward’s Manhattan office on First Avenue.
Robert — a Virginia-based businessman who started a Mid-Atlantic restaurant chain called, coincidentally, Silver Diner — demanded access to the home and the office because he believed they might hold clues, or the treasure itself.
Robert filed the demand shortly after his sister discovered roughly $7 million in cash that Giaimo had squirreled away in a secret spot behind a closet in the attic of the Pelham Manor home. Around the same time Vitale found another $3 million in cash in a safe in the basement of Edward’s office, according to court records.
Edward had run the family’s real estate business since their father died, and the $10 million came from him skimming rents on subsidized apartments, court records show. (The found money resulted in the family paying more estate taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.)
Following Vitale’s discovery, a lawyer and private detective for Robert visited the Pelham Manor home.
There, Janet’s husband, Paul Vitale, suggested that they look under the porch, according to court papers. A search turned up live ammunition that the U.S. Army subsequently removed after the police, the FBI and the ATF were called.
Paul Vitale also told the lawyer and investigator that Edward once had landscapers dig a hole on the property and buried something there, Robert’s filing says. Vitale refused to say what was buried but suggested they bring a shovel the next time they visit.
"He did not identify what was buried or where," Robert's filing says. "Conceivably, it is the silver bullion."
Paul Vitale also provided documents to Robert’s lawyer showing that in the 1990s Edward had removed “a significant amount of silver bullion” from a storage facility in Lower Manhattan, the filing says.
The documents also showed Edward hired companies to remove a “much more significant amount of silver bullion” from a Canadian facility. He also rented a 26-foot-long truck that was driven for more than 600 miles and returned to a U-Haul facility not far from his Pelham Manor home, according to the documents.
Robert's filing asked a judge to compel Vitale’s husband to answer questions about what he might know about the location of the silver and gold.
“We need to search for additional cash and precious metals,” Robert’s filing says. “The only person to date who seems to have knowledge regarding what has been found so far is Paul Vitale, but he has refused to answer our questions.”
Janet Vitale, who took over the family’s real estate business shortly before Edward’s death, countered in court papers that the Pelham Manor property has been thoroughly searched and turned up nothing.
She also fought a 2010 filing by Robert, who demanded she hand over all computers and electronic files connected to the family business to see if they contained any information about Edward’s precious metals.
A court-appointed referee determined in 2011 that the files didn’t make mention of any silver or gold.
Janet’s lawyers have also claimed that Robert has cast too wide a net to track down the treasure, at points proposing sending out subpoenas to 14 financial institutions, five high-security storage facilities and 294 moving companies and storage facilities around the country in hopes that one would have information about the loot.
Her lawyers have also accused Robert of costing the estate $24,000 by hiring a private investigator to look for the silver and gold and taking out ads about the missing booty in trade publications.
“We must consider whether the benefit justifies the expense and whether the cost will realistically result in the recovery of assets, the probability of which appears to be remote in the case of the ‘missing silver,’” Janet’s lawyer, Mitchell Geller, wrote in a March 4, 2010, letter to Robert’s attorney.
Janet and Robert have also disputed what Edward told them at his hospital bed.
The two siblings agree that sometime between Feb. 28, 2007, and March 1, 2007, Edward said to them that he had precious metals.
Robert has said that Edward told them the metals were in a storage facility. However, Janet has said she never heard that part — and claimed that Robert cut off the conversation out of fear that knowing the silver and gold's whereabouts could put them at risk for criminal charges.
“Edward mentioned that there was some gold and silver bars or whatever you want to call them. And I was cut off immediately by Robert and he said, ‘You don’t want to know about that. You will go to jail, so I didn’t hear any more about it. That was the end of it,” Janet recalled in an Oct. 10, 2007, deposition.
Janet’s attorney, Geller, suggested in a 2010 letter to Robert’s lawyers that while the two brothers were alone, Edward may have mentioned a storage facility to Robert. If so, Geller wondered, why didn’t Robert get the facility’s location.
“We cannot understand why Robert Giaimo … failed to ask the critical questions as to the identity and location of such alleged storage facility,” Janet’s lawyers wrote in a 2010 letter to Robert’s lawyers. Had he “asked these critical questions, the estate would have been able to obtain these alleged ‘precious metals’ in 2007.”
While parts of the litigation between Robert Giaimo and Janet Vitale have been decided, court documents do not indicate that the two sides found the treasure.
Robert and Janet are currently fighting over how some of the discovered $10 million in cash should be distributed, according to court records.
Robert Giaimo and his lawyer, Chris Houlihan, did not respond to requests for comment.
Janet Vitale did not respond to a request for comment. Her lawyer, Mitchell Geller, declined to comment.