No, Donald Trump is not the worst real estate developer New York ever produced.
Not even close.
That distinction likely belongs to Sean Ludwick.
He clinched the title early Sunday as he was zipping through the Hamptons in his 2013 silver Porsche convertible with a buddy named Paul Hansen.
The hit and run in The Great Gatsby was just another Long Island auto mishap compared to what prosecutors say the real-life rich guy Ludwick then did.
The 42-year-old Ludwick stopped after driving into a telephone pole just outside Hansen’s house, but only long enough to drag out his buddy, who had been critically injured while being partly ejected from the Porsche.
Ludwick is said to have tossed Hansen’s wallet into the woods before leaving his 53-year-old pal to die just outside the house where his unsuspecting wife and two sons were abed.
Ludwick seems to have had no thought of getting help, just getting away.
But two of the Porsche’s tires were flat, and he only got a half mile. He was standing alone by the car when a sergeant responding to a report of a crash came upon him.
“A strong odor of an alcoholic beverage was emanating from his breath,” Sergeant Howard Kalb wrote in his subsequent report. “His speech was slurred and slow. His eyes were bloodshot, glassy and hooded, or partially closed. During the interview and the investigation he stood with a wide stance and continuously swayed from front to back and he stumbled when he tried to walk.”
The Porsche had sprung an oil leak, and the police traced the trail back to the scene of the crash. There they found Hansen, who proved to be beyond saving. Ludwick refused to submit to a Breathalyzer, and the police secured a court order for a blood test.
On Monday, Ludwick was arraigned in Southampton town court on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, with more serious charges likely to follow. He has a previous drunk-driving conviction.
Bail was set at $1 million or $500,000 cash. Ludwick retained the services of the legendary bail bondsman Ira Judelson and soon was at liberty again.
A number of Hansen’s relatives and friends attended the hearing. So did Ludwick’s wife, Pamela Ludwick. The two are apparently still together even though she initiated divorce proceedings last year.
Back in May 2013, Ludwick had been arrested on Martha’s Vineyard for assault with a deadly weapon. The weapon was a phone in a second-floor room at the Hob Knob Inn in Edgartown, where he had been staying with a woman who was not his wife. The woman had been trying to use the phone to call for help after he allegedly shoved her and punched her in the face.
Before she could reach the police, Ludwick grabbed the phone and tore it from the wall. He is said to have begun striking her with it.
The noise caused the hotel manager to call the police, and Ludwick fled as Officer Jeff Trudel responded. Trudel noted that the girlfriend was spattered with blood. He later described her in his report as “visibly shaken.”
The girlfriend told Trudel that she doubted Ludwick would return to the inn for fear of being arrested. She added that the room had a deadbolt lock that would make her feel adequately secure while the police looked for him.
Three other officers joined Trudel in the search, checking bars and clubs and anyplace else he seemed likely to be.
The girlfriend could only have been terrified when the 6-foot, 230-pound Ludwick suddenly clambered into the room through a window. She locked herself in the bathroom, but he kicked in the door and began pummeling her again as she tried to call for help with her cellphone.
A 911 operator who answered heard a woman screaming, and then the line went dead. The operator tried to call back but got only voice mail. Other calls began coming in from people at the inn.
“The reporting parties stated it sounded like the walls were coming down in the building,” Trudel later said in his report.
Ludwick took the girlfriend’s cellphone and again fled the inn. He chanced to cross Main Street right into the approaching headlights of Trudel’s radio car.
Trudel made the arrest. Ludwick insisted on his innocence, saying the girlfriend had attacked him. He subsequently wrangled a plea where he got only probation.
The victim in that case may be the same woman who was described in New York court papers as an ex-girlfriend a year later. Ludwick is an amateur artist, and he had previously given the woman some of his paintings. He now entered her apartment when she was away and spray-painted penises on them. He is also said to have used her computer to email her work, saying she was a “harlot” and alleging that she was having an affair with a supervisor. He was apparently incensed that his mistress might be cheating on him even as he was cheating on his wife.
Ludwick was arrested and pleaded guilty to harassment. He was given a conditional discharge and ordered to undergo anger management therapy as a batterer.
At the time, Ludwick was in a real estate development partnership called BlackHouse with two other men, one a former classmate from his days at the University of Pennsylvania, the other a contractor. They embarked on a number of luxury projects, including a residential tower near the High Line in Manhattan where every unit would have not only 20-foot ceilings and outsize windows but its own private swimming pool.
That was a New York first not even The Donald could match. Ludwick spoke as grandly as if people might someday be speaking of The Sean.
“BlackHouse collaborates with world-class architects and innovative designers to offer a distinctive portfolio of properties that change the narrative of real estate development in New York,” Ludwick told DNA Info.
But his partners now cited Ludwick’s trouble with the law as cause to force him out. Ludwick sued, insisting that he had brought vision, savvy, and hustle to the endeavor, whereas his partners had provided nothing more than money and some routine construction knowhow. The partners did not back down.
“Plaintiff’s behavior became erratic,” they said in a motion to have the complaint dismissed. “He was arrested multiple times, including for assault and battery with a deadly weapon and breaking into and painting penises in his girlfriend’s apartment.”
The partners added, “The publicity surrounding his arrests damaged the business… by, among other things, causing lenders to withdraw their financing offers or change the terms under which they would provide financing.”
The suit was dropped, and Ludwick’s two former partners set to building the luxury condo tower near the High Line without The Sean. A Chinese firm backing an even bigger BlackHouse project—a 40-story tower shaped like a stack of Chinese lanterns—was reportedly seeking to push out all three partners.
So Ludwick already had some significant business worries as he left a bar in Southampton early Sunday and climbed into his Porsche with Hansen. Ludwick was just reaching Hansen’s house when the car hit a telephone pole, partly ejecting Hansen.
On top of his other legal troubles, Ludwick now faced a second drunk-driving arrest, this time involving grievous injuries. The banks and backers were certainly not going to like that.
If he really did toss Hansen’s wallet into the woods, what did he imagine it would accomplish? Drunk as he apparently was, he could not have seriously thought that it would prevent the police from identifying Hansen when he lay dead just yards from his own front door. Maybe Ludwick just hoped for a delay. Or maybe he was soused enough to think he could make it look like Hansen had been set upon and robbed.
In any event, Ludwick seems to have overestimated the Porsche’s ability to continue on after the crash. All he seems to have accomplished by trying to drive away was to get himself in deeper trouble. He is not now charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, but that could come.
At Monday’s arraignment on the present charges, Ludwick’s lawyer argued that his client was not likely to flee, as he is a figure of note.
“A major real estate developer in the United States and across the world, quite frankly,” the lawyer, Daniel Ollen, told the magistrate.
As she watched and listened from a spectator’s bench, the accused’s wife struck reporters as being genuinely upset. Pamela Ludwick appears to be one backer who is sticking by him to some degree despite the battering of the girlfriend and the painting of the penises.
The victim’s widow, Cathy Hansen, was not present in the courtroom, but she was foremost in many people’s thoughts. Her husband had been a real estate broker and a developer on a modest scale, but he was not one of the rich types who take over that Gatsby-esque stretch of Long Island every summer. He seems to have suffered a lapse in judgment when it came to palling around with Ludwick, but we was otherwise a regular Sag Harbor guy. He had not hesitated to take a second job driving a school bus when he needed to pay the bills.
Hansen’s Facebook page offers a wonderful picture taken at least six years ago of him with his two young sons and the family dog. The dog is apparently Jones, whose demise was the subject of a tender post by Hansen.
“We miss jones, gone June 3rd 09, he spent his last day going to the ocean where he met 5 nice ladies who gave him some love, then he went for his last swim, I had to pull him out of the water myself, then we gave him a sedative in a hamburger, which he gobbled up, I had to carry him back to the car. We then visited my moms grave, she loved jones, then to the vet, where me and cathy cried, We miss u boy!!!”
Now that Hansen himself is gone, his family’s feeling of loss must be beyond measure.
And if what the prosecutors allege is true, the circumstances of his death mark Sean Ludwick as so callous and craven as to be New York’s worst real estate developer.