Will the rumored reality TV show featuring Leslie Tyler Fink ever reach the airwaves? Or are these listing pics the best view you’ll ever get of the house the “lifestyle expert” and her husband (pictured at left) own in a gated subdivision just west of Uptown Park, and which the U.S. Attorney’s office has identified as “property involved in, or traceable to, money laundering”? Leslie and Randy Fink bought the the 4,096-sq.-ft. home at 5 Wynden Oaks Dr. 2 years ago for $740,000 in cash, but the entire amount (plus an additional $8,980 to cover closing costs) was wired in for the closing courtesy of Leslie’s pal Jonathan Barnes — as a gift, the Chronicle‘s Tom Fowler reported last week. How generous! Sadly, Barnes — who worked as a marine chartering manager at Houston Refining (now part of LyondellBasell), was indicted late last year along with two oil traders for his involvement in a multi-million-dollar kickback scheme. According to the Feds, Barnes’s thoughtful house gift came from funds “traceable to . . . unlawful activity,” and the ill-gotten property, which is named as the plaintiff in a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, is therefore subject to forfeiture if Barnes is convicted. Isn”t this exactly the kind of stuff great reality TV shows are built from?
“Drama right?! . . . This is going to be one of the episodes for the show,” the apparently unflappable Fink — who identifies herself as “princess of the modern Houstonian socialites” on one of her websites — declared last week in an email she sent to CultureMap’s Shelby Hodge. Can’t wait to see footage of the parties!
The home Barnes bought for the Finks was built in 1998 as part of Wynden Oaks Estates, a gated development by Charles Martin Custom Homes. It features 3 or 4 bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths on a 5,979-sq.-ft. lot. These photos show the property as it appeared before the Finks took possession of it in January of 2009:
Where did all the moolah to pay for this little Uptown pied-à-terre come from? Barnes, who was in charge of negotiating shipping charges for his company, had Houston Refining pay vastly inflated fees to have oil transferred here from Venezuela — as much as $80 million above market prices over his tenure at the company, according to the indictment unsealed last week. The companies benefiting from the overcharges then reportedly wired back to Barnes a hefty portion of their proceeds.
After he was notified of the investigation last summer, Barnes agreed to cooperate with authorities. He later fled the country with a passport he obtained under false pretenses, but was arrested with a stash of cash upon his return, according to court documents. In November and December, he helped the feds out by secretly recording conversations — one of them over lunch at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in the Galleria — with two indicted co-conspirators, Clyde Meltzer and Bernard Langley.
With his loot, Barnes bought several homes, a few garage-fulls of automobiles (including a 1957 Cadillac Brougham once owned by Frank Sinatra, and which came with a matching makeup compact), and a number of pieces of expensive jewelry. According to Hodge, Barnes acted as Fink’s “personal Daddy Warbucks,” providing funding for her RSVPSocial website, among other things. But that website does not appear to be listed in the indictment. Originally dubbed RSVP713, the site was promoted at its launch with a billboard at San Felipe and 610 that featured large photos of Fink, correspondent Nicole Brende, and socialite Carolyn Farb. Fink has gone on to promote her own line of cosmetics, under the name “Leslie Tyler.”
Fowler identifies several items mentioned in the indictment as gifts Barnes gave to Fink, and which she may already have been required to surrender: several pieces of jewelry and a white 2009 Bentley. As Fink bragged in an October 2009 blog post on the RSVP713 website that’s since been taken down (but was quoted in a Hair Balls column that gently discussed Fink’s merits as a society and fashion columnist), the choice of color was her own:
“Darlings…White has been my lucky… actually very lucky color…which was the main reason I chose my new cars to be white; both my Bentley and Range Rover…
In another post quoted in Hair Balls, Fink talks about accessorizing with her “signature piece and personal favorite classic canary diamond cuff and princess cut solitaire from Valobra Jewelers! To die for!!!” Well, not really: Fowler says that according to his sources, both of those expensive pieces of jewelry were gifts from Barnes too.
Where are those little accessories now? Her attorney tells Fowler Fink has already “returned any property that has been requested” and that she had no reason to suspect Barnes was engaged in criminal activity.
How did Fink keep coming up with these gifts? Last April, she revealed the secret of her good fortune:
Houston… ask and you shall receive! That’s my fortay [sic] Baby!
- Oil traders court documents: Superseding indictment, property forfeiture list [FuelFix]
- Big homes, cool cars, reality TV stars — the oil traders saga continues [FuelFix]
- More on the oil traders: Mexican mistress, seized homes and the one who almost got away [FuelFix]
- Commodities traders held in alleged kickback scheme [FuelFix]
- Leslie Tyler Fink’s socialite connection in oil kickback scam is headed for reality TV [CultureMap]
- Finally, the cameras roll on a reality TV series in H-Town and it ain’t Real Housewives [CultureMap]
- Our New Favorite Blogger Is Also Her Own Favorite Blogger [Hair Balls]