new york times                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                            Posted 2/9/2006

Housekeeper to the Stars Says She Stole From a Few of Them

 Robert De Niro's ex-housekeeper, tears rolling down her cheeks, admitted in a Manhattan courtroom yesterday that she had stolen a $95,500 pair of diamond-drop earrings belonging to his wile, Grace Hightow-er.

TTie housekeeper, Lucyna Turyk-Wawry-nowicz. 35. also admitted to forging the signature of a previous employer. Denise Men-ton, who owned a Greenwich Village clothing boutique, on more than $3,000 In credit card slips for lingerie and other fancy goods at Barneys New York.
The case cast an unusual light on the often emotionally fraught relationship between wealthy and even not-so-wealthy New Yorkers and their household help, usually house* keepers and nannies. For many professional women, such household help Is a necessity. Yet It can also be. as in this case, a minefield of social pathology.

Ms, Turyk-Wawrynowicz appeared in court in handcuffs yesterday, her complexion splotchy and her platinum blond hair looking stringy, after six months in a Rlkers Island jail cell.
Later, prosecutors and a police detective. Richard Kenney. said she was a serial kleptomaniac who stole from her unwitting employers. Beginning around 1999. prosecutors said.

Ms. Turyk-Wawrynowicz worked for a string of wealthy, often famous women — in* eluding Faith Popcorn. Ren6e Rockefeller, Isabella Rosselllni and Candice Bergen — and stole from some, though not all. of them.

Ms. Menton said in a telephone interview that she believed that the housekeeper had used the same sterling reference, whom Ms. Menton declined to name, over and over again.
The latest thefts came to light last June, after Ms. Hightower reported the diamond earrings missing from her Central Park West apartment.

The housekeeper, prosecutors said, seemed motivated to steal by a poisonous stew of jealousy, anger and class consciousness, and saw herself as a kind of Robin Hood taking from the rich to feed the poor — that is. herself.

"If she treated me better, with more respect, I probably wouldn't have done this," a police report quoted Ms. Turyk-Wawrynowicz as saying of Ms. Hightower on June 20, 2005, as she was riding in a car with detectives, heading toward her home in Mas-peth. Queens. "I didn't steal from Isabella Rosselllni. because she treated me well I only stole from people who didn't treat me with respect."

That statement angered Ms. Men-ton, who said she had treated Ms* Turyk-Wawrynowicz with kid gloves, even after catching her red-handed In 2001, when the housekeeper charged the items at Barneys. Ms. Menton said that $1,000 — cash receipts from her boutique. Betwixt had disappeared from her purse on Ms. Turyk-Wawrynowicz's first day of work. But Ms. Menton brushed away her suspicions, she said, unable to believe that someone would be so brazen as to steal on her very first day.

"Then she took an emerald necklace, but when I asked her about it. it sort of miraculously reappeared on a chair I never sit in," Ms. Menton said.
When Ms. Menton got the credit card bill from Barneys, she knew something was wrong, and called the store to complain. The store, she said, found security photographs of Ms. Turyk-Wawrynowicz at the cash register, and Ms. Menton, armed with that information, escorted the housekeeper to the station house, where they met with police officers. Ms. Turyk-Wawrynowicz cried, she said, and "I didn't press charges because I felt sympathetic towards her/' Instead, she fired her, after just a month of work, and said she thought that the shock of being caught would prevent her from stealing again. Ms. Menton, for one. said, she no longer felt sorry for Ms. Turyk-Wawrynowicz. who faces deportation to her native Poland after serving a promised jail sentence of one to three years, 'Too bad for her Ms. Menton said. "But if she wasn't a thief it wouldn't have happened." Mr. DeNiro's publicist. Stan Rosenfield. said. "I think the plea by the defendant speaks volumes."

As part of her deal with prosecutors. Ms, Turyk-Wawrynowicz pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court to three counts — grand larceny, forgery and identity theft, for using a false Social Security number.

Her lawyer. Mark T. Zawisny, said that with six months' credit for time served. £be will probably serve four to six months of her jail sentence. She will then be turned over to the Department of Homeland Security, which her lawyer said has agreed to let her return to Poland voluntarily with her husband, as long as she pays her own way.

A one-way ticket is Just $305 on LOT Polish Airlines from Newark, economy class, of course.