The Billionaire Battle in the Bahamas
The whole thing began over a puddle in a driveway
The two men are next-door neighbors in Lyford Cay, a gated community on New Providence, an island in the Bahamas, and for years it had been a peaceful adjacency. Because both of them happen to be billionaires, it is a picturesque driveway, lined by casuarina trees and triple Alexander palms, 200 feet north of a stunning body of water known as Clifton Bay and 100 feet south of an even more stunning vista upon the Atlantic Ocean.
It is less a driveway than a road—but also a portion of road that is shared by both neighbors and nobody else, owing to how it cuts right through one man’s property and ends at the other man’s, which occupies the westernmost tip of the island. And we’re talking about a land of eight-figure beachfront properties, where the houses are very close to each other— where one man’s dining room is only about 200 feet from the other’s revolving acrylic discotheque floor and the glass walls that enclose it with a steady cascade of water.
An “easement” is what the driveway’s creator, the developer E. P. Taylor, a Canadian brewing tycoon, termed this shared passage when he established Lyford Cay in 1955. (The road itself he saw fit to name E. P. Taylor Drive.) But just as one man’s driveway is another man’s easement, one neighbor’s cocktail party is another’s sleepless night due to the fact that there are 2,000 Bahamians—plus a lot of young women from islands throughout the Atlantic, not to mention Europe—whooping it up at the topless bacchanal next door. And one man’s overflow of parked cars along the driveway on that sleepless neighbor’s side of the property line is another man’s reason to have the section of the driveway that cuts through his property re-graded and rebuilt, adding a dip and tall flagstone walls on either side, leaving no shoulder space for anybody to ever conceivably think of parking there, while also screening the driveway from view.
The dip created a drainage problem when it rained: the puddling. “It was smelly. And it had mosquitoes. And in order to come to our place you had to go and wear rubber boots to come and knock on our door,” says Peter Nygard, a Canadian manufacturer of women’s wear and the neighbor at the end of the road who threw the parties. In a court filing, he referred to it as “a toilet drain.”
“Nygard likes the idea that people think they’re going to a separate island when they go to his place,” says Louis Bacon, a titan of New York finance and the neighbor who constructed the strategic no-parking zone. “Now it kind of looks like what the English call a ha-ha: the road drops and it feels more private. It’s a better entrance for his guests and better for me too.”
But that was then, and this is now. And somehow, what began in 2007 with a bit of irritation over runoff has escalated to a battle royal encompassing no fewer than 16 legal actions between Nygard and Bacon and their associates, in which both sides are claiming damages in the tens of millions of dollars and lobbing allegations of activities that include vandalism, bribery, insider trading, arson, murder, destruction of the fragile seabed, and having a close association with the Ku Klux Klan.
It has reached a point where neither man, though each used to consider Lyford Cay his rightful home, spends much time there anymore. Nygard, unable to obtain government permits to rebuild his six-acre, Mayan-inspired compound after an electrical fire in 2009 demolished most of the structures—including the 32,000-square-foot “grand hall,” with its 100,000-pound glass ceiling—has been left to live out of his study when he does visit, and has stopped throwing parties altogether. He blames the man next door for all of it, citing a string of environmental-degradation suits that Bacon has filed against him in court. Bacon hasn’t set foot in the Bahamas in more than a year, claiming it would put his personal safety at risk. In January 2015, he leveled a $100 million defamation complaint against Nygard in New York, where both men’s businesses are headquartered. Nygard, the suit alleges, has been the “ringleader” behind a vast multi-media smear campaign— TV and radio ads purchased, Web sites created, videos doctored, T-shirts printed, and even “hate rallies” staged with parades through Nassau—all in the name of labeling Bacon a racist, a thief, and a “terrorist,” and bearing messages such as BACON GO HOME.
Nygard filed a counterclaim and tells anybody who will listen that Bacon is trying to destroy him out of a simple desire to take over his property, claiming that some years ago— Nygard can’t recall when—a real-estate agent came to his house on Bacon’s behalf and offered $100 million for the place. When he turned him down, the agent replied that Bacon would get the property “one way or another,” Nygard claims, adding that he doesn’t know the man’s name and can’t remember where he worked, “because it was such a joke to me.” Even so, he says, he took it as a threat. (Bacon has said he made no such offer and was never interested in acquiring Nygard’s land.)
Nygard vows he will never sell and says that he has never met anybody “that smart, that competitive, in my life. He reminds me of Hitler.”
“Peter Pinocchio,” Bacon calls Nygard in an open letter he published in the Bahamas Tribune, noting his habit of “playing footsie with the truth.”
And so on.
In This Corner
At 74, with his long white hair and vigorously spread family tree (he has had eight children with five women), Nygard is something like the Hugh Hefner of down-market retail. Aesthetically—shirt unbuttoned to the navel, tight black jeans, and some sort of glitter he applies to his suntanned arms after showering—he brings to mind a mash-up of Sam Walton and Gunther Gebel-Williams, the circus-animal trainer.
Some things you should know about Nygard: His personal history involves emigrating from Finland to Manitoba with his family when he was eight and living out of a converted coalbin. At 24 he purchased a share in a clothing-manufacturing company with an $8,000 loan, and before long renamed it Nygard. Today, it has about a dozen lines of inexpensive apparel, aimed mostly at middle-aged shoppers and available in more than 200 Nygard stores and other retail chains in North America, and does $500 million in annual sales. He dated Anna Nicole Smith for several years.
He is famous in the Bahamas. He flies there in a private jet that bears the words PETER NYGARD N FORCE and once reportedly had a stripper’s pole inside. He sued a former associate for claiming that Nygard had “deliberately hired celebrity lookalikes” to attend his Oscar party, according to the lawsuit. The case was eventually settled. He is obsessed with longevity. He was giving himself testosterone shots every other day and made arrangements with a lab to receive regular injections of his
The whole thing began over a puddle in a driveway
own stem cells. He talks about the virtues of exercise and healthy eating, and he takes about 50 pills a day—“vitamins, supplements, pharmaceuticals,” he says. “What is it that I’m working on? Getting younger.”
More than anything, Nygard is proud of his concrete sanctuary, which in 1992 he persuaded the Bahamian government to rename Nygard Cay to coincide with a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous segment. For the preceding 400 years it had been known as Simms Point. Nygard designed and constructed the compound himself over more than two decades. (“To give Nygard credit, he’s industrious,” Bacon concedes. “I used to see him out there in his front loader.”) Even with the main house at Nygard Cay mostly in ruins six years after the fire—the grand staircase that ran through it is now more of an open-air gangway—there’s still plenty to marvel at: carved dragons, 60-foot ziggurats with hundreds of torches lit individually every night by his staff, giant statues of nude women modeled on his former girlfriends, and what he claims is the world’s largest sauna, a 6,000-square-foot A-frame lodge constructed of Canadian-pine logs that are 2 feet thick and 28 feet long. “We went and got a special barge, huge undertaking,” he says of importing them, adding that it was the first building he erected. “Every Finn starts with the saunas.”
Nygard and his friends sometimes refer to his estate as “Disneyland on steroids.” Chichén Ibiza is more like it. A squadron of peacocks strut on the grounds. Giant urns belch smoke like volcanoes. Coiled stone cobras hiss steam at sunset. The multi-hued structures are festooned with thousands of colored lightbulbs. He’s struggling to get approval to rebuild from the Bahamian government but may want the next iteration to resemble a spaceship. “I’m into a lot of other kind of design, the New York design—it’s more techy,” he says. He won’t think of trying to replicate what he already built. “You know that song, ‘Someone left the cake out in the rain’? I lost that recipe. ‘I’ll never have that recipe again.’” He’s got no idea how much money he put into it the first time.
Nygard misses the life he had in Lyford before Bacon— whom he refers to as “my nice neighbor”—began to get in the way. He no longer holds his Sunday-night “pamper parties,” which offered everybody free spa treatments. “It just tore a heart out of me,” Nygard says. “This was my dream, my life wrapped up in here.” But tonight he’s still having fun. In his mirrored gym, which now functions as the dining room, he eats dinner and downs the contents of a meticulously marked Baggie full of pills handed to him by a young personal assistant. He mentions that his assistant is “one of my main girlfriends.”
Soon, they’re joined by a couple of other women, who have just arrived from Miami, and several members of the Bahamian men’s volleyball team. They all consider driving to town for the parade celebrating Junkanoo, a national holiday. “You have to take off your top if we go,” he jokes with one of the ladies, flipping his hands upward from his shoulders to pantomime. Instead, everybody stays up until three A.M. playing poker. On his TV is a frozen picture of Bacon bearing the words “5 Lies of Bacon.” Outside, on his volleyball court, one of several large signs reads, ITS [sic] TIME TO THROW THE TRASH OUT! LOUIS KKK BACON. The signs (which Nygard says have since been taken down) are pointed out toward the water, in case anybody sailing by in Clifton Bay should want to know more about the man. Bacon’s hedge fund is name-checked, too: MOORE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT. On another is Bacon’s face with the word CRIMINAL stamped over his forehead. The signs are easily seen from the Bacon family’s breakfast nook.
In That Corner
In a glass-tower office, framed by views of the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River, Bacon, 59 years old and sitting tall in a chromeand-leather chair, is surrounded by trading screens, clocks set to the times of various overseas markets, squash and yachting magazines, model aircraft. “Dealing with Nygard,” he says, “is like having dog shit on your shoe.” (Nygard’s riposte: “I recommend that he change his shoes.”)
He is short on dialogue: he has little to say that his lawyers can’t say for him, because he’s doing his best to appear aloof, as if to assert that the feud has failed to get the better of him. He’s also mortified to have his public identity joined with his antagonist’s. “Louis doesn’t like attention in the first place,” says his college friend and Lyford neighbor, Chris Brady. “But it’s almost criminal for him to even be mentioned in the same paragraph as Peter Nygard.”
Bacon grew up in a wealthy real-estate-business family in North Carolina, boarded at Episcopal High School, in Alexandria, Virginia, and graduated from Middlebury College (where he is now a trustee) and Columbia Business School. He’s a member of the Racquet and Tennis Club and the Union Club of the City of New York. He has seven children, four with his first wife and three with his current wife. The hedge fund he owns and runs has some $15 billion under management, and his estimated net worth is $1.75 billion. Forbes once summed up his investment strategy as “secretive, risk-conscious, a bit paranoid.” If, on a lark, he were persuaded to read for a movie part calling for a “handsome Wall Street kingpin type,” he’d probably be turned down because the fit seems too perfect to be credible: sculpted mandible, enviably tousled locks.
Where Nygard has made a visible mark on the cay with his estate, Bacon wants his country houses known for how meticulously they fit into their surroundings. He has a lot of them. In addition to his residence on the Upper East Side, he owns a weekend home on Robins Island, off the coast of Southampton, Long Island, where he hosts polo matches and driven-pheasant shoots. (He bought the entire 445-acre island in 1993 for $11 million.) He also owns a grouse moor in Scotland and a hunting lodge in the North of England. Then there was his Georgian town house in Knightsbridge (before he sold it), not to mention spreads he still owns in Panama, New Mexico, and North Carolina, as well as his 172,000-acre Colorado ranch, which, when he purchased it from Malcolm Forbes’s family for $175 million, in 2007, became the most expensive American residence ever. A second estate in Lyford Cay—for spillover guests or staff—has an indoor squash court.
“The common denominator is his engagement in natural resources, an astute sensitivity to all the components that make a habitat conducive to the area in question,” says Peter Talty, an architect who works for Bacon’s own personal propertymanagement company. (“Trust me, it’s a full-time job.”) Bacon is fond of the judicious (and tax-deductible) gambit known as a conservation easement, deploying it, for example, to restore the eastern-mudturtle population and preserve the habitat of endangered shorebirds on Robins Island. Since 1994, he has contributed $175 million to conservationist causes, including funds to prevent Clifton Bay, a corallined stretch abutting Lyford Cay, from being developed as a subdivision anchored by a casino. That it has since been preserved as a national park was what, in 2013, won him the Audubon Society’s annual medal for contributions to conservation. He is “the rare wealthy businessman who sees the environment as a battleground,” says Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the Waterkeeper Alliance lobbying group, a favorite charity of Bacon’s. “Louis funded our litigation against the factoryfarm industry while he was constantly running into the head of Smithfield in his elevator, because they lived in the same building on Park Avenue,” Kennedy says. “That’s kind of funny when you think about it, particularly since his name is Bacon.”
As for his place in Lyford, Point House, you might never guess that the owner is this rich. Even though there’s a custom-made board game called “Baconopoly” sitting on a credenza, with squares named for all of Bacon’s properties (Rutland Gate, Coral House), their identities turn out to have been affixed via
printed stickers, a utilitarian gift. “In this world, you don’t disclose a lot,” says Ian Levy, who, with his wife, Charlotte, manages the household staff of seven (more when the Bacons are there). “As a former yacht captain, if I am sailing and my owner decides to cross with another boat, the other captain and I won’t even refer to our boats’ owners by name. It’s simply ‘your owner’ and ‘my owner.’ ” Even so, he does acknowledge that “a sitting queen and a former king” have been guests of the Bacons’. (The queen was Noor of Jordan.) Even the Levys’ uniforms are low-key: matching polo shirts with the Point House logo, a simple child’s drawing of a cottage.
The Levys have witnessed the feud up close and speak about their neighbor with contempt. But Bacon, they insist, has never lost his cool. “His response isn’t emotional,” Ian Levy says. “This is not a man you just phone up to tell him that a leaf’s fallen off a tree. I would tell him what happened, and he said, ‘Take photographs and refer it to the legal department.’ He responds to Peter Nygard as a problem that needs to be taken care of.”
Until he filed his defamation suit, this year, Bacon fought Nygard mostly under the auspices of an environmental campaign, joined by many Lyford residents, that sought to rectify changes to the coastline they claim Nygard is responsible for. In 2014, 103 locals put their names on a complaint against the Bahamian government, demanding that certain procedures be followed in order for Nygard to get legal clearance to rebuild. Some people in Lyford refer to Bacon’s “heroism” for taking on “the neighborhood bully.” “I’m probably the one who’s been affected the most,” Bacon says, “and I have the means to do something about it.”
An Island Refuge
Lyford Cay was designed as a gated “winter community,” the brainchild of the aforementioned E. P. Taylor and Sir Harold Christie, a scion of the Bahamian family that owned the original 3,000acre plot at the western tip of New Providence. The houses have names that are playfully colonial: Tra La La, Safari, Tea Time, Out of Bounds. In 1962, when President Kennedy flew to Nassau for a series of private “world-ranging talks” with the British prime minister Harold Macmillan, he stayed at Taylor’s house and the P.M. stayed next door. Early residents included Henry Ford II, Aga Khan IV, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, Huntington Hartford II, Babe Paley, “and certainly the most beautiful women and some of the most powerful men in the world,” Town & Country reported in 1975, marveling at how the private telephone directory for 120 villas listed “Heinz and Menzies, Goulandris and Niarchos, McMahon and Mellon.” The piece was accompanied by a lavish Slim Aarons photo spread.
Today’s roster is sleepy by comparison: aside from Sean Connery (who, nearly a half-dozen James Bonds ago, shot Thunderball and several other films here), there are scores of semi-anonymous businessmen or their progeny. Bacon and Nygard’s neighbors prefer to keep a low profile: Count and Countess de Ravenel, of France; the Brazilian reinsurance magnate Antonio Braga; Jane Lewis, wife of the English investor Joe Lewis. “It’s quiet money,” says David Laughlin, a New York financier (second-generation Lyford) and chairman of the Lyford Cay Club.
Long before the puddle, Nygard clashed stylistically with much of the Lyford Cay establishment. He threw a lot of parties and was always doing construction. He bought his house, a modest beach bungalow, in 1984 for $1.76 million. It is now a security booth and staff office for his estate. “In the early days, my dad would sit at the little kitchen counter in the window and do his designs on napkins,” says his eldest daughter, Bianca, who works for the Nygard corporation. “He always said he would never be done.”
Nygard initially joined the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association (L.C.P.O.A.), even though his lot’s location at the tip of the peninsula meant that it was not deeded within the L.C.P.O.A. After a few years he stopped paying dues. “When you join or go into somebody else’s house or the land, you need to obey their own rules; you need to conform to whatever their standards are,” Nygard says. “I have my own life, you know? I never moved here to Nygard Cay because of Lyford Cay. I moved to Nygard Cay because it’s the most beautiful property in the world, and it happened to be that to get to it I had to go through Lyford Cay.”
The Lyford Cay Club—a golf-and-tennis facility with a majestically frayed pink clubhouse—is the social hub of the community, and according to members, Nygard was discouraged from applying by people who broached the matter on his behalf with the membership committee. “There is a formal process to get into Lyford,” says Chris Brady, a lifelong member. (Brady’s father, Nicholas Brady, was secretary of the Treasury under President George H. W. Bush.) “And it helps if you buy an expensive piece of land and you keep your bad behavior on the down low. But Nygard got off to a bad start.” Nygard says he never tried to join the club, and also denies being a bully, adding, “Most of my relationships with the Lyford Cay community were pristine until Louis Bacon came and destroyed many of them. Many from Lyford Cay would celebrate their weddings, anniversaries, and other special events at Nygard Cay, or bring their V.I.P. guests over, including royalty from around the world.” Yet, Laughlin says, “When somebody comes in who’s of a different character and doesn’t make much of an effort to assimilate, some communities are better able to deal with that than others. At Lyford, there isn’t a mechanism to deal with that kind of ostentatiousness. A lot of us in the old line viewed him as a curiosity. It’s not in keeping with what we do here, but people went out there to look at it. I’m one of them.”
So was the first President Bush, who struck up a friendship with Nygard after Nicholas Brady took him to Nygard Cay once to marvel at the place. For better or worse, says Bill Hunter, a former Lyford Cay Club chairman, “when you look toward Nygard’s place at night from across the bay, it’s like a cruise ship, all the lights and torches blazing. And around it, the adjacent properties are dark.”
“From time to time I see the procession of people coming to his parties—motorcades full of these attractive girls,” says Jean-Charles de Ravenel. “They’re not parties the typical Lyford Cay family is having with their grandchildren. Listen, Lyford Cay is not St. Tropez.”
Nygard’s supporters say his parties do stand out, because they’re full of people who wouldn’t otherwise be in Lyford Cay. “He has poor kids and athletes out to his house every day,” says his best friend, Carlos Mackey, who is the host of a sports program on local TV. “He’s a philosopher, a visionary, a genius. But his heart’s as big as Shamu the whale.” Nygard is well known throughout the Bahamas for his financial support of the country’s Olympic running squads, among many other charities. Wendall Jones, the publisher of The Bahama Journal, says, “The residents of Lyford Cay say they don’t appreciate his flamboyance when what they don’t like is the fact that he invites so many black people over. Peter Nygard is a force for good.”
Bacon arrived next door at Point House in 1994. He paid $5.9 million, then over the next 15 years purchased two adjoining pieces of land for an additional $20 million. “They did of course warn me about my neighbor, but that’s probably why the price was right,” Bacon says. “He was a bit of a headache, but it was largely cordial at first.” Nygard says he and Bacon—an odd couple if ever there was one—invited each other for drinks at their homes. They managed an agreement (via their groundskeepers) on choices of island ficus and bougainvillea to plant along the easement.
“I helped to save his life,” Nygard says of the time Bacon and his property manager got marooned during a fishing expedition. “I had some of my boats out there. I was part of his search committee.” Bacon relates the same incident, though he says that Nygard was most ungallant. “My wife called him, and he came over to our house. He started casing the joint, looking at it as a place to buy, and did nothing. They ended up getting somebody else to come find
Peter Nygard (left) is a hard-partying retail tycoon, whose estate is fit for a Mayan emperor. Louis Bacon (right) is a buttoned-up hedge-fund king, whose passion is conservation. Both are locked in an eight-year legal war with each other that has turned each man’s paradise into hell.