Black Investment Banker's Death Leaves 'A Terrible Void '
NEW YORK (AP) ?
He was a friend to the
" mighty, a mentor to
minorities arid the man
ager of $2.7 billion. Last
week, he died naked on a
hotel bed, a white pow
der and an empty vodka
bottle at hand.
It was an unlikely
end for Wardell Lazard,
who built a $250,000 '
loan into (he nation's
money management firm
. and fourth- largest black
owned investment bank,
Lazard. 44. founded
W.R. Lazard & Co. and
led the march of minority
firms into Wall Street's
municipal bond market,
where political contacts
can be as important as
Lazard died in Pittsburgh a year
after closing his biggest deal ? a
lead role in a $1 billion New York
"City water bond issue ? and in the'
midst of investigations of his firm's
~ practicesTA coroner said Lazard
appeared tQ have died of an acciden
tal drug overdose. An autopsy was
performed Thursday, but the cause
of death awaits toxicology tests.
Whatever the cause of death I?
and his firm's alleged culpability
? Lazard's loss was a painful one
for a community with few enough
"When an African-American is
able to sucbeed like he did. it assists
others," said former New York
Mayor David Dinkins, whom
Lazard supported. "He used to have
Jiigjvschool kids come t6 his office
Lo see that they-cauld do what he
" did. This leaves a terrible void." -
"Until recently, we did noi have
any. African- Americans in the top
? ranks of the financial industry."
said Mayor Bret Schundler of Jersey
City,' N.J. , "and Wardell broke that
Lazard. who lived with hiv wife
and children near Morristown. N.J..
flew to Pittsburgh on May 10 and
called former Pittsburgh Steelers'
star Dwight White, a principal in the
firm. "He sounded fine." Whiti -
said later. "He just said. 'Let's have
But when White called
Lazard's room at the Vista Interna
tional Hotel the next morning a
police officer answered ihe phone
and told him to come over. Earlier,
maids had called security when no
W'ardell Lazard ran a 52. 7 billion company
? one answered the door. Police found
" a serving tray smeared with a white
powder) substance next to Lazard's
naked body, and a mostly empty
vnrlLi hottlf ;?T thf foot of the hed. _
? -Manhattan District Attorney ? -
Thursday that his office was "look
ing into transactions by the corn
pan)." but said Lazard himself was
not a.tatget. Morgenthau said a' key
question was whether the firm per
formed bona fide services in return
Meanwhile, the state Inspector
General was investigating several
no-bid bond sales awarded- to
Lazard by the state Job Develop
ment Authority, and whether the
award Was linked to Lazard's politi
Lazard founded his company
in 1985 with a Joan from Salomon
Brothers Although Lazard was "a ;
pioneer of minority-owned invest
ment banking firms" ? in the
words of Joel Motley, managing
director of another minority-owned
investment firm ? he resisted such
Bur he did not apologize for his
friendship with, and financial sup
port ot . black mayors -such as
Harold Washington of Chicago.
Marion Barry of Washington and
Coleman Young of Detroit "Inst us
white folks support white folks, we
support black folks." he said. And
the bond business followed.
In 19S7. a Lazard Executive.
Bettye Smith, had to resign after
disclosures' that she and Barry had
vacationed together wi the Bahamas.
Ambitious, highly leveraged growth .
after the stock market trash of 1987
brought the firm to the edge of dis
aster. The firm ended 1990 with no
tangible net worth. But six months
later, after reducing- staff from 85 to
- 45. Lazard pronounced his firm on a
His company manages S2.7 bil
lion for retirement funds, university
endowments and foundations,
according to Black Enterprise mag
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