LAST VOW OF TOP BROKER

New York Post Nov 4, 2007

VICTIM TOLD OF QUITTING BOOZE, FEELING 'GREAT'

By JAMES FANELLI, BRAD HAMILTON, ANGELA MONTEFINISE and SUSAN EDELMAN

Linda Stein was clubbed to death in this Fifth Avenue high-rise.

November 4, 2007 -- A HIGH-SPIRITED Linda Stein chatted about art galleries, food, sex and battling alcoholism in a conversation that was likely one of the famed real-estate broker's last, a close friend told The Post.

The day before Stein was found bludgeoned to death in her Fifth Avenue living room, she made plans by phone to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with Michael Alago, a former record executive she knew from her days as co-manager of The Ramones.

The pals decided to eat dinner afterward at Sant Ambroeus, an Italian café, to celebrate his 52nd day sober, Alago said.

"We laughed harder than ever because of our sobriety," he said.

Stein had been attending AA meetings for at least two years, said a source.

They also joked about their love lives.

"Are you schtupping these days?" she asked Alago, then added: "If I was going to get schtupped, I would have to do it with the lights out."

But the 62-year-old cancer survivor was exuberant.

"I feel so great," she exclaimed.

And she really did, friends say. Having had her share of drama in recent years - a battle with breast cancer, a profile in New York magazine describing her brash style as "Buddy Hackett with t-ts" and a messy severing of ties with a former assistant - she was practicing yoga, taking long walks in the park and listening to her iPod, seeking strength and a little Zen.

BUT drama followed her.

On Wednesday morning, Alago got a call from Stein's daughter, Mandy, who had found her mother's body on the living room floor at 11 p.m. the night before.

"Mandy called me at 8 o'clock, a shaken mess. I didn't even know who was calling me," Alago said. "I heard her voice. 'Michael, my mom is dead.' She was hysterical crying."

Mandy, 32, told Alago, "I don't know how to call Danny," referring to Danny Fields, a close friend who co-managed The Ramones with Stein.

Whether it was the world of music or high-priced real estate, Stein fit in seamlessly and with style.

She counted Elton John and Sylvester Stallone as chums, and sold property to the wealthy and stars like Madonna, Sting and Angelina Jolie. She wore expensive Manolo Blahnik stilettos and rented a Hamptons beach house.

And she lived large.

"She made a half-million and spent $600,000," Stein's cousin Evan Sachs said at the funeral.

As an independent broker, Stein frequently worked at home, even from her hospital bed while battling cancer.

She would read all the city newspapers over morning coffee, then go for a brisk walk around the nearby Central Park Reservoir.

After one of her recent surgeries, she lost use of an arm, so she took up yoga to win back enough movement to blow-dry her hair, she told friends. The exercise also helped her regain balance.

On Oct. 27, she showed daughter Mandy her newly toned body and stood on one foot, saying, "Aren't you proud of me?"

Stein was also hoping to jump-start her love life.

"She said to me, 'Maybe it's about time I meet some people, get out and be more social,' " said her friend and commercial broker, Faith Consolo. She said Stein and her long-time boyfriend, Francisco Arena, had become just friends in recent years.

STEIN found it tough to live down her brash, life-of-the-party personality. She hated a 1991 New York magazine article that painted the popular, wildly successful broker as a pushy, foul-mouthed broad.

"She was very upset with the article for portraying her in a negative way, and she was much more publicity-shy" after that, said longtime friend and fellow broker Esther Muller.

But Stein couldn't keep a lid on her bawdy sense of humor.

Chris Frantz, the drummer for Talking Heads, said he met Stein in the '70s when her ex-husband, record exec Seymour Stein, discovered his band.

At a lunch with the band in London, Stein pointed to a dish on the dessert menu called "spotted dick."

"I'll have it without the spots," she deadpanned to the waiter.

Stein could travel easily in both the gritty rock world and high society.

Daniel Rey, a member of the punk band Shrapnel, which toured with the Ramones, said he saw her at a memorial service two weeks ago for Hilly Kristal, the founder of seminal punk club CBGB. She told him she had just skipped out of a $5,000-a-plate dinner with Calvin Klein.

Stein had adopted a subtler style, but still had a variety of characters surrounding her.

AS cops continue to search for suspects and motives in her shocking murder, they believe that someone she knew smashed her head and neck with a "jagged-edged" weapon sometime Tuesday afternoon. Traces of blood were also found in the bathroom sink and in a closet.

Cops have grilled at least two men in Stein's life - both of whom had keys to her apartment.

One was the 65-year-old Arena, her Italian ex-boyfriend who had done work in her apartment. Arena, Stein and another couple had dinner Saturday night, Oct. 27, said a source close to Stein.

The other was Raul Diaz-Bernal, 49, her dashing Cuban assistant at Prudential Douglas Elliman, whom she fired this summer after a bitter falling-out.

"He was a new broker. He was a pretty boy. She took him under her wing. He sucked up to her. Then they became partners," said a friend.

"Then he f- - -ed her over, taking her clients. He wouldn't share in the deals. He ran up charges on her credit card and used her car."

Stein also griped that her tall, dark and handsome assistant was toying with her heart.

"He hinted that he was interested in her romantically. He strung her along. She was hurt. She felt like she had been conned by him," the source said.

Stein eventually refused to work with Diaz-Bernal, and finally had him fired from the brokerage.

But the men in her life weren't the only ones with easy access to Stein's condo.

"I had keys to her apartment," said Tom Raffo, her assistant for three years at Elliman. "She was very much, 'My house is your house. Come whenever you'd like. Stop by.'

"If you worked for her, you usually always had a key. The maid had a key. The dog walker had a key. People had keys," Raffo said.

As she was laid to rest Friday, investigators were trying to locate a copy of Stein's will, presumably to identify a possible financial motive to slaying, sources said.

STEIN'S daughters Mandy and Samantha Stein-Wells, 34, and granddaughter Dora, 3, would likely be the beneficiaries, the sources said. Her estate includes her 18th-story condo on Central Park, a pad she boasted of buying dirt cheap but is now worth an estimated $2.5 million to $4 million.

Stein was trying to adopt a subtler style.

"In the last few weeks we talked about some fresh topics to invite her to speak about," said Muller, co-founder of the Academy for Continuing Education, where real-estate agents take classes to improve themselves.

She noticed the change in her friend.

"It's not 'location, location, location,' " Stein told her pal. "It's discretion, discretion, discretion."

Additional reporting by Philip Messing, Larry Celona, Lukas I. Alpert, Susannah Cahalan and Kathianne Boniello

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