Elena McMahan is disarmingly soft-spoken. She keeps her head lowered as she begins a conversation barely above a whisper. She wears a head scarf that identifies her as a member of the Russian Orthodox church (she's Ukrainian), and she speaks to her two young children, Vladimir, age five, and Elizabeth, age three, in Russian. Elena is slender and has striking blue-green eyes. The children are unusually well-behaved.
In the Brooklyn penthouse apartment she considers a refuge, Elena describes her ill-fated 2002 marriage to Fisher Island millionaire Bruce McMahan.
"The day we got home [from the wedding], he lost interest in me," she says. "I became his dog. He said, If you don't keep your mouth shut, I will take Vladimir.' Then I got pregnant with Elizabeth."
McMahan, you might remember from the September 2006 Miami New Times cover story "Daddy's Girl," is a Wall Street hedge fund multimillionaire who married his own daughter. (Through a spokeswoman, McMahan declined to comment.)
Elena's story provides new details about the bizarre incestuous relationship between McMahan and his daughter Linda. The Ukrainian beauty met the South Florida business magnate in 2000 while she was working in a bar on a European cruise ship. Though he was traveling with his fourth wife, Cynthia, he instantly took a liking to Elena. When the cruise was over, McMahan gave her his business card. A few months later, she decided to contact him. Soon the financier helped arrange an operation for her mother, and sent money for Elena to purchase a computer so she could correspond with him via e-mail.
Elena says McMahan began writing her every day. He also called her from around the globe. Before long, he asked if he could visit her in Odessa. After a second visit and hundreds more e-mailed love notes, McMahan proposed. "He was asking my mom on his knees," she says.
For the next year, McMahan fought to divorce Cynthia. During that time, Elena became pregnant. She moved to London and, after a difficult pregnancy, gave birth to Vladimir. Bruce and Elena were married July 27, 2002, at his Pelham estate in New York's Westchester County. Vladimir was a year old.
By early 2004 the couple was becoming increasingly estranged; McMahan, Elena reports, was spending a lot of time with Linda, who had inherited from her father Reiter's disease, a genetic malady that affects the soft tissues, the eyes, and the heart. He brought Linda to Fisher Island to recover from a bad bout with the disease at the Argent Center, a resort he had built there. McMahan and Elena resided in unit 7925, and Linda stayed at number 7413.
But, Elena says, before long, McMahan openly began living in Linda's condo. "He moved in with her," Elena says. "Everybody there knew."
According to testimony that Linda would later give in court -- which New Times reported last year -- it was the most intense period of a years-long illicit relationship with her father. The woman claimed her father wanted to keep her away from her husband in Mississippi. In June 2004, after purchasing Cartier wedding rings, Bruce and Linda flew to London and performed some kind of ceremony inside Westminster Abbey, took photos outside like any other newly married couple, and then began referring to each other as husband and wife in e-mails. (The marriage wasn't legal, but Elena claims McMahan continues to wear his ring.)
Linda testified Elena had hacked into her Yahoo e-mail account to find proof of the affair, but Elena says that isn't true. She claims McMahan had left his computer on, and she happened upon the evidence. "I just clicked the button," Elena says. "His e-mail was open. That was horrible. I was working on his computer. He left it on and it was right there on the screen.
"I knew something wasn't right when he came back from London that time," she says. "He loves to take pictures and show them around when he gets back, and this time he didn't show any pictures."
McMahan filed to divorce Elena, and she fought back by including the photos and e-mails with an affidavit swearing she knew of her husband's incestuous affair (the affidavit is sealed now, but is referred to in other court documents).
Then Linda refused to deny the affair. But Elena relented when McMahan asked her to swear under oath that she had been mistaken. The fifth wife now says she signed the second statement only because she needed McMahan's help to get a green card. Without the document, Elena could have been sent back to the Ukraine. "I protected him to an extent," she now says. "He was making a face like he's a good family man."
Once Elena signed the statement saying she was "mistaken" about the relationship's sexual nature, McMahan dropped his divorce action, and the couple reconciled. But only briefly. After New Times broke the story about McMahan and the lawsuits, their relationship deteriorated.
Now Elena says she's a prisoner in McMahan's big house. On a recent day, Elena drove in her Lexus SUV toward the Westchester County estate where McMahan first began to woo Linda, according to her court testimony. It was there that his plans began to unravel. Elena points out the Russian Orthodox saints on her dashboard, Saints Nicholas, Peter, and Paul. "They protect me from the troubles," she says. "I said to him many times, he has no heart. He said there was nothing for him to do with business in America after the story came out."
She's an unusually cautious driver, stopping at yellow lights, signaling carefully for the simplest lane change. She eventually pulls slowly into the half-moon driveway of the two-story Tudor-style house. She parks near the older Bentley sedan in front of the home's big wooden door. Elena is afraid the five German shepherds have gotten loose, and she asks a house worker to put them in the basement.
Vladimir hops onto a bicycle. Elizabeth asks for a cookie.
The dark wood paneling in the foyer makes it seem particularly dark, but there's an orange glow coming from a stained glass window. Through glass doors, there's a glimpse of the estate's sweeping acres, which include elaborate gardens, a pond with ducks, and a playground for the children.
In a room on one side of the foyer, two grand pianos can be seen through double doors. On the other side is a sunroom with a large swing and a sideboard with a photo of Linda. It's also where Elena keeps a few peacock feathers and her dried and silk flowers. She and her children live in a few rooms that seem to have been intended by the home's builders as accommodations for live-in staff. She points out that for all of the home's luxury, she is actually denied access to its main part, which is up a grand staircase. "I am here like a guest. I cannot move. I cannot touch anything. If the kids break something, he makes me pay for it."
Because Elena herself can't enter McMahan's part of the mansion, she can't show the bedroom where, as Linda testified, he seduced his daughter by showing her the first half-hour of the movie Braveheart.
"The day he settled everything with Linda, he began to treat me like dirt again," she says.
After a custody hearing last month, Elena says she became concerned that she and her lawyer were no match for McMahan's legal team. Though a judge appointed a guardian for the two small children, Elena says her greatest fear is that her husband's wealth will buy him custody of Vladimir and Elizabeth.
She hopes telling her story now will convince McMahan to stop waging war with her in family court. She wants sole custody of the two children; she wants his visits with them to be supervised. "I am not fighting him because of the money," she says. "Nothing could be worse for me than to lose these kids. I cannot imagine for them to be with him alone."
It isn't the first time, she says, that she has worried about losing custody of her children. During their 2005 divorce action, Elena says McMahan showed up hand-in-hand with Linda. "He wanted me to be deported to the Ukraine.... She was with him. He wanted to take my kids and raise them with Linda."
She says her affidavit forced McMahan to give up that plan.
Today McMahan alleges in court documents that he fears Elena will flee with the children to the Ukraine, and he won a court order that requires Elena to stay within 90 miles of New York City. He also refuses to allow her to move to the Brighton Beach apartment, where she says she feels safer.
And now, she says, McMahan is planning on leaving the country altogether, after the publication of "Daddy's Girl" embarrassed him from Wall Street to Fisher Island. "In Dubai, people do not care, but in America and in Europe, they don't want to do business with him anymore."
Former McMahan Securities executive Michael Shillan, who recently won an arbitration case against McMahan for back pay, says Elena is right about McMahan's business suffering after his affair with Linda went public.
"I don't know if anyone really understands all of his businesses," Shillan says. "I have a pretty good sense of what he is worth. When I left, he had about a $200 to $250 million net worth." But Shillan believes the hedge fund McMahan manages has shrunk from about $4 billion to half that, in part because of the New Times story and because about the same time, the convertible securities market took a hit. Also in September, the hedge fund called Amaranth Advisors LLC dropped from $9 billion to $3 billion in one week because of heavy investment in natural gas futures.
"Let's face it, after your story came out and it was reprinted in quite a few places, that's really not the kind of guy you want managing your money," Shillan says.
"My personal experience is once you get on Bruce's bad side, he tends to never forgive and forget, even when he's wrong," continues Shillan, who was once close to McMahan.
But Elena believes there is one person McMahan could forgive -- Linda. She points to the photograph of Linda that her father keeps in a gold frame in a prominent place at the Pelham estate.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they make up."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.
- Dolphins Fire Kevin Coyle, Promote Lou Anarumo
Thu., Oct. 15, 7:00pm
Thu., Oct. 15, 7:30pm
Sat., Oct. 17, 12:00am
Sat., Oct. 17, 10:00am
- The Six Phases of a Gentrifying Neighborhood in Miami
- Chiquitica, Dog Who Sailed From Cuba Last Month, Hit by Car