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On the Scene- 1/19/06
The Sputnik simulcast of "You're fired!"? If Donald Trump never actually uttered the Russian equivalent of his rejection mantra, Soviet Jewish émigré Alla Wartenberg still got the message.
She made the business world's equivalent of the Final Four of basketball, jumping through hoops, but was still voted off the island - Manhattan, in this case - in the most recent season of "Apprentice."
Wartenberg wasn't the first Jewish contestant to get the heavily hyped heave-ho - remember Philadelphia's Heidi @#$%&* Bressler? - but she may be the most affluent. When the Donald issued the Dosvedanya, Wartenberg wasn't really ready to leave.
But pack her bags she did and got into her cab - no word on whether the driver was an immigrant, too - and drove off into oblivion.
Indeed, this is where the story begins, not ends. For Wartenberg may have been an "Apprentice" wannabe, but she is no novice. Arriving at age 14 as a destitute Soviet Jewish émigré to this country from Kishinev, Moldavia in 1988, she lived a threadbare existence that would belie the soon-to-be gilded lifestyle befitting a self-made millionaire in Las Vegas.
What happened in Vegas reverberated elsewhere, too. The Moldavian native molded her own moguldom; the sultry Soviet went from red to black quickly, buying her first piece of real estate five years after she arrived here; at 23, she was sporting a spanking big bank account as a sensation in the spa business.
She may not have cleaned up in "The Apprentice," but Wartenberg was far from a wash-out as a spa-chain mogul, making millions. "I am the most successful person on all four seasons" of the NBC show, she says of the wealth of interest and money she's accumulated over the years, appropriating her own real-life "Apprentice" lifestyle legend.
"I am a self-made millionaire, and have overcome a lot of adversity. I did this all on my own."
That adversity included the bouts of anti-Semitism she endured growing up in Russia - her mother is Jewish; her stepfather is not - in which being la crème de la Kremlin meant not having a Jewish star stamped on your passport.
These days, she passes for a mogul herself but never bypasses discussing her Jewish roots. She doesn't take no for an answer, but, as Trump quipped, her problem may also be taking yes from others.
"I am not someone in a subordinate role," she says of why she may not have aced "The Apprentice," and kissed a title away because she is also not the kiss-ass type.
Indeed, she got hammered, says the tough-as-nails beauty, because she had a rep as a renegade. Trump told her "that I can't be led, which is why he didn't want me working for the organization. Donald Trump, whom I considered my mentor, told me he can't manage me?"
She manages an air of exasperation at the very idea, trying to imagine Trump - a tower of a titan who gets his back up even thinking of backing down to others - not being able to control her. But that image, she notes - of the executive "who couldn't work with people worked against me."
Not that that was the only image she had working. Poles apart from her image as the beautifully tailored executive was her role as a … pole-dancer?
No - but as a Vegas stripper. Go-go-girl from the gulag? You go, girl! "I did that for research," she claims of time spent as a Vegas va-va-vroom girl who was investigating the business for her own possible investment. "I was approached by two women who said they wanted to open a strip joint in Las Vegas, that it was a cash-cow business and they wanted me as a partner. So, I decided the best thing for me was to go undercover and learn how the business works."
Let me entertain you KGB-style? No - no harm done here.
"Everything I've done," says the bombshell of a businesswoman, "I'm extremely hands-on."
And if others felt they couldn't keep their hands off her? Now that was a problem, but one to die for?
Trouble in Paradise
According to thesmokinggun.com, Wartenberg developed a relationship with a business client - Robert Acremant - whose incremental interest in her exploded when he reportedly planned what proved to be a deadly robbery to get his hands on more money to impress the woman he considered his Sin City sweetie.
For Wartenberg, his acquaintance was all business - no intimacy involved. But he made her his business and sits on death row now, convicted of the Oregon murders and a subsequent homicide, too.
The killing fields almost led to her own backyard when, says Wartenberg, in December 1995, Acremant accosted her, threatening her with a pistol and stun gun.
"He almost killed me," she says, happy that her testimony in court in 2002 - "It was hard to face him" - helped "put him on death row," where he remains now.
And Trump thought his sentences were life-defining.
But if Wartenberg - warts and all - has survived a scandal and a striptease of a résumé, she can still be "stunned" by a New Yorker with an accent and a hairdo that outdoes them all.
"I cannot recall one single time when anybody said that Alla was not a strong woman," she says. "I was his [Trump's] go-to person."
Don't get her going on not winning: "I thought I would be one of the final two."
Randall Pinkett and Rebecca Jarvis were, and Wartenberg correctly predicted that Pinkett would be the winner. Let's see … Pinkett was the first African-American crowned champ; Kendra Todd was the first woman. Time for a member of the tribe to go Trump?
"Next time, there will be a Jewish winner," says Wartenberg with a laugh.
But it won't be her; Wartenberg's too busy developing her own empire. "If you can't work for Trump," she reasons, "have him work for you."
Well, the experience of being one of his wannabes, anyway. To that end, Wartenberg is writing a book - "heartfelt stories about my life" - and is developing a clothing line and a jewelry line that "reflect Russian flair," all detailed on her savoire-faire filled Web site (www.allawartenberg.com).
Brand her a winner: "I'm going to brand the name Alla."
She also intends to make a name for herself as a philanthropist. "I've worked for Care for Kids, and have an interest in connecting to a Jewish charity," says the erstwhile émigré who felt isolated in the Siberian emotional outpost reserved for Jews in Moldavia. "I want to motivate people."
She's heard so many nyets throughout her life "that eventually, I knew there will be a 'yes' at the end of the road."
And her life may become that ultimate road movie: Hollywood savors the erstwhile Soviet as star material. "I've been approached about making a motion picture of my life."
A businesswoman in motion, she makes sure she has plenty of time for her four kids and husband, of course. And one of the children, Tristan, trusts Trump made a mistake in not choosing his mom.
Tristan is sold on that idea. "He's upset and wrote a four-page letter to Trump about why he was wrong."
An 8-year-old taking on the Donald?
What gumption, what guts, what chutzpah. What - the "Apprentice of the Future"?
"There you go!" points out his proud Jewish mother.