David Siegel is the man who, together with his wife, Jackie, built the largest new house in America, known as "Versailles." His story first appeared in my book, "The High-Beta Rich." It then made it to the big screen with documentary film "The Queen of Versailles." They became symbols of outsized spending, debt and real estate in America.
But when the company started buckling under $1 billion in debt during the crisis, the Siegels' home went into foreclosure and was put up for sale. They cut back on the jet, took the kids out of private school and gave up some of their staff.
So why is David Siegel - a man who defined excess and debt in the 2000s - now saying that debt and spending are ruining the country?
I asked David during a phone interview last night, and he told me that this was about his workers, not himself. He said his own finances have vastly improved
. He has paid off all of his major lenders. "I have enough money for the rest of my life and enough to leave a good inheritance for our kids." He said the loan for Versailles is paid off and he's resuming construction on the home.
"The elevators are going in and they're preparing to put in the marble."
The deal with Versailles' lenders, he went on, worked out "better than I imagined,"
since he was allowed to go nine months without making any interest payments on the loan. Jackie has several offers for a new reality TV show "which we're in the process of ranking and evaluating," Siegel said.
He has learned his own painful lesson from the debt crunch. "We cut back, we're lean and mean. That's what the rest of the country has to do."
Siegel said he's not acting out of self interest, but for the interest of his workers. While Westgate has never been more profitable
, the company has 5,000 fewer workers than in 2007.