Workers: De Niro's Wife a Raging Bully

Two ex-maids and a former driver to Robert De Niro (search) say the actor's wife, Grace Hightower (search), and a supervisor she hired ran the actor's household like raging bullies, abusing the help and firing longtime workers on a whim.

In separate human-rights complaints filed last year, the former employees describe a house of chaos and cruelty.

The complaints were obtained by The Post as cops said last week that former maid to the stars Lucyna Turyk-Wawrynowicz (search), accused of stealing a $95,000 pair of diamond earrings from Hightower and other items from celebrity employers Candice Bergen (search) and Matt Lauer (search), told them she stole only from stars who mistreated her.

"She is mean," Turyk-Wawrynowicz seethed about Hightower in a police confession, cops said last week. "If Mr. De Niro knew how badly she treats her kids, he would leave her."

Turyk-Wawrynowicz's co-workers insist the former maid is accurate in her portrayal of the Hightower-De Niro household as being ruled by tyrants.

"When the facts come out, it'll be clear that this is an attempt at extortion," said De Niro lawyer Tom Harvey of the three human-rights complaints.

The supervisor, Frederick Serhariwan, berated them with racial slurs, the former employees claim.

As "house manager," he battered former maid Maria Echauri with "constant harassment and degrading statements," states Echauri, who is from Paraguay, in her complaint to the state Division on Human Rights Commission.

Serhariwan twice told her he was "superior to me because he is European and Jewish, not like me. He said that I'm from the jungles of South America," she charges in the document.

But when Echauri asked Hightower for a meeting to air these issues, "[Hightower] was too busy and the meeting did not take place," Echauri states.

Polish ex-maid Anna Buczek alleges that Serhariwan slammed her as a "lazy Pole" — and says she was fired because of her national origin and for "not being enthusiastic," according to her complaint.

Her complaint also states that Serhariwan had no particular love for Hightower, his Southern-born boss.

Buczek said requesting personal time off was not acceptable to Hightower, which she learned when another worker asked for three days off to attend her father's funeral.

The worker was then fired because Hightower said "she needed someone '24-7,' as she put it — someone reliable."

Ex-driver Moses Siriboe, 59 — who was in De Niro's employ for three years — claims he was fired because of his age, adding that Serhariwan "sought to eliminate staff."

"I was replaced by a person who is in his 40s," he states.

Lawyers for the couple submitted rebuttal statements to the state Division on Human Rights, claiming that Buczek clashed with Hightower and asked for her job back after announcing that she was going to leave; that Siriboe didn't keep his car clean and once failed to assist their son into the vehicle, allowing the risk of injury; and that Echauri was slow and not punctual.

The staffers' complaints were dismissed in January.

A source familiar with the family said Hightower is seen by some as not very nice but added that complaints about her are exaggerated.

"Is she a pain in the a--? Hell, yes. Is she as mean as some people are saying? Hell, no. She carries herself as a tough broad, as a proud black woman."

The trouble began in 2003 when De Niro, 61, reconciled with Hightower, a former flight attendant he wed in 1997, after a four-year split and subsequent court battle that never ended in divorce.

During the couple's courtroom brawling, De Niro alleged that Hightower once broke his ribs in a jealous rage on a yacht after she assumed he'd hooked up with another woman on board.

At the time of their reunion, Hightower and the couple's 7-year-old son, Elliott, began spending more time with the "Raging Bull" star at his new digs on Central Park West, a double-apartment rental where the actor moved from his downtown Manhattan duplex after Sept. 11.

Just a few months after Hightower moved into the apartment in the fall of 2003, at least six staffers quit or were fired, ex-employees said.

Adding to their misery was the arrival of Serhariwan, who quickly assumed the job of managing the staff, they said.

De Niro family attorney Harvey strongly denied that anyone had been mistreated by De Niro or Hightower, noting that Siriboe got a "generous" severance package.

Harvey said Serhariwan was never in charge of any other workers.

"He was hired to do a job just like everyone else."

Serhariwan denied making any racial slurs but would not discuss the matter further.

Echauri's complaint was tossed because the agency said it had no jurisdiction over "domestic servants."

It said Siriboe could not have been the victim of age discrimination because he was brought on at age 57 — and because employers are assumed not to discriminate when they hire and fire workers in a "relatively short period of time."

With Buczek, the agency pointed to her decision to leave followed by her return.

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