The meticulous arrangements had all been made for Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez to tour their potential dream house in the Bel-Air section of southern California.
After separately slipping into Sanchez’s flatbed truck at the Burbank airport, the gates to the glittering, $88-million home with rooftop garden were to swing open at the exact moment they pulled up, to eliminate any chance that the Amazon founder and his girlfriend might be spotted by paparazzi. That plan was marred by a three-minute delay at the gate, and Lauren’s brother Michael, who Bezos had tapped to run the housing search, had to get out and arrange for it to be opened.
The mission had almost been aborted by the realization that one member of the real estate team had failed to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which was texted by an executive while they were in the car (“don’t want any drama or distractions,” she said). Once inside, an agent breached a detailed agreement not to speak to the mystery house-hunters by trying to shake hands with them before he was whisked away.
Bezos and Lauren Sanchez spent nearly an hour touring the three levels, nine bedrooms, 15 baths, home theater, art studio, wine cellar and spectacular patio with sweeping views of the Los Angeles basin and distant skyline. They enjoyed a romantic moment as they lingered at the circular sauna.
It was Dec. 22, and the world did not yet know of the romance between Bezos and Sanchez, a television personality, that would explode into public view with a National Enquirer expose in early January.
But the secret search underscored that this was no casual fling. The world’s richest man and his girlfriend had told their spouses that they wanted to leave their marriages, and they were starting to plan a life together. Only those closest to the couple knew how serious they were about the future.
Much of the coverage of Bezos and Sanchez has focused on the lurid aspects, including the steamy texts and naked pictures obtained by the supermarket tabloid. There has also been a sharp focus on the impact on Amazon, since Bezos’ wife MacKenzie will likely receive a substantial part of his fortune, and possibly on his other brand-name property, the Washington Post.
All but lost in the blur—including Bezos’ charge that the Enquirer was engaged in blackmail, vehemently denied by its parent company American Media Inc.—are the risks the couple took to be together.
They were tempted by the home at 822 Sarbonne Road, which Lauren Sanchez had spotted in Forbes magazine. They considered buying the $10-million property next door, from the same developer, for a guest house and greater security. But the couple ultimately passed on the purchase, concluding that the house was too big, and besides, Bezos didn’t like the raised swimming pool.
The search continued through early January, with Michael Sanchez inspecting properties and checking on when Bezos would be in town and might join his sister in taking a clandestine look.
That search included a newly built mansion in the same neighborhood at 924 Bel-Air Road, with 12 bedrooms, 21 bathrooms, three kitchens, six bars and a fake helicopter on the lawn. Its price tag--$250 million, including $30 million in luxury cars—made it the most expensive home in America. The tour opened with servants carrying food and Champagne, but the couple passed on it after Michael Sanchez briefed them.
As a practical matter, the Seattle-based CEO needed a place to live with Sanchez, who works in L.A., because Mackenzie Bezos is expected to receive the home they own in Beverly Hills. But privacy concerns were even more paramount.
Gavin de Becker, the billionaire’s longtime security consultant, had told Bezos that he couldn’t date, that they couldn’t find a hotel or restaurant that would be secret enough. Lauren Sanchez was concerned about that warning. A private, high-security home would solve the problem.
De Becker declined to comment, but has privately maintained that he never had any such discussion with Bezos, that such advice would be ridiculous and his clients dine out all the time.
In any event the couple was occasionally spotted in public places while their relationship wasn’t publicly known, including at the launch of Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace company, for which Lauren’s production firm did some work.
A press representatives Lauren Sanchez declined to comment. An Amazon spokesman also had no comment.
Michael Sanchez, a Hollywood talent handler who has been Lauren’s manager on and off for years, has been publicly feuding with de Becker.
On Feb. 14, Sanchez wrote to Bezos: “I've tried desperately to get you and Lauren to wake up…Gavin has brilliantly set you and I up, with the clear goal of destroying your love for my sister...I know the truth about your love for Lauren and her love for you…
“Ask yourself one question: Why in the hell would I do anything to hurt you and Lauren, two people I love and I know are completely in love? Money? Politics? Power? No way. Period.”
That email, portions of which were first reported by the New York Times, highlights the degree to which the controversy has put Michael Sanchez on the defensive, and how his relationship with both Bezos and his sister has been strained.
De Becker has told Michael Sanchez that his theory is absurd and he has no interest in keeping the couple apart.
Unnamed sources have alleged to some news outlets that Michael Sanchez was the person who provided evidence of the affair to the Enquirer, with Vanity Fair quoting one anonymous source as saying he was paid $250,000 for the material.
Sanchez has said he never provided to the Enquirer, and never had access to, what the tabloid described as “below-the-belt selfies” of Bezos. He has declined to go beyond that denial.
“I didn’t dignify any of the false allegations, and I’m not going to start dignifying anonymous sources and false leaks today,” Michael Sanchez told me. “I’m not going to comment on baseless lies and half-truths. Everything I did since April 20, 2018, the day I met Jeff, has been to protect Jeff and Lauren. Once I heard rumors that outlets were onto the case, I did everything in my power to delay the inevitable scandal.”
In a Feb. 26 “cease and desist” letter to Bezos in the wake of an unflattering Washington Post profile, Sanchez wrote: “I’ve never sold a client’s story to a tabloid.”
Despite the intense media scrutiny, Bezos and Lauren Sanchez remain a couple. After a 30-day separation meant to let things cool off, they have spent time together on more than one occasion. But for now, the search for a future home is on hold.