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Real Estate Agent Charged With Assault In Chelsea Airbnb Melee

511 West 20th Street, the Chelsea building where an Airbnb party went south in May.
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511 West 20th Street, the Chelsea building where an Airbnb party went south in May. Nathan Tempey/Gothamist

A prominent real estate agent and restaurateur is facing a felony assault charge following a fracas at a Chelsea Airbnb that a lawyer for her alleged victim says was racially motivated.

Fashion designer Armani Murrell, 22, traveled to the apartment next to the High Line for the 21st birthday of his girlfriend, Helena Amare, on the evening of May 17th. Murrell and his lawyer, Ron Kuby, say that realtor McKeznie Foster and her boyfriend kicked out the partygoers, many of whom were African American, around 10 p.m. that night.

"They did not provide any explanations," Kuby said. "It was, 'Get out of here! Get the fuck out of here! You don't belong here, f-ing n-word!'"

That last line Kuby attributed to Foster's boyfriend, Marco Lanuto. Lanuto was not charged, but Kuby says also attacked Murrell and Amare. "He was the instigator of all of this, although Foster's conduct was far more egregious," Kuby said.

Foster, 25, allegedly bashed Murrell in the head with a glass bottle. According to Kuby, Murrell was trying to go up the stairs to retrieve his backpack from the apartment when Foster struck. Murrell told the Daily News the injury took 25 stitches to treat. Foster, also owner of the East Village restaurant FryGuys, is being charged with assault with a weapon with intent to injure, a felony. Murrell and Amare, a student at Pace University, are charged with misdemeanor assault and harassment, for allegedly punching Foster in the face. All three were released without bail.

Kuby maintains that his clients will be acquitted based on surveillance and cellphone videos showing that they were not the aggressors.

"I don't know what [Murrell] did after a bottle was broken over his head to prevent himself from being harmed again," he said, "but at no point prior to the bottle being broken over his head did my client put his hands on anyone."

Zachary Baumgarten, owner of the building on West 20th Street, confirmed that Foster is a tenant, but declined to comment further. The News reports that the Airbnb apartment rented for $975 a night.

The partygoers are pushing the District Attorney's Office to bring hate crime charges.

"You cannot get away with racially motivated violence in New York City, no matter what the hell is happening in the rest of the country," Kuby said. "And resolving disputes by breaking a bottle over somebody's head is not okay, no matter how wealthy and well-connected you may be."

Kuby said that the party was broken up because "there was a large number of black people in an apartment in Chelsea. Which in Chelsea means more than one black person."

Foster started working as a real estate agent in high school, according to reports. A corporate bio describes her as a Gramercy Park resident who is "[c]onsistently praised by her loyal client base for her exceptional customer service." Her profile on the site of the brokerage Compass—now taken down—listed her as the agent for multimillion dollar transactions in Midtown and on the Upper East and Upper West sides.

Foster did not respond to a call and an email seeking comment. Her lawyer's voicemail box was full. Lanuto did not immediately respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.

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