RZA was tough to find – especially if you wanted to serve him with documents related to child support. But back in the mid-2000s, the Staten Island rapper was finally pinned down at a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Union Square.
As fans lined up for autographed copies, Byran McElderry, casually but neatly dressed, mixed in with the crowd. He even had a book ready for RZA’s signature. “I was told to get him to sign the book and then to serve him,” McElderry, 60, one of NYC’s more dogged process servers, told The Post. “There was a big crowd around him. I handed him the book, he signed it, gave it back to me and I gave him the papers. RZA laughed it off but he was shocked.”
When Jason Sudeikis served Olivia Wilde with custody papers late last month while she was on stage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, it brought to light the murky world of process servers, who find sneaky ways to put legal papers in the hands of rich, famous, highly protected people. Wilde, according to Page Six, “was confused when she was handed the envelope, and she was even more confused when she opened it,” a source told Page Six. A source close to her ex-husband Sudeikis, with whom she shares two children, later said that he did not know “the time or place that the envelope would be delivered.”
Except for what insiders call the “spite serve” — when a client requests that it be done publicly in order to embarrass the target — the idea is to do it as deftly and discreetly as possible. “In the case of Olivia and Jason, that should have been a last ditch effort,” said Kristin Falkner Webb, 33, a second-generation process server in Las Vegas, whose father owns the city’s Clark County Process Service. “We prefer to do it the easy way. But in the case of Olivia and Jason, they know each other. Their lawyers could have made it very simple. But maybe she made it hard to get these papers to her.”
According to Webb, “You cannot serve somebody through a lawyer unless [the client gives] the lawyer…permission to accept. Some documents — such as subpoenas to testify in court and paternity suits and protection orders — must be personally served.”
One recent “spite serve” happened at the 2016 funeral of Norman Peck, the one-time owner of the famed Carlyle Hotel. Peck’s second wife, Liliane, wanted his son, Ian, to pay back some of his father’s money, and he was served with papers right at the service. According to a subsequent complaint from Ian, “the process server thrust the probate papers at [him] as he left the podium after he delivered a eulogy.” (Peck and his lawyer declined to comment.)
Sometimes, though, publicly serving documents is the only way to do it. Webb said she was once sent to Drai’s nightclub inside Cromwell Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in 2019 to serve papers to the DJ French Montana over a copyright lawsuit after all other avenues had been exhausted.
Getting into the club proved easy enough; she paid a $120 admission charge. But getting through security — where purses are checked and patrons patted down — presented a bit of a challenge. “I didn’t think they would let me in with a bunch of papers,” she said. “So I had them partly down the back of my pants, underneath my shirt.”
Passing muster at the door, she walked into the club. Webb knew that Montana was the star of the night, so he would be at one of two tables near the DJ.
She made her way there, saw her quarry and noticed security guards around French Montana. “I called out to him, using his government name (Karim Kharbouch) and everyone looked up; they were startled,” she said. “I got to within five feet of him and handed papers to someone on the security team. My then-husband filmed it and there was no way French Montana can say that he did not get served.
“Then I ran out of there. I did not want security to 86 me [which would include her being read the trespass act, forbidding future entry to the casino]. I could not be 86ed. I do a lot of serving in casinos.”
There was one thing that Webb did not do — and never does: “I did not shout out, ‘You’ve been served!’ We never say that. It’s something from the movies.”
While celebrities rarely take well to being served in public — Webb recalls the time a colleague served Disney-star-turned-porn-actress Maitland Ward during a meet-and-greet at the AVN Awards: “Fans were paying to take selfies with her; our guy did the selfie and then he served her; she got pissed off and cussed him out” – some of the most treacherous scenarios often happen with less-well-known people.
McElderry’s least favorite place to serve is any housing project in NYC. He recalls a time in the ’80s when “I served a woman [in a project] and she yelled to her people in the street, ‘This MFer served me,’” said McElderry, who got into serving when he needed a part-time job as a college student. “I don’t know if they wanted to beat me or rob me. But I took the steps downstairs while they came up on the elevator. That’s how I got away.”
Then there was the guy served with an order from Brooklyn family court in the ’90s: “I ran to my car and he shot over my head. He didn’t want to hit me – or else he would have.”
Sometimes it’s all about applying the right amount of pressure to bring an elusive servee out of the cold. Such was the case with OJ Simpson. He was eluding servers by not quite having a home in his own name, Webb said. But he made the mistake of telling a golf pro friend of hers that he was living near the second fairway of a particular golf course in Vegas.
Webb used a connection in the security booth of the gated community, went in and tracked down his house. “Just like the pro said, it was on the second fairway,” she remembered, explaining that they were serving him with papers related to the wrongful death of Ron Goldman. “We had called his kids, we knocked on OJ’s door. Nobody answered. But a white man in a black escalade pulled up and asked what we were doing. We said we were looking for OJ. The next morning his lawyer called and asked what was up. We said we were serving him. He told us to send the papers. Our pressure was enough.”
Still, there are some people servers can never pin down.
For Webb, it’s boxer Floyd Mayweather. “I’ve left notices at his house; I’ve called his lawyer and left notices at Floyd’s gym,” she said about a 2022 suit related to cryptocurrency fraud. “At the gym, you come up against big guys, tell them you have papers for Floyd and hand them the notice; they usually throw it away. Floyd never puts on social media where he is. He’s hard to serve and he likes to play games.”
When it comes to getting socked with a court document, Webb added, “Floyd ducks. Like he does in the ring.”