Flipping Manhattan town houses for huge sums, Bullock vaulted up the social ladder, becoming a trustee for the Guggenheim Museum and chilling with the likes of Dennis Hopper and Lydia Hearst in the city and the Hamptons.
SECRET REVEALED: Janna Bullock (above) has established herself as a trustee for the Guggenheim and a savvy real-estate investor who bought "Dr. Boom's" exploded Upper East Side lot , but her hubby, Moscow official Alexey Kuznetsov, is in hiding amid a criminal probe.
Her firm, RIGroup, built a fortune in property in Russia, France, England and the United States. She lives in a luxury apartment on East 87th Street off Park Avenue, supported by her keen eye for grabbing and refurbishing such distressed assets as the charred lot on East 62nd Street where Nicholas "Dr. Boom" Bartha blew himself up.
But Bullock's wealth and reputation are now threatened by a criminal probe in Moscow of her politician husband, who is virtually unknown in New York. He has become a target of an investigation into a $1 billion fraud, according to the Russian press.
Officials have seized her Russian properties -- a portfolio of condos, shops, offices and hotels in the Moscow area that constitutes the bulk of her worldwide assets and is worth more than $700 million.
There's no indication that Bullock's US holdings are in jeopardy, but her husband, Alexey Kuznetsov, a recently deposed state finance minister, fled Russia to Europe amid fears for his life, say sources who know him.
Just days after Kuznetsov's departure in August, a gunman shot and killed his former subordinate in Moscow in broad daylight.
"They play rough over there," said Bullock's publicist and constant travel companion, Couri Hay.
Bullock's New York acquaintances knew little or nothing about the probe and threats and, in fact, were only vaguely aware of Kuznetsov, 45, who speaks broken English and sees his wife and their 13-year-old daughter just four times a year.
"She never mentioned his last name. She didn't want people to know who he was," said a Russian New Yorker who has known Bullock for many years.
But Kuznetsov, a figure in an infamous bank collapse in 1999, played a key role in Bullock's success, providing political cover as she amassed a sprawling empire
THE investigation has cast a spotlight on Bullock and her climb up New York's social ladder.
Her last name was Boulakh when she came to New York from the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s, having dumped her first husband, an army officer, and leaving behind a young daughter, Zoe, with her mother.
Possessing only meager savings and a philosophy degree from St. Petersburg State University, Bullock settled in an expat enclave of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and worked various jobs: baby sitter, deli clerk, teacher.
She eventually started her own travel agency and brought her mom and baby to the Big Apple.
In 1992, Bullock was hired as a translator for Emanuel Zeltser, a Russian criminal-defense lawyer with a specialty in money laundering and organized crime. He was doing legal work for Moscow's Inkom Bank, one of the largest in the country.
Kuznetsov, a dashing young economist, had risen to become Inkom's first deputy chairman and flew to New York to meet with the attorney. Zeltser sent Bullock to greet him at JFK.
The executive and his translator -- both attractive and married -- hit it off immediately.
"She went to get him at the airport, and let's just say they became friendly right away," said a source who knows Bullock.
He was hitched to a Bulgarian woman and Bullock to an American, her second husband, but they dumped their spouses, got married and had a child, Eugenia.
Their relationship evolved into a business partnership, according to sources who know the couple.
And she made the most of it.
Starting in about 2000, her firm began acquiring huge tracts of land in Moscow Oblast, the government division surrounding the Russian capital, and built everything from supermarkets to residential complexes. She opened fronts across Europe and entered the New York real-estate market.
In between, she earned an MBA from Duke University in North Carolina in 2003, leading some to wonder whether Kuznetsov or others were more involved in the business operation than it appeared.
"Forget North Carolina," said a businessman who knows the couple. "How did she manage to be in New York and Russia at the same time?"
In Manhattan, she used her instincts to craft a business catering to the ultrawealthy.
Her first big score was 54 E. 64th St., a run-down town house, for which she paid $9.5 million in 2004. She spent about $2 million renovating it, then sold it for $18.74 million a year later. She bought the "Dr. Boom" lot for $8.3 million and an apartment in the Plaza Hotel for $9 million
As she added to her property listings, she courted New York society, attending the right parties and giving to the right charities, including the Hermitage, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the Guggenheim, which voted her a trustee in 2008.
"She's a climber," the businessman said.
It helped that she hired Hay, a society columnist who has become her friend and confidante and covers Bullock's exploits for the New York Social Diary.
Bullock's compiled a world-class collection of modern art, featuring works by Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Peter Beard, and organized exhibits in Moscow, Venice and Miami Beach.
Her taste is eclectic. She once reportedly furnished a sitting room with table lamps made from human hair and dubbed them Rita and Elisa.
Bullock continues to hawk her mansions, hoping to get as much as $50 million for a Norman Jaffe beachfront home in Southampton that she calls Midsummer Dream, Hay said.
She's also attempting to unload 14 E. 82nd St., a Beaux Arts manse and fixer-upper, for $20 million -- she paid $12 million in 2005 -- a year after jettisoning her most valuable property, 9 E. 67th St., for $25 million.
BUT things started to unravel about a year ago when a quasi-govern ment firm in Russia, the Moscow Region Investment Trust Corp., came under fire.
Kuznetsov had no position with the company, which the Moscow Oblast government set up in 1999 to spur development, but it was overseen by officials, much like the relationship here between Fannie Mae and the feds. And as the region's finance minister, beginning in 2000, Kuznetsov was considered one of the top men in government.
The trust company and RIGroup were co-investors in several projects, Bullock said in a statement, adding that those projects were "highly touted at the time by President [Vladimir] Putin."
Yet the company went bankrupt, and $1 billion vanished, according to the Russian press.
One Moscow paper said Kuznetsov was indicted last month, a claim Bullock denies. The press also reported the arrest of two top officers of the failed trust company.
"Did the money really disappear?" the businessman asked. "The fact that nobody can find it could mean it's too hot to investigate."
Investigators are also looking into charges that some of RIGroup's land may have been illegally acquired, according to the Russian press. Bullock denies that.
In an interview six weeks ago, Kuznetsov called the allegations against him "fairy tales."
He said he was the victim of unnamed "corporate raiders" who had stolen RIGroup's property, and he complained that he was under attack in the media, saying more than 50 publications had called him a spy and a US citizen, which would be a federal crime.
"They accused me of stealing land worth $6.5 billion. All the land in Moscow Oblast isn't worth that much," he told an online news site.
"To me, it is obvious that this is not about me, that a certain group of people have decided to take over property of RIGroup, which belongs to my wife. I have no means, no support, to fight even the smallest accusation aimed at me."
Said the businessman; "He thinks if he goes back he might be eliminated.
"Their lawyers are telling them to keep a low profile. She knows there's a chance he'll be indicted and might have to make a deal with US law enforcement. The real threat is that the government -- or someone -- will follow the money.
"It's a house of cards."