By Barbara Kleban Mills
May 04, 1981 12:00 PM

When he picked her up for their first date last February, the governor of New York was dazzled by “a vision in a beautiful white gown trimmed with silver beading stepping out of the elevator.” Less than five weeks later he proposed and she accepted. Last month, as the Hon. Hugh Carey bounded from his limousine outside Manhattan’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral to his waiting bride, he could be heard brightly humming to himself Get Me to the Church on Time.

At that point he seemed indeed to have a great deal to sing about. His new wife, after all, was the elegant, super-rich real estate tycoon Evangeline Gouletas—and quite apart from all that her dowry could do for his 1982 reelection campaign or his long-plotted race for the White House, he seemed to be deeply, even madly in love with her. Cynics called the couple “Cash and Carey,” but as one of Carey’s friends rhapsodized last week, “I’ve never seen a man so gone on a woman.”

But the honeymoon had barely begun when Carey, 62, found himself hounded by a Greek chorus of Those Little White Lies. Evangeline, 44, who had reported two ex-husbands on their marriage license, turned out to have had three—and husband No. 1, who she had said was dead, was found to be very much alive and opening a Greek restaurant in Van Nuys, Calif. “We all make mistakes,” shrugs the resurrected good sport, Frank Kallas, whose three-year marriage to Evangeline in the 1950s produced her only daughter, Maria. To Evangeline’s claim that theirs was an “arranged marriage” (which made it annullable), Kallas says: “We met at a dance in Chicago.”

The reaction from Carey and his bride has been understandably terse. “Those are 25-year-old questions,” she snapped at one reporter. Three days after the wedding, Carey issued a statement: “I am certain in my mind that I now possess all the relevant facts about the life and marriages of Evangeline Gouletas-Carey. These matters in no way change or will change my love and devotion for my wife.”

Yet there was no doubt that the prospective angel of his political future had suddenly become its greatest be-devilment. Oddsmakers all over the country were asking themselves how a Brooklyn lawyer and former seven-term congressman could have got himself in such a bind. During their whirlwind courtship he had seemed as smitten as an adolescent, missing official functions to be with her, dyeing his gray hair red-brown, meeting her at dawn in Central Park to jog and taking time off from affairs of state to view sketches of her wedding wardrobe. (She paid the bill for the dresses—some $25,000—and for the wedding, including a reception for 700 at the pricey St. Regis-Sheraton Hotel, where Carey’s oldest son, Christopher, 33, is the banquet manager.) Many state capital reporters commented on his atypical behavior, and one upstate paper editorialized bluntly: “The governor has gone round the bend.”

The explanation most widely accepted was that Carey was on the rebound; just three weeks before he and “Engie” met at the Reagan inaugural gala last January, his love of five and a half years, Henry Ford II’s daughter Anne Ford Uzielli, had called it quits. “He very much wanted to get married,” discloses Anne, admitting it was she who didn’t. As for Gouletas, Anne says only: “I can’t imagine marrying somebody and not knowing everything about that person. I hope he knew—for his sake.”

Gouletas’ reasoning in the affair was no clearer than Carey’s. “I truly believe she developed a mental block about the first husband,” says one longtime family intimate. And why had she concealed the existence of her second marriage, to engineer George Kaltezas in 1958? “It was a curious error of judgment,” he figures. “I can’t understand why she didn’t realize the truth would come out.” Some speculate that she was trying to avoid embarrassment over her failure at matrimony—and the inevitable comparisons to Carey’s first wife. (The deeply religious Helen Owen bore him 13 children before she died of cancer seven years ago.) Others see Engie’s motives less charitably. “The words I’ve heard used to describe her are ‘barracuda’ and ‘status digger,’ ” says one observer in the state capital. “Evangeline very much wants power.”

Her messy domestic past is, to be sure, the only apparent flaw in an otherwise heroic Horatio Alger story. The eldest of four children, she and her family fled war-torn Greece in 1946. Resettling in Chicago, her father worked three jobs to save enough to buy a home, and Engie says she was weaned on a “push-the-cart, pull-the-cart work ethic.” When she was 17, her dad bought a six-unit apartment house on Chicago’s North Side. With $700 saved from after-school jobs, she made a down payment on one of the six apartments, subdivided it, rented it and paid off the mortgage in one year. After graduation from Northeastern Illinois State College, she taught seventh-grade math, worked briefly for a missile-building concern, then went back for a master’s degree in education from Illinois State University. She was administering federally funded programs for the Chicago school board when she and her brothers, Nicholas, 43, and Victor, 40, started their real estate investment company in 1969. Today it is a billion-dollar-a-year business.

Success has not been painless. Their company, American Invsco—a leader in the conversion of apartment buildings to condominiums, with holdings in 16 states—is under investigation by a House commerce subcommittee for alleged hard-sell tactics, low-quality renovation and mistreatment of tenants unwilling or unable to buy their apartments. The subcommittee also checked into reports that Invsco gave a Cook County tax assessor an insider’s deal on an apartment in exchange for lowering the tax rate on Invsco property. Engie’s brother Nick testified that the assessor received a discount by mistake, and denied receiving any tax benefits in return.

Whatever the problems, Invsco has given Engie a life of luxury: She drives a white Mercedes, keeps a riding horse and shuttles among homes in Greece, Chicago and on Park Avenue. Her Chicago condo features silk upholstery, marble bathrooms and huge cedar closets for her massive, all-designer wardrobe. Disciplined to a fault, she jogs, skis and sees an exercise instructor regularly. “She came from a poor family and she always admired rich people,” says friend Alexis Giannolias. “She had a desire to get rich, and she did.”

Those who might view the Carey-Gouletas wedding as no more than another shrewd commercial venture on her part could point to Tamco, Invsco’s new acquisitions division, which may gain new credibility on Wall Street with Governor Carey in the family. Evangeline, in turn, can make generous contributions to her husband’s campaign war chest, but since the post-wedding revelations, his political career seems to need more than money. The Careys have amended the marriage license to reflect one extra husband, and New York DA Robert Morgenthau has determined that Evangeline will not be prosecuted for lying on the original application. But the governor’s standing among Roman Catholic voters cannot be helped by his marriage to a woman thrice divorced; the church has not sanctified the marriage, he is technically forbidden to take communion, and two weeks ago the Diocese of Brooklyn even refused him permission to be godfather to a state legislator’s child.

Meanwhile Evangeline has withdrawn from the family business to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. “I’m starting my new career,” she told PEOPLE before the wedding. Housewifery was clearly not what she had in mind, but rather a state that would be the ninth largest nation in the world. “This is greater than a business career,” she said. “This is a career where you can influence 17 million people.”