Hasidic leaders praise Menachem Stark, but business dealings come under scrutiny

Pols Slam Post's Headline in Wake of Murder

January 6, 2014 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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As a coalition of Brooklyn officials condemned sensational tabloid coverage of Hasidic millionaire Menachem “Max” Stark’s murder, his family members and fellow Williamsburg Hasidim increased the reward for any information on his death to $25,000.

In interviews with the Eagle, Stark’s brother-in-law and a Williamsburg religious leader both praised Stark as a philanthropist. At the same time, however, local media increasingly shone the spotlight on his controversial career as a property owner.

Stark, as the Eagle reported, was reported missing after two people in a minivan grabbed him outside his Rutledge Street office and wrestled him inside – an event caught on video. Police say he may have been carrying a large amount of cash. His partially burned body was found in a Long Island dumpster on Friday evening. The NYPD and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office are taking the lead in investigating the case.

On Sunday, Borough President Eric Adams joined other elected officials and leaders of the Williamsburg Hasidic community to protest the New York Post’s recent cover story, which featured a picture of Stark and the headline, “Who didn’t want him dead?”

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“We stand as one Brooklyn in condemnation of the New York Post’s coverage of the murder of Menachem Stark,” said Adams. “Above all else, this was a husband, a father and a member of a community that sits in mourning over his tragic passing.”
Other elected officials at the press conference included Public Advocate Letitia James, Assembly Member Joe Lentol, and Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Chaim Deutsch, David Greenfield, Steve Levin and Mark Treyger, as well as Rockland County Legislature Majority Leader Aaron Weider.

“I am disgusted that the New York Post condoned the murder of a businessman, husband and father of eight,” said Greenfield. “This clearly crosses the bounds of decency and demands an immediate apology from the newspaper to the grieving family and the entire community.”

Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, who was at the press conference, later told the Eagle of Stark’s charitable works:

“He was a wonderful, wonderful human being,” said Niederman, who knew both Stark and his father. “When someone was about to be evicted, or needed tuition for special education, he was the `go-to’ guy. He was willing to help in a physical way.” 

He dismissed the idea that Stark’s death could have been related to the long-standing feud between two factions of the Satmar Hasidic community, saying Stark was friendly with members of both sides.

Zalman Kaufman, Stark’s brother-in-law, in conversation with the Eagle, likewise praised Stark’s charitable works and and his help for members of the community, calling him a “good negotiator.” He dismissed published reports about complaints from tenants of buildings that Stark’s company, Southside Associates, managed and/or owned.

“People buy buildings, people sell buildings,” he said. “Any large landlord with that number of buildings will have some violations. Did you see the number of violations that NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] buildings have?”

On the other hand, many people, including other members of the Hasidic and Orthodox communities, while deploring Stark’s death, were critical of his business dealings.

Marty Needelman, chief counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services A in Williamsburg and an Orthodox Jew, which does a lot of tenant advocacy work, said he hadn’t come up against Stark’s Southside organization in court. However, he said he was aware of several buildings that the firm had owned. 

One of these was the Greenpoint Hotel, which the federal government seized in 2005.  “He had a bad reputation in the community, including the Hasidic community,” said Needelman. Needelman had also heard that at times, when buildings Stark had owned were foreclosed, Stark’s relatives showed up to bid on the same buildings at auction.

A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article published on Dec. 13, 2005, reported, “The federal government yesterday filed a civil forfeiture complaint in U.S. Eastern District Court against the Greenpoint Hotel at 1100 Manhattan Avenue, after an investigation revealed extensive drug trafficking there. … During the course of their investigation, DEA agents determined that at least 20 individuals had died in the hotel of probable drug overdoses.”

The Eagle article identifies the owners of the hotel as “Max Stark and Sam Pearl.”

The respected real estate blog Brownstoner wrote of Stark:

“We had a memorably strange encounter with his organization in the fall of 2012, when a representative of a leasing agent described grandiose plans for some of his properties but gave us the wrong locations and addresses for the sites multiple times. In retrospect, perhaps they were trying to drum up investor interest but had little hope of following through on development. One of the properties, a stalled construction site at 364 Bedford Avenue, was in default and another seemed to require extensive renovations.”

Brownstoner added that Stark owned the Sweater Factory at 239 Banker St. A look on the city Department of Buildings’ website for that address shows a stop-work order, 27 open Department of Buildings violations and 44 open Environmental Control Board (noise) violations.

Another building linked with Stark’s company, 315 Seigel St., is listed as having 17 Department of Buildings violations and five Environmental Control Board violations. All of these complaints, however, were dismissed or resolved.

Reviews of his company, Southside Development, on the consumer comment site Yelp were almost all negative – until his death, when several conciliatory reviews were posted. One review, posted just last month by “Jenny V,” read, “Do not give these people your money. 100 S 4th St is a nightmare. Our water heater broke and they shut off our water for 2 entire days. They randomly shut off the electricity to “do work” without notice. They need to hire more than one super to manage all of their buildings.” 

An article in the New York Post reported that Stark’s business partner, Israel “Sam” Perlmutter, “fears for his life” and is “loaded up with security guards.”

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