United states

The developer with deep pockets who helped overthrow the vice governor

For Harlem real estate developer Gerald Migdol, the annual Westchester County charity golf trip was a demonstration to show his generosity. Politicians, business partners and underage celebrities toured private relationships, helping his small foundation pay for Thanksgiving backpacks and turkeys distributed to needy families.

However, the highlight of the September 2019 event was off-course, when Mr. Migdol received a large cardboard check for $ 50,000 in government grants for his charity Friends of Public School Harlem. The check exceeded all previous foreign contributions and was handed by hand by a Harlem senator, Brian A. Benjamin.

“It makes the kids happy,” Mr Migdol wrote on Facebook shortly after the tournament, posting a photo capturing the moment. “What else do you want?”

This week, the investigation reappeared – not as evidence of the public service praised by the two men, but as a fulcrum of a corrupt quid pro quo scheme that led to accusations against the two men and forced Mr Benjamin to resign as vice-governor in Tuesday, after less than eight months in office.

In a five-count federal indictment against Mr Benjamin, prosecutors portrayed him as the organizer of a secret scheme to direct taxpayers’ money to Mr Migdol in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent campaign contributions – and then cover-ups.

It also became clear that Mr Migdol began cooperating with investigators shortly after his arrest in November, providing information that allowed them to bring charges against the deputy commander in New York and to violate public policy.

In his public life, Mr. Migdol, 72, has portrayed himself as an investor and lawyer who made an unexpected profit in the heated real estate market in Manhattan and then turned his attention to returning the community through charity to children and democratic politics.

But a review of court documents, city contracts, nonprofits and other records from The New York Times, as well as interviews with more than two dozen current and former contributors, point to a history of blurring the boundaries between politics, charity and business to promote of Mr Migdol’s interests.

Mr Migdol appears to have long used gifts and other gifts to help develop his business interests – he once accused the City Council of trying to win the favor of tenants of a building he wanted to buy in the Bronx.

In another case, pointed out by prosecutors, Mr. Migdol contributed $ 15,000 to the Democracy Committee’s State Senate campaign in 2020 after Mr Benjamin told the entrepreneur he would help make a difference in return. in the zoning of one of his properties in Haarlem.

Mr Migdol also relies on his charitable work and political connections sometimes to help protect himself from legal threats. His website contains dozens of photos of him along with politicians, including Andrew M. Cuomo and Bill Clinton, along with a prominent quote from Hillary Clinton praising Migdol for her “leadership role in addressing the health, education and well-being of Haarlem citizens through its business and non-profit. “

At the same time, while helping poor families, Mr. Migdol made significant income from homeless service programs in New York. He did business with two major operators who were facing federal criminal investigations – one of whom pleaded guilty – while raising tens of millions of dollars in city funding through his family’s companies, city records show.

Mr Migdol rejected a request for an interview through his lawyer, Joel Cohen, who also declined to comment. Mr Benjamin’s lawyers declined to comment.

From a brown stone buyer to a low-income landlord

In the city of real estate titans, Gerald Migdol was neither particularly famous nor so unusual.

The son of a Polish immigrant, Mr. Migdol said he learned the business from his father by overturning buildings they are renovating in downtown Manhattan. After working for a larger company in the 1990s, he began “trying to buy ahead,” he told an interviewer in 2006, grabbing brown stones and small buildings in Haarlem, including some which turned into rooms for rooms to take advantage of generous Federal Section 8 rental subsidies.

Along the way, he received a law degree and declared bankruptcy at least twice. But his fortune seems to be rising as he turns his attention to lower-income tenants and homeless people.

The exact size of his private portfolio, managed with his son Aaron, is difficult to determine due to their widespread use of bogus companies, but corporate records show he had a stake in several buildings in the area.

Mr Migdol appears to have recently started working in homeless services, serving as an operator and contractor for emergency shelters used by the city. In all, Mr Migdol’s organizations have taken at least $ 37 million from city agencies to provide homeless services to New Yorkers over the past decade. But other city and court records show that actual revenues may be higher.

In some cases, Mr. Migdol has rented rooms in buildings owned by larger shelter operators – including CORE Services Group and a company owned by shelter CEO Victor Rivera – in exchange for some of what they collect from the city. .

Both CORE and Mr Rivera were subsequently the subject of a criminal investigation. Mr Rivera, chief executive of the Bronx Parental Housing Network and another nonprofit group, has been accused of collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebates from contractors. He wrote in a letter from 2015 that he had been working with the Migdols for 15 years and “they have proved to be an excellent provider of shelter housing”.

In 2014, Migdols took ownership of a building in Haarlem where CORE operated a shelter. The relationship was a test; in a lengthy lawsuit, the group accused the Migdols of trying to undermine their connection to the city and push them out, but CORE remained there for years.

Since then, CORE has faced deeper legal issues following revelations that the shelter group has paid millions of dollars to three for-profit companies owned by the nonprofit group CORE, which is run by Jack A. Brown III. Federal investigators have launched a criminal investigation into CORE’s practices, according to another case.

Mr Migdol appears to have singled out other money-making businesses that have given up shelters, citing “security services, relocation services, free legal services and case management” in a 2015 affidavit. in the CORE case.

Over the years, the proceeds have helped pay for an apartment on the Upper West Side and membership at St. Mary’s Golf Club. Andrew’s, the exclusive club in Hastings on Hudson, New York, where Mr. Migdol’s family owns a townhouse and hosts the annual charity tournament.

Mr Migdol also poured some of the money back into Haarlem, mainly through Friends of Public School Harlem, the non-profit organization he set up in 2014 to help provide school supplies, computers and musical instruments to public schools in the area.

The group made regular gifts to another non-profit organization, Migdol, which often attracted the attention of local news outlets and politicians such as Mr. Benjamin, Representative Adriano Espilat and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, among others. More recently, gifts include groceries, Thanksgiving dishes, Christmas toys and masks.

Gary M. Rosenberg, a real estate lawyer on the board of Friends of Harlem Public Schools, said the organization operates with relatively little overhead: Mr Migdol donates money and raises money to the golf tournament, most of it was spent on the distribution of goods.

Mr Rosenberg, who joined the board after sponsoring Mr Migdol’s membership in his golf club, acknowledged that although the board has exercised little oversight, annual financial reviews never suggest anything out of the ordinary. Other board members included an original Hamilton cast member, a member of Central Park Five, a prominent DJ and community leaders in Haarlem.

“He was not doing this for a secret purpose,” Mr Rosenberg said. “It was something that was his passion.”

Mr Migdol’s generosity extends to local democratic politicians. Public campaign funding files show that Mr. Migdol, his family members and the corporate entities they control have given more than $ 150,000 for the political campaigns of Mr. Benjamin, MP Ines Dickens and Mark Levine, president in the Manhattan area, among others. At least $ 45,000 went to Leticia James, a senior state law enforcement official; the records do not show contributions from Mayor Eric Adams or Governor Katie Hochul.

His donations and philanthropy have earned him a status in New York’s political world, with various government officials regularly attending his charity events and quoting him.

When Mr Migdol celebrated his 70th birthday at his Upper West Side apartment building in early 2020, Ms James and Mr Benjamin were among several prominent Democrats present. (Ms. James, Mr. Levine, and Ms. Dickens have already returned or donated the funds or plan to do so.)

“Everyone, I need $ 250 from New Yorkers.”

Nearly a year before his birthday, Mr. Benjamin had visited Mr. Migdol at home. The politician told Mr Migdol that he expects to run for controller in New York and needs help raising small donations that would unlock generous public matching funds through a city program.

What you know about Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin

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The investigation. Federal authorities are investigating whether Mr. Benjamin was involved in an attempt to direct fraudulent contributions to his failed 2021 campaign for a controller in New York. This investigation stems from an indictment accusing a real estate investor in Haarlem of trying to cover up contributions to …