Sunday, January 5, 2014
Jewish slumlord found murdered in trash
The millionaire Hasidic slumlord found burned and suffocated in a Nassau County dumpster — his body still smoldering from the waist down — had so many enemies that investigators say they almost don’t know where to start looking. “Any number of people wanted to kill this guy,” one law-enforcement source said of Menachem “Max” Stark, 39, describing the father of eight as being embroiled in several shady real-estate transactions and being up to his eyeballs in debt. “He owed a lot of people money,” said another source. Stark left behind a trail of angry tenants from more than a dozen residential properties, mostly in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, along with an untold number of unpaid contractors and angry business associates, investigators said. “He was involved in shady business deals, was known to carry around a lot of money and had a sealed arrest for forcible touching” in his past, one law-enforcement source said. The victim was a young teen girl, said the source, declining to give further details. “He’s a Hasidic Jew from Williamsburg, and we think he’s a scammer,” another investigator said of Stark, who had defaulted on more than $30 million in real-estate loans in recent years and owed tens of thousands in penalties for building violations. “He f–ked over a few people,” the source added. Many on Stark’s enemies list took to social media — and not to mourn his passing. “His slanted shtreimel on his head gives his crookedness away,” one commenter wrote on FailedMessiah.com, referring to the victim’s fur hat in a photo. “Sentence his kidnappers to live in one of his buildings,” wrote another poster to the site. Law-enforcement sources said that Stark spent his final days repeatedly calling business associates, begging for a six-figure loan. Investigators still don’t know how much he owed and to how many people, one source said. But probers do know that he left his office with a $4,000 check in his pocket — payment for a plumber who was one of his many creditors. And on the day he was abducted, Stark had called one businessman — a Borough Park-based real-estate developer — a dozen times, said the source, and had just succeeded in convincing the man to deposit $500,000 in an account for him, the source said. At the time of his death, Stark owed tens of thousands of dollars in penalties for 148 Department of Buildings violations on his 17 properties, public records show. “He owed me some money on a job I was doing for him, and he told me to go f–k myself,” one Williamsburg contractor said of his dealings with Stark, who was notorious for bouncing checks. Numerous former Stark tenants described living with vermin, plus shabby interiors and sporadic heat and water problems. “I’ve had many conversations with him, and of course in many of those conversations I wanted to kill him,” joked Greg Hanlon, who lived in a Stark-owned building in Clinton Hill. A Stark building at 239 Banker Street in Greenpoint was so decrepit that the city issued a vacate order in 2009 — and numerous tenants were left to chase Stark down in futile efforts to retrieve the four-month deposits Stark had demanded of them, one tenant organizer said. The building went into foreclosure shortly after. “He pretty much ripped off the whole building,” said the organizer, Ryan Kuonen. “They kept trying to serve him, and he kept hiding from them. When he’d hear ‘Are you Max Stark,’ he would take off running.” Investigators are finding a pattern of shady dealings in which Stark would acquire properties and then “lose” the properties by failing to pay his mortgage and improvement loans, sources said. The properties would then be snapped up at bargain basement prices by family members and associates, one law-enforcement source said. Nassau County coroners found that Stark had died from smothering. His body had been severely burned below the waist. It was unclear if he had been set on fire while still alive.