Nir Meir pleads for freedom, gets ticket back to Rikers

Former HFZ exec’s cash bail set at $5M

Nir Meir’s Big Day in Court
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Nir Mier (Getty)

Nir Meir’s day in court was one to remember.

The former HFZ Capital Group executive arrived in Manhattan criminal court Wednesday handcuffed, hunched over and looking the worse for wear after spending about two weeks at Rikers Island.

Meir, his hair graying, pleaded not guilty to charges of masterminding a scheme to divert tens of millions of dollars from HFZ and its marquee condo project, The XI. He asked to be released but the judge set bail at $5 million in cash, $10 million in insurance bond and $15 million in surety bond, which Meir did not post.

During bail discussions, Meir asked to have his handcuffs removed to make a statement.

“I am a 49-year old guy, I’ve never been arrested. I have been an upstanding citizen all my life,” said Meir. “I’ve been active in community service and community outreach for many years.”

Meir said he was not a flight risk and would surrender his U.S. and Israeli passports. He claimed to have no assets or ability to post bail. He also claimed to be working in New York so he could “provide for his family”, but did not disclose what he was doing.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges Meir illegally diverted $60 million from HFZ projects to cover shortfalls on other HFZ projects, using bogus documents, fake wire transfers and empty promises to dupe investors and a lender. He is also accused of shorting the city $15.6 million in taxes on HFZ property and orchestrating other schemes that looted $11 million.

On Wednesday, prosecutors argued Meir forged bank accounts and defrauded lenders and investors. Citing past articles in The Real Deal, they noted Meir’s failure to leave a Miami Beach estate after being evicted and allegedly hiring someone with a fake Korean accent to induce an investor to put money into HFZ. The latter allegation came from Meir’s former business partner, HFZ founder Ziel Feldman, in a lawsuit.

Meir denied the allegations and said he was looking forward to defending himself in court.

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Bragg also charged HFZ, two former HFZ executives, construction firm Omnibuild and three Omnibuild employees — including its CEO, John Mingione — with grand larceny. Feldman was not named in the indictments.

Omnibuild, its executives and two former HFZ executives pleaded not guilty two weeks ago. Omnibuild has denied the charges, claiming it was a victim of HFZ’s theft.

Before being sold in foreclosure to other developers, the XI, HFZ’s twisting condo, hotel and retail project between the High Line and the Hudson River, was at the center of Meir’s alleged schemes.

Loan funds were deposited into the project’s bank account, where state law required them to remain except to pay for work on the project, but Meir allegedly moved $253 million to different entities controlled by HFZ. The D.A. alleges Meir made the transfers largely to cover shortfalls at other HFZ developments. A portion also went to personal accounts of HFZ executives.

Most but not all of the money was eventually transferred back to the XI.

Meir, who declared bankruptcy in early February to delay a $19 million civil judgment against him, was arrested by the Miami-Dade police at the 1 Hotel South Beach on charges of grand larceny and tax fraud. Having failed to turn himself in, Meir was taken into custody in front of his children. The D.A’s office said it took about a week to locate Meir.

Meir was extradited to New York and held at Rikers until his hearing. He will head back to the notorious jail complex until his next hearing, unless he can post bail.

Meir has been sued by creditors, Feldman and, more recently, his wife, Ranee Bartolacci. She alleges Meir never told her about their legal issues, including a $13 million judgment against her.

Wednesday was the first time Meir has appeared in criminal court. Meir’s attorney, Arnold Keith, declined to comment. The D.A’s office declined to comment beyond what it presented in court.