HFZ’s High Line condo-hotel project was ATM for the mob, prosecutors say
John Simonlacaj pled not guilty to charges of tax fraud and wire fraud conspiracy
The Gambino crime family bought off a top executive at HFZ Capital Group, federal prosecutors allege.
Feds say that 50-year-old HFZ managing director John Simonlacaj let the mob skim hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company’s High Line development, the XI, and other Manhattan projects. The City first reported news of the charges.
Simonlacaj, who oversaw construction of the 950,000-square-foot condo and hotel project, surrendered on Friday and pled not guilty to tax fraud and wire fraud conspiracy charges. He was released after posting $250,000 bail.
Simonlacaj’s cousin Mark “Chippy” Kocaj and alleged members of the Gambino family operated the Mount Vernon carpentry firm CWC Contracting and gave HFZ employees hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and bribes between June 2018 and this past June to get on the inside track with the firm, according to prosecutors. This included providing free labor and materials for renovations at Simonlacaj’s home in Scarsdale, court papers say.
The XI is still under construction along the High Line. The pair of towers, designed by Bjarke Ingels, will include a Six Senses Hotel. In June, New Zealand’s richest man Graeme Hart went into contract for a $34 million penthouse at the property. The project has 236 condos with a projected sellout of $1.96 billion.
Thanks to market conditions and slow sales to start, whether or not HFZ chief Ziel Feldman will turn a profit on the project remains a question. Earlier this year, Leonard Steinberg, president of Compass , told The Real Deal, “I can’t imagine Ziel losing money. It would be unusual for him.” [The City] — Eddie Small