HFZ investor wants Nir Meir held in contempt

Creditor claims former HFZ exec lied to shield assets from $18M judgment

A photo illustration of Nir Meir (Getty Images)
A photo illustration of Nir Meir (Getty Images)

Nir Meir has faced his fair share of wild accusations.

Since the implosion of his former firm, HFZ Capital, he has denied claims of false wire transfers, fake term sheets, missing funds and other allegations by creditors, investors and his former business partner Ziel Feldman.

Despite the seriousness of those accusations, all are civil in nature. But at an upcoming hearing, a judge will decide whether Meir should be held in criminal contempt.

Mark Hatch-Miller, an attorney for a company tied to HFZ investor and Israeli car magnate Yoav Harlap, has asked a judge to hold Meir in criminal or civil contempt for misleading the court about the sale of a blue convertible Aston Martin.

The motion argues that Meir violated a restraining order by selling the car and then lying to the court about the transaction.

“Meir purposefully lied about that car’s status to this court twice in two different false affidavits,” Hatch-Miller, of the law firm Susman Godfrey, alleged in a court filing. “It is now abundantly clear that very serious consequences must be imposed in order to have any meaningful impact on changing [his] behavior.”

Meir’s attorney rejected the claims.

“There is a pending motion which is based on a manipulation and spin by Mr. Hatch-Miller,” said Jonathan Davidoff, calling it “a litigation tactic that will be concluded by the court to be meritless.”

This particular chapter in the saga of HFZ’s collapse began almost two years ago, when the Harlap entity sued the development firm, its founder Feldman and his then-partner Meir for defaulting on a $20 million loan for an Upper East Side assemblage.

YH Lex Estates won an $18.5 million judgment against Meir in April 2021, but the court held off on issuing a judgment against Feldman. In March of this year, an appellate court ruled Harlap’s firm could collect from Feldman and HFZ too.

Collecting the money has been no easy task, however.

The $43 million sale of Meir’s Hamptons estate to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft last year presented an opportunity. But Meir’s attorneys said the home belonged to Meir’s wife, Ranee Bartolacci, and the money was beyond Harlap’s reach.

By that time, Meir had flocked to Miami Beach, where he and Bartolacci were renting a waterfront home for $150,000 a month.

Harlap’s attorneys got hold of account records that indicated Meir was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fine wine, private jets and yacht charters, had wired $261,000 to a Qatari national and bought more than $1.5 million in gold coins and bullion.

Meir’s attorney countered that the splashy purchases did not suggest wrongdoing and that the money came from Bartolacci.

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“She was a trust fund baby before she got married,” Bartolacci’s attorney said at a hearing.

In April, Meir’s attorney tried to put companies linked to his client in bankruptcy protection in Delaware, delaying the state court proceedings. A court-appointed trustee blocked that attempt.

Legal gamesmanship is hardly unusual in New York City, but the actions in the case left one jurist astonished.

“In my time here, I have never seen a series of procedural maneuvers at every turn designed to push off the merits and to get around the merits and move it to a different forum, and to avoid service of various things,” said New York Supreme Court Judge Joel Cohen at an April 27 hearing.

To put an end to it, the judge allowed the Harlap entity to go after Bartolacci’s assets, in addition to those of Meir and Feldman, including proceeds from the sale of the Hamptons estate.

Still, Harlap has had trouble collecting. Even the luxury convertible has not been low-hanging fruit.

Aston Martins can fetch more than $300,000, so YH Lex Estates sought to have Meir turn over the car. The entity asked the court to prevent him from selling or transferring assets. Not to worry, Meir’s counsel claimed in January: His client still owned it.

Except he didn’t, according to Hatch-Miller.

The vehicle had been sold in November 2021 to a car collector named Bruce Canepa — a deal that only came to light through third-party discovery. Meir’s new counsel later claimed in a filing that Meir had sold the Aston Martin in June 2021.

“Meir’s continuing contemptuous behavior is far beyond the pale,” said Hatch-Miller. “It is an affront to YH, to this court, and indeed to the entire judicial system.”

Meanwhile, YH Lex Estates is suing Meir’s former counsel — Larry Hutcher, William Walzer, and Peter Ripin and their law firm, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron — for legal malpractice.

YH Lex Estates alleges that the attorneys falsely told the court that millions of dollars from the sale of Meir’s mansion were “not going anywhere.” Days later, the law firm directed that $12.6 million from the Hamptons deal be distributed to Meir’s wife and her new entity Ermitage One. The law firm received $2 million in proceeds from the sale of the estate, according to YH Lex Estates.

Not true, Hutcher said. “The allegations are totally without merit and we have made a motion to dismiss that we are confident will result in the dismissal of the claim,” he said in a statement.

HFZ was once among Manhattan’s most active condo developers, but its empire collapsed over the past two years in a series of lawsuits, foreclosures and a bitter split between Feldman and Meir.