Nir Meir held in contempt of court

Judge finds former HFZ exec defied court in “shell game” to escape creditor; Meir vows to appeal

Nir Meir

Nir Meir (Illustration by The Real Deal; Getty)

After avoiding a multi-million-dollar judgment for more than two years and repeatedly testing a New York judge’s patience, Nir Meir has been found in contempt of court 

Judge Joel Cohen issued a contempt order against the embattled former developer for transferring into his wife’s checking account $603,500 from a company that was supposed to be restrained.

Meir has only been civilly charged. But the contempt order is the most serious sanction against him since he departed HFZ Capital Group, the luxury Manhattan condo developer that imploded in 2020, setting off a bitter feud between Meir and his former business partner, HFZ founder Ziel Feldman. 

The order is part of a long-running lawsuit brought by YH Lex Estates, a company tied to Israeli car magnate Yoav Harlap, who lent millions to a failed HFZ project on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The loan, which fell into default, was personally guaranteed by Meir and Feldman. In 2021, a judge awarded Harlap’s entity an $18.5 million judgment against Meir and authorized the creditor to go after Feldman a year later. 

Since then, YH Lex Estates’ attorneys have accused Meir of a brazen shell game to conceal his assets, including through an entity called Ermitage One. Judge Cohen agreed.

“Meir devised a scheme involving Ermitage to try to hide his assets from YH; and there’s no ambiguity in my judgment based on the record that this scheme exists,” the judge said at a hearing in late April.

Meir said he plans to appeal.

In a statement to The Real Deal, a representative for Meir claimed that YH Lex Estates “has implemented improper collection efforts which Mr. Meir intends to vigorously pursue through the appellate court and other proceedings.”

A representative for YH Lex Estates responded by calling Meir’s allegation “false” and saying the company “will continue to investigate and uncover the wrongdoings from the implosion of HFZ by Meir and his former partner until all of the participants are fully exposed.”

Trouble in paradise

Ranee Bartolacci
Ranee Bartolacci (Getty)

At the hearing, Judge Cohen said he also plans to hold Meir’s wife, Ranee Bartolacci, in contempt along with Ermitage One, but those orders have not yet been filed.

Bartolacci, meanwhile, has hired new attorneys who claimed in court filings that she is now estranged from her husband.

“There is a lot more to this story than meets the eye,” said Bartolacci’s attorney Dan Rottenstreich of Rottenstreich Farley & Bronstein in a statement. 

“At the right time, and in the proper venue, we will lay out in painstaking detail disturbing facts that have, to date, been concealed from the court,” he added. “We ask that everyone please withhold judgment of Ms. Bartolacci until she has had her meaningful opportunity to be heard.”     

A divorce would only complicate the bizarre drama surrounding Nir Meir. 

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The former HFZ president left the firm in late 2020 as it collapsed under a wave of foreclosures and lawsuits. Meir and Bartolacci sold their Hamptons estate to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for $43 million and flocked to Miami Beach, where they rented a waterfront estate for $135,000 a month. During that time, Meir lived large, according to court filings.

Lawsuits accuse him of splurging on fine wines, $1.5 million worth of gold, private jet and yacht charters and stays at the Four Seasons. Meir’s attorneys argued the money spent was not his but his wife’s. Bartolacci’s former attorney called her a “trust fund baby.”

Recently, Meir claimed he was personally broke.

“All I have left are articles of clothing that I need to survive,” he stated in an April affidavit. 

YH Lex Estate’s attorneys alleged that Meir defied court orders by moving money out of Ermitage One, which Meir said was managed by Bartolacci.

As proof that Meir was in control of Ermitage, YH Lex Estate’s lawyers claim that Meir used the pseudonym “Nir Bartolacci” to purchase gold from an online metals retailer on Ermitage’s behalf.

In an April court filing, Meir’s attorney Jonathan Marc Davidoff called the contempt motion “a desperate attempt to extort Meir.”

Judge Cohen did not buy it, saying the couple’s tactics amounted to a “shell game.”  

“I think that the long record of this case demonstrates that Meir, Bartolacci, together and through the use of entities such as Ermitage…  have all been working very closely with each other and in concert to frustrate the payment of this judgment,” he said.

Cohen’s contempt order requires Meir to pay $603,500, plus $85,000 in YH Lex Estate’s legal fees — a fraction of the $18.5 million the entity is owed by Meir or Feldman.

Meir, representing himself, filed numerous letters to the court arguing against the attorneys fees and claiming that it will be difficult to pay the $603,500 given his financial situation. He claims it will be a “windfall” for YH Lex Estates. 

YH Lex Estates’ attorney, Mark Hatch-Miller of Susman Godfrey, claims that Meir is far from broke, but has been living at five-star hotels and has “apparently hired multiple expensive divorce attorneys.” YH Lex Estates is seeking to hold Meir and Bartolacci in contempt again for moving an additional $1.7 million from accounts that were supposed to be restrained. 

“If he is a victim, he is a victim only of his own depraved and deceitful conduct,” Hatch-Miller wrote.

Meir said that he expects Bartolacci to pin the blame for the contempt orders on him.

“There is ample evidence to establish that it was Ranee’s funds and her conduct (not mine) that resulted in the transfers and payments at issue in the motion,” Meir wrote in one of the letters.  

Meir and Feldman have faced numerous lawsuits over the past three years. HFZ was once one of Manhattan’s most active condo developers, but now nearly all of its projects have been lost to foreclosure. Feldman has blamed Meir, repeatedly calling him a “sociopath” who allegedly forged his signature and stole money from the firm. 

Meir denied those allegations, with his former attorney claiming it was absurd to suggest Feldman had no knowledge of what was happening in his own company.