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A bankrupt New York property developer was indicted on Wednesday for stealing more than $86 million from investors through an elaborate series of schemes dating back to 2015, authorities said.
Nir Meir was arrested in the southeastern state of Florida on Monday on a New York state warrant, the Miami-Dade police department confirmed to AFP.
Meir, 49, and his accomplices allegedly stole the money from investors, contractors and city authorities, New York prosecutors said.
"These indictments depict allegations of widespread fraud within the real estate industry primarily spearheaded by one man: Nir Meir," said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Meir filed for bankruptcy in Florida on February 1, reporting debts of almost $30 million including thousands of dollars owed to credit card companies and a disputed $626,000 debt owed to American-Israeli mogul Benny Shabtai.
A court filing showed that Meir reported to have just $50-worth of assets -- and monthly expenses of $37,400.
He had been living in a luxurious, high-rise beachfront property in Miami, the filing showed.
Prosecutors say that Meir diverted funds legally required to be used on a major Manhattan development to two companies controlled by HFZ Capital Group, a real estate company of which Meir was the managing principal.
"Assets were primarily diverted to cover financial shortfalls on unrelated HFZ projects, and at times, to personal accounts controlled by HFZ executives, leading to a shortfall of more than $37 million," the prosecutor said.
As HFZ’s financial difficulties became public amid a series of lawsuits, investors demanded to inspect its financial records, Bragg said, leading Meir to direct an HFZ accountant "to forge certain bank account statements to reflect millions of dollars in investor funds, when in fact, they were nearly empty."
In one case Meir allegedly had an accountant inflate an account statement to show it contained $24.6 million when it contained just $814.
Prosecutors also allege that "by failing to pay adequate property taxes in 2018, 2019, and 2020, HFZ defrauded the City of more than $15.6 million."
Meir was a doyen of the New York social scene, attending gallery openings and, according to society bible New York magazine, was an aficionado of luxury cars and fine wine.
In addition to the criminal charges, Meir faces several lawsuits in New York over his time at the helm of HFZ, formerly one of Manhattan's most prominent high-end developers, and has denied wrongdoing, according to Bloomberg news.
A lawyer for Meir did not return calls for comment.