In the weeks leading up to his death, cialis Menachem Stark ended his conversations with an eerie coda.
“Please pray for me,” he’d say, asking the person to invoke his name and his mother’s name — in Orthodox Judaism, a sure sign of something dire.
“He said, ‘I’m in danger,’?” according to a community source. “But he never explained what he meant.”
So when Stark — a 39-year-old landlord with a trail of disgruntled tenants and millions in debt to a slew of creditors — was less than 30 minutes late coming home on Jan. 2, his wife, Bashie, didn’t just chalk it up to traffic or the evening’s heavy snow.
“She was hysterical,” said a source.
She quickly had a relative call the Shomrim, the volunteer patrol in Brooklyn’s Orthodox neighborhoods — but it was already too late.
After leaving his real-estate office on Rutledge Street in Williamsburg, Stark was accosted by two suspects who wrestled him into a minivan.
The next day, Stark’s corpse was discovered partially burned and stuffed in a Dumpster at a Long Island gas station.
In the three months since the grisly discovery, no arrests have been made in what has become one of the city’s most high-profile murder cases. But investigators are zeroing in on suspects and new evidence has emerged, The Post has learned. It could mean an end to a mystery whose ghastly imprint still lingers in the tight-knit community
“My own children refrain from purchasing things at the store on the block [where he was kidnapped],” activist Simon Weiser said. “They’re scared. It’s still a scar.”
Menachem Stark grew up in Williamsburg, before the neighborhood attracted the hipsters whose migration to north Brooklyn would help make him a millionaire. He was a member of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic sect, a group that separates itself from secular society and believes that Jews should not have a homeland in Israel until the arrival of the Messiah.
His father, Yisroel, was a yeshiva teacher, and one of his brothers, Yaakov, is a prominent cantor whose soulful voice has filled Lincoln Center — and who performed at the inauguration of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson a month after Menachem’s death.
Menachem, who attended Satmar Yeshiva in upstate Monroe, had lofty ambitions. “Real estate is the trade of many youngsters here in Williamsburg,” said a onetime student of Yisroel Stark at the United Talmudical Academy on Williamsburg Street East. So Menachem took it on with his trademark gusto.
He and a partner, Israel Perlmutter, began gobbling up properties in 2000, and between 2003 and 2005 they shelled out $18 million — money raised from investors, family and friends — on 12 properties. Between 2006 and 2008 they spent even more — $39?million on 17 properties.
In total, by 2008, they spent a staggering $61 million on 37 Brooklyn buildings, a combination of large apartment buildings and industrial properties, according to a Real Deal analysis.
“He had a knack for it — jumping on deals at the right time. I remember him always telling me, ‘Greenpoint is going to be big.’ And he was right,” said Gary Schlesinger, a Satmar leader and former Stark neighbor on Heyward Street.
And he was generous with his good fortune, at least among the many organizations and charities in Orthodox Williamsburg, including Bonei Olam, which helps couples with infertility problems; and Mekimi, the so-called “cheer-up squad” that works with sick kids and their families.
“He was one of the guys you’d want in your Rolodex,” Schlesinger said.
But Stark may not have been the guy you’d want as your landlord.
His properties racked up 233 complaints and 148 violations, according to the city Department of Buildings, and nearly 200 Environmental Control Board violations.
Some of his properties were notorious, including the Greenpoint Hotel, a seedy Manhattan Avenue SRO that Stark plucked from nonprofit Praxis Housing Initiatives for $1.5 million in 2003. He jacked up rents by $200 a unit but did little to improve conditions at the flophouse where 20 people have died since 1998, mostly of drug overdoses. The feds seized the property in 2005.
The city shuttered 239 Banker St., a former industrial building marketed as “The Sweater Factory,” after it racked up 100 complaints and 59 violations, declaring it “hazardous to life.”
His reputation, at least according to the online critics of his management companies, was hardly as stellar as the one he enjoyed in Orthodox Williamsburg.
“Think of every terrible stereotype and characterization you can possibly imagine when the phrase ‘New York City slumlords’ enters your head,” wrote one Yelp user claiming to be a former Stark tenant.
“Our unit was overrun with leaks, one of which was directly above our water heater. These leaks were never once repaired during our entire tenancy,” the person wrote. “We have had multiple problems with vermin, including mice, rats and cockroaches.”
Once the real-estate market imploded, so too did Stark’s Brooklyn empire. By 2009 he fell behind on mortgage payments, to the tune of $60 million in soured loans. Stark and Perlmutter sold off what they could and were soon hit by nine foreclosure lawsuits on 17 of their properties. They filed for bankruptcy protection in six cases.
And it appears Stark was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
From 2011 to 2013, Stark withdrew close to $3.6 million from an account of one building in bankruptcy, according to Jonathan Flaxer, the bankruptcy trustee appointed a week after Stark’s death.
Stark, Flaxer said in court papers, “obtained cashier’s checks made out to a multitude of individuals, entities and law firms to pay for personal debts or for use in other real-estate transactions.”
And in the month before he was killed, Stark, using five checks marked “customer withdrawal,” took out $267,101, court documents reveal. A month before, he withdrew $1 million, records show.
Flaxer said the cashier’s checks “often made no reference to the debtor, but rather referred only to Stark” — meaning they were used to satisfy his personal debts.
The siphoning went undetected, Flaxer said in court papers, because the Capital One bank statements were “tampered with to conceal the diversion.” But however much money Stark collected, on the night of Thursday, Jan. 2, it wasn’t enough.
The sun had just set shortly before 5 p.m. when a man in a white Dodge Caravan with Ohio plates parked in front of 315 Rutledge St., just down the block from Stark’s real-estate office, surveillance video shows. The same man had been seen lurking in Stark’s neighborhood as far back as Dec. 19.
Stark left his office at 331 Rutledge to find two men waiting for him in the pounding snowstorm. Grainy video shows the three struggling for two minutes, ending when Stark is shoved into the Dodge at around 11:35 p.m. A broken handcuff and plastic ties were later found at the scene.
Alarmed that her husband had not yet come home, Bashie Stark, through a relative, called the Shomrim at around midnight.
“He was supposed to come home at 11:30 p.m. and he didn’t,” Stark’s brother Yitzy explained at the time. Calls to Stark’s cellphone went straight to voicemail. Family members found no sign of him at the office, yet his Lexus SUV was still parked outside.
“We knew something was wrong at that point,” Yitzy said.
The civilian patrol waited nearly two hours to alert the NYPD — a critical delay, sources said. Shomrim refused to comment for this story.
The NYPD — who had now seen the surveillance video — canvassed Rutledge Street for clues on the morning of Jan. 3. Meanwhile, out on Long Island, at around 7 a.m., Fernando Cerff, who owns a Getty gas station on Cutter Mill Road in Great Neck, arrived at work to find smoke billowing from a trash bin. Thinking it was just a cigarette, he had employees toss some snow in the bin.
He didn’t think anything more of it until around 3 p.m., when he went to toss out some trash and noticed a sickly smell.
An hour later, authorities discovered Stark’s charred corpse, which had severe burns to a hand and below his waist. At 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 4, detectives visited Stark’s home to deliver the grim news.
The same day, thousands of people filled the Lodiner Bais Medrash synagogue in Williamsburg for Stark’s funeral, lining Marcy Avenue in a collective show of grief at around 8:30 p.m.
“You know they burned him and left him in the trash,” a young mourner said to his dad in Yiddish, the Forward newspaper reported.
“Horrible,” the father answered. “Don’t tell your sisters.”
A resolution to the case appeared promising on Jan. 14, when cops found the minivan in Brownsville. Stark’s DNA was found inside the van, whose owner was questioned by 90th Precinct cops, sources said.
Despite the millions he owed to his many creditors, sources say investigators are focused on a contractor and several of the man’s relatives — to whom Stark owed as little as $20,000.
The contractor has a connection to the minivan and to a mysterious cellphone found strapped underneath Stark’s car, apparently used by the abductors as a tracking device, sources said.
Investigators also have been able to track the cellphone of one of the suspects in the area where the body was dumped, a law-enforcement source told The Post.
Complicating the case has been what sources described as Stark’s long list of possible enemies, ranging from jilted business associates to tenants.
Stark’s autopsy revealed he died of compression asphyxiation — which likely happened when his kidnappers sat on him during the brutal attack. Sources believe his kidnappers probably did not intend to kill him.
Detectives are telling the family that an arrest is imminent — before Passover on April 14, or immediately after the eight-day holiday, a source said.
“People have faith in the system,” said Rabbi Moishe Indig. “This is not a thing you can forget.”
By The New York Post