Co-op board at ritzy Higher East Aspect constructing is mob-style ‘racket,’ couple claims in explosive RICO lawsuit

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Co-op board at ritzy Higher East Aspect constructing is mob-style ‘racket,’ couple claims in explosive RICO lawsuit


A mafia-style battle is brewing at a swanky Higher East Aspect co-op whose wealthy and well-known residents embrace Hollywood royalty, a sports activities legend’s scion and one of many Rockefellers.

Two longtime residents of the hovering pre-war constructing on Museum Mile declare in a brand new lawsuit that the co-op board runs the place with mob-like ways — together with allegedly “conspiring” to rent its president’s cousin for a $500,000 shoddy elevator facelift and freezing out dissenters.

“A racket has been working for over a decade in plain view and with impunity on a tony stretch of higher Fifth Avenue,” states the go well with filed by Elizabeth Sawyer, who has lived on the 15-story tower overlooking Central Park together with her husband, Clifford Press, for 3 many years.

“Hidden behind the limestone façade of a Museum Mile neoclassical is a corrupt group of entrenched cooperative administrators who’re exploiting the company by their felony and different dangerous acts,” the lawsuit alleges. 

The Manhattan Supreme Courtroom submitting goals to make use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) — the regulation designed for prosecutors to make use of to go after the mob — to oust the board of ritzy 1120 Fifth Avenue, the place residences have been bought lately for $4-$15 million.

“Racketeering enterprises usually are not confined to the docks of Brooklyn or the markets of the Bronx,” the couple claims within the theatrical go well with, filed Tuesday.

The go well with names 13 present and former members of the board as defendants, together with its ex-president John Breglio — an leisure lawyer who as soon as represented legendary Broadway choreographer and “A Refrain Line” author Michael Bennett. 

Others embrace Steve Greenberg, a powerhouse sports activities dealmaker and the son of Jewish baseball legend Hank “The Hebrew Hammer” Greenberg, and Mary Morgan, a psychotherapist and the daughter of former New York governor and US Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller.

The board has since 2012 run the fashionable doorman constructing as their “private fiefdom” and hand-picked new members with out holding open elections — making certain that “any dissenters are frozen out,” the go well with claims.

A mafia-style battle is brewing at a swanky Higher East Aspect co-op whose wealthy and well-known residents embrace Hollywood royalty, a sports activities legend’s scion and one of many Rockefellers. Robert Miller

Among the many litany of different claims within the 48-page go well with is that Breglio allegedly pushed a “wasteful and pointless” elevator restore challenge — which value about $500,000 — to an organization owned by his cousin in September 2018. In return, the then-board president allegedly obtained a kickback of greater than $1,000, the go well with claimed.

However issues didn’t work out as deliberate — and the lifts now break down “on such a frequent foundation that they’ve grow to be a hazard to households and kids,” the go well with alleges.

The board additionally allegedly tried to extort a separate resident into returning a $300,000 settlement he’d acquired from it — after he’d sued them for stopping renovations on his house — to assist pay for the constructing’s ballooning insurance coverage prices, the go well with claims.

Press, 70, advised The Publish in an interview Thursday that he “was shocked, utterly, by the extent of the venality and self-dealing” at his constructing. 

However an lawyer for the board fired again with a press release calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and a type of harassment.

Clifford Ross (pictured) and his spouse Elizabeth Sawyer declare their co-op board is run just like the Mafia. Robert Miller

“This meritless lawsuit was introduced by a disgruntled co-op resident for the only goal of harassing her neighbors, who voluntarily serve the constructing on the co-op’s board,” lawyer Michael Pensabene, of the agency Rosenberg & Estis, advised The Publish.

“It is a flagrant abuse of judicial course of and we’re assured that this frivolous criticism will likely be promptly dismissed.”

The 44-unit co-op at Fifth Avenue and East 93rd Road, in-built 1923, is “one among Manhattan’s most fascinating residences” and boasts “elegant entrance methods” and “distinguished moldings,” actual property listings say. 

Actor Michael J. Fox and his spouse, the actress Tracey Pollan, personal a unit within the constructing as properly, and the late Oscar-winner Paul Newman and his spouse Joanne Woodward as soon as lived collectively within the complicated’s sprawling penthouse.

A four-bedroom four-bathroom unit on the eighth ground — that includes spectacular views of the Central Park Reservoir — bought final month for $13.7 million, based on the true property website StreetEasy.

The 44-unit co-op at Fifth Avenue and East 93rd Road, in-built 1923, is “one among Manhattan’s most fascinating residences” and boasts “elegant entrance methods” and “distinguished moldings,” actual property listings say. Robert Miller

However inside the constructing’s posh exterior, the dangerous blood between Press, Sawyer and the board has been effervescent for years, the go well with states.

The board tried in useless besides the couple, who met at Harvard Enterprise College and each as soon as labored at Morgan Stanley, from the constructing in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021 — claiming that Sawyer had blocked a hearth exit by storing water jugs in a stairwell and that Press had kicked one other resident’s canine, drawing blood, the go well with claims.

The canine assault declare was “knowingly false” and “in reality, Mr. Press is well-known within the constructing for his dedication to, and affection for, canines,” the go well with states of the enterprise government, who owns a Jack Russell terrier named Willa.

The board additionally “conspired to rent a non-public investigator to attempt to dig up proof that Mr. Press, who was raised in South Africa, was a racist who engaged in unethical enterprise practices,” claims the go well with, filed by lawyer Christopher Milito of Morrison Cohen LLP.

“Our shopper didn’t undertake this motion flippantly, however won’t stand idle any longer within the face of organized and systematic shareholder oppression,” Milito mentioned in a press release.

Courtroom data present that Press has been embroiled in a sequence of authorized tussles through the years.

In December 2022, a press launch issued by funding agency Acacia Analysis Corp, the place Press had been serving as CEO, claimed he resigned after an inner probe discovered that he “misused company funds for private use” and “made substantial charitable donations in his personal title utilizing company funds.”

However Press fired again towards Acacia in a go well with filed in Delaware court docket. Acacia agreed in September 2023 to pay him $1.25 million as a part of a settlement, a Securities and Trade Fee submitting exhibits.

Press additionally sued United Airways in 2012, claiming that he was wrongfully detained for half-hour at LaGuardia Airport after getting right into a scuffle throughout a flight from Denver with a Black flight attendant who described him as “disruptive” and a “safety risk” — however who he claimed “grew to become aggressive and domineering” in direction of him after figuring out him as a “white South African.” The case was settled in 2013, and the phrases weren’t disclosed.

“We now have a really good, great, great, great constructing right here and we’re very pleased with it,” mentioned David Clossey,  the board’s present secretary, who is called within the go well with.  Robert Miller

Within the late Nineteen Nineties, Press and Sawyer had been swept up in one more authorized imbroglio after their neighbors at a Pennsylvania housing complicated complained about 20 chickens they stored as pets on their property, together with “their ceaseless clucking” and “foul odor,” based on court docket data. The case was later settled, Press mentioned.

Sawyer and Press are in search of an unspecified quantity in damages, in addition to lawyer charges of their declare towards the co-op board. Additionally they need the court docket to order that each one the defendants should abdicate the board — and be barred from holding future positions.

“That is all nonsense. I’m one among a bunch of volunteer administrators who commit their time to creating positive the constructing is run appropriately and that’s what we do. We now have a really good, great, great, great constructing right here and we’re very pleased with it,” mentioned David Clossey,  the board’s present secretary, who is called within the go well with. 

“Completely, completely absurd,” he advised The Publish concerning the claims that the board is run like a racket.

Breglio, the previous board president, didn’t return messages Thursday. Greenberg mentioned he couldn’t talk about pending litigation and Morgan was unavailable for remark.

RICO has been used to go after co-op boards earlier than. In 1994, then-Manhattan District Legal professional Robert Morgenthau charged greater than 80 real-estate managers and firms — together with at luxurious buildings lining Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue — with racketeering legal guidelines for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in kickbacks from contractors and suppliers, data present.

Extra reporting by Steve Janoski


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