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March 31, 2014 3:18 pm

In Weeks Before Murder, Brooklyn Landlord Stark Asked People to Pray for Him

avatar by Joshua Levitt

A recent Stark family portrait. Photo: Stark family.

Menachem Stark, 39, the Satmar Chasid landlord who was murdered and whose body was burnt three months ago, asked people to pray for him in the weeks before his death, the New York Post reported on Sunday.

“Please pray for me,” Stark would tell people, asking the person to use his and his mother’s Hebrew name in their prayers, the Post said, citing an unnamed community source.

“He said, ‘I’m in danger,'” according to the community source the newspaper cited. “But he never explained what he meant.”

The revelation comes as police told the Post that they were closing in on a suspect.

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But despite the huge sums involved in his troubled property empire, the police investigation, according to the Post, is now focused on the bearers of a relatively small debt of $20,000 owed to a construction contractor.

Police said the contractor has links to the white Dodge Caravan used in Stark’s kidnapping, according to security footage, and a cellphone taped to the bottom of his car, likely used to track his movements.

“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,” according to the Post.

The Post article profiled Stark’s sudden rise in the property world, because of a keen eye in identifying properties to buy in up-and-coming neighborhoods, including the Satmar Brooklyn stronghold of Williamsburg and nearby Greenpoint, both of which have become trendy areas, with the accompanying rising rental prices.

In total, by 2008, Stark and his partner, Israel Perlmutter, spent $61 million on 37 Brooklyn buildings, a combination of large apartment buildings and industrial properties, according to a Real Deal analysis, the Post reported.

“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,” Gary Schlesinger, a Satmar leader and former Stark neighbor on Heyward Street was quoted by the Post as saying.

But the real estate market peaked, while Stark encountered trouble from tenants who complained that important fixes went unmet — the Post said his properties racked up 233 complaints and 148 violations, according to the city Department of Buildings, and nearly 200 Environmental Control Board violations.  And several of his buildings were condemned, including the Greenpoint Hotel, a flophouse where 20 people have died since 1998, mostly of drug overdoses.

The Post said that, by 2009, Stark and his partner fell behind on mortgage payments, with some $60 million in bad loans. They 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.

At the start of the saga, the Post was criticized for its tasteless cover story on the murder. The newspaper’s front page at the time featured Stark, in traditional dress, including a streimel, a fur hat worn by Satmar followers, and kapote, a satin black coat, beside the headline, “Slumlord found burned in dumpster: Who didn’t want him dead?”

Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the Post‘s coverage of the incident and said finding Stark’s killer was a priority for the police.

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