Property boss claims £22m in fraud case

By Paul Berger, January 14, 2010
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A British property tycoon claims to be one of the principal victims of an alleged $200 million fraud targeting Orthodox Jews.

Berish Berger, one of Britain’s biggest post-war private landlords, along with about a dozen, mostly Jewish, plaintiffs, is suing Eliyahu Weinstein of Lakewood, New Jersey.

They claim that Weinstein, 35, tricked them into investing in a string of dubious property deals.

Mr Berger, worth an estimated £35 million according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List, says Mr Weinstein
swindled him out of £22 million.

In court papers filed in Pennsylvania, Mr Berger’s lawyers say that Mr Weinstein and his associates “specifically targeted the insular Orthodox community in their search for victims”.

The papers claim that as a wealthy Orthodox man, Mr Berger “presented an attractive target”.

The continue: “In the Orthodox Jewish community from which Berger comes, successful business relationships are founded upon trust and confidence; a businessman’s word is his bond; and a reputation for integrity is greatly respected. Weinstein… knew these facts and exploited them… to defraud Berger.”

Mr Berger claims that he was tricked into investing in two parcels of land in Philadelphia from which Mr Weinstein profited.

Court papers allege that Mr Weinstein knew that land bought for a skyscraper project would plummet in value because of a 125ft “air rights” restriction imposed by Philadelphia City Council.

The papers also claim that Mr Weinstein falsely suggested that a second parcel of land could easily be flipped to another buyer, and that he had falsified cheques and other documents to prove it.

Now Mr Weinstein has launched a counter-claim, alleging that Mr Berger breached his fiduciary duty.

Court papers filed on his behalf claim that Mr Berger refused to hire his own counsel for the property deals and that he wanted an oral agreement “for tax reasons”.

The Jewish Week reported that there has been a criminal investigation into Mr Weinstein’s business activities since May 2008. He has not been charged.

Gary Ginsburg, a lawyer for Mr Weinstein, told the Jewish Week that his client denied all wrongdoing and that investors had lost money because of the market slump.

He told the JC that he was “not sufficiently informed” to respond to Mr Berger’s allegations.

    Last updated: 4:32pm, January 14 2010