Key figure in hotel plan to serve prison term

Man who admitted to tax violations part of financing team

September 28, 2001|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A key figure in the effort to build a Ritz-Carlton hotel and condominium complex in Federal Hill is scheduled to report to a federal prison next month to begin serving a sentence for income tax violations.

Howard D. Zukerman, a Syosset, N.Y., resident who is part of the team working to get financing for the $156 million project, entered a guilty plea to the tax charges in April and will begin serving a one-year sentence Oct. 16.

Edward V. Giannasca II, president of the firm developing the project, L.I. Square Corp., said Zukerman was not an owner of the project, but has been working to secure financing on behalf of Philip Pilevsky, the principal owner.

"He handles financial matters for Mr. Pilevsky," said Giannasca, adding that Zukerman also was not an officer of L.I. Square. Pilevsky did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Correspondence dated within the past two months reviewed by The Sun lists Zukerman as a vice president and chief financial officer for L.I. Square. New York corporation records list Pilevsky as chairman of the board of L.I. Development.

Giannasca said he was not aware of Zukerman's legal problems, but was confident they would have no effect on the project, which is slated to be built on a 5.6-acre site along Key Highway.

Records in U.S. District Court in New York show that Zukerman was charged with tax fraud in an eight-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in 1999, and pleaded guilty to four of the charges.

Court records show he admitted to willful failure to file tax returns for a four-year period ending in 1995. U.S. District Judge Arthur D. Spatt set a one-year sentence with the first six months to be served in Fort Dix, N.J., and the balance in a halfway house.

The court records show Zukerman was also ordered to make payments for past due taxes, including penalties and interest, of $193,949.

New York court records also list tax liens against Zukerman totaling more than $50,000.

Zukerman could not be reached for comment.

Records reviewed by The Sun provide details of Zukerman's role in efforts to secure financing for the hotel and condominium project.

An official of a financing company, Choice Capital Corp of Atlanta, wrote to Zukerman on Aug. 30 with an offer to provide partial funding for the project.

Partner forced out

The Ritz project has been marked by controversy and one of the original partners was forced out of the development team when questions were raised about his past.

That partner, Stuart C. "Neil" Fisher, will collect a multimillion-dollar fee for giving up his rights to the Federal Hill property. Records also show that Fisher may still be involved in the project. On Sept. 5, the Christopher Co., with which Fisher is affiliated, submitted a bill for $296,000 to the Ritz developers.

Giannasca said he was not aware of the bill or what it was for.

The company president also denied reports that his firm is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to complete purchase of the site. He said he remains confident a financing arrangement will be in place.

Challenge from unions

The developers are facing challenges from a local coalition of labor unions who have questioned environmental conditions at the site, which was formerly owned by Bethlehem Steel. The coalition, which includes Local 7 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, has written state officials urging them to require further testing at the site.

"They clearly haven't been forthcoming," said Nick Weiner, a research analyst for the hotel workers union.

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