Power Fraud: The Adam Hochfelder Story

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As a rising young star in New York real estate, Adam Hochfelder emulated New York legends like Harry Helmsley, buying the billionaire's namesake Helmsley Building at 230 Park Ave., and setting up shop in the former office of Helmsley's widow, Leona. Turns out the 38-year old upstart was emulating another legend, too: Bernie Madoff. Hochfelder was charged this week with bilking millions of dollars out of friends and family -- even his best man -- in phony real estate deals.

"The defendant systematically defrauded his friends, family and business associates out of millions of dollars through phony real estate deals, repeatedly abusing the trust of those who believed he was an upstanding businessman," says Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance Jr, which indicted Hochfeder on charges of grand larceny this week.
This is actually the second time in less than two years that Hochfelder has been in hot water with the criminal justice system. In 2008, he was indicted on charges of stealing $17 million from friends, family and banks.

His defense lawyer is quoted as saying Hochfelder "always intended to pay them back," and claims he has already done so to the tune of some $15 million. Hochfelder reportedly turned down a plea deal recently.

The lawyer claims Hochfelder is broke. But that was far from the case back in 2003 when the New York Observer ran a puff piece titled "Power Punk: Adam Hochfelder." To show you how the Hochfelders and the Bernie Madoffs of this world apparently get away with this stuff, reading these old stories can be very, shall we say, educational?

Describing him as "tall, slim and impeccably groomed," the 2003 Observer article went on to gush that, "...he's one of New York's oldest stories, a young man with a brain for business taking control of the skyline-literally."

The story chronicled the building of Hochfelder's real estate empire, starting with his audacious purchase in 1998 of the Helmsley Building. Hochfelder hooked up with a real estate scion Richard Kalikow to created Max Capital Management Corp. To finance their first acquisition, the two "hit up friends and family members for donations," according to the Observer.

Hochfelder later bought his partner out, prompting a law suit from Kalikow saying he was cheated out of money.

The Observer quoted Peter Riguardi, then president of the New York region of Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm, as saying, "It's mind boggling that he's so young and he has so many things going for him."

Yeah. He apparently had a lot of things going for him. Like a keen knack for knowing how to rip off friends and family, and apparently to bamboozle impressionable journalists, too.

The 7-year old article also paints a portrait of a young man who knew how to network, long before the era of Facebook and Twitter. His contacts among New York City's real estate elite -- Kalikow, Donald Trump, Daniel Doctoroff -- at the time illustrates how the con is played: It's the art of the schmooze. No one knows what you are really about, until, sadly, it is too late.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle."
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