If a single Manhattan building could sum up the saga of New York City’s big, bad and wacky real-estate business, the Apthorp would have it covered.
The legendary limestone landmark on the Upper West Side has wooed famed tenants from Al Pacino to Sydney Poitier to late screenwriter and former Post scribe Nora Ephron, who wrote love letters to its New York neighborhood in films such as “You’ve Got Mail.”
But the Apthorp also has been a hotbed of alleged corruption, once prompting a probe by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Its past has involved everyone from a gun-toting building manager to an Uzbek-born diamond-dealing Putin pal to a “Real Housewife of New York’’ TV reality star — and even a key figure in the explosive NYPD pay-to-play scandal.
To understand all the twists and turns of this classic New York real-estate story, you just have to follow the money.
The Apthorp is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and takes up an entire city block, from Broadway to West End Avenue between 78th and 79th streets.
Modeled after the Pallazo Pitti in Florence, Italy, for original owner William Waldorf Astor in 1906, the building, with its grand courtyard, became a hub for New York’s rich and famous, allowing them to live there in understated luxury often in rent- stabilized units.
But the good times began coming to an end in 2007, when New York landlord Maurice Mann bought the Apthorp for a record $426 million. Mann planned to spruce up the units and sell them for more than a total $1 billion.
At the time, 100 of the 163 rental units were rent-stabilized. Mann’s investors included real-estate big Ralph Braha and Joe Nakash, who co-founded Jordache jeans. But his biggest partner was billionaire diamond dealer and Vladimir Putin pal Lev Leviev, who owned another real-estate firm, Africa Israel, and took a 50 percent stake.
Mann and his company president, Jon Herbitter, were accused of trying to force rent-stabilized tenants out of the building to make the billion-dollar plan a reality.
One tenant was allegedly threatened with eviction from her 720-square-foot, $1,000 a month pad because of a red-ant problem from her plants. She fought the eviction in court and won.
The pressure over getting the cheaper tenants out — and Mann’s over-the-top spending to fix up the empty units — soon frayed his and Leviev’s relationship, sources said.
Around the same time, a young man named Jona Rechnitz was toiling at Africa Israel, sources said. Rechnitz’s father and Leviev had “done deals” together on the West Coast, a source said.
“He was a nobody, an assistant, scurrying around, fetching coffee,” a source said of Rechnitz who is now infamous as one of two men at the heart of the city scandal involving alleged kickbacks to top cops for favors, and drawing in Mayor de Blasio in the process.
Then when the economic crisis hit in 2008, it only added to the project’s woes.
Wall Street bonuses dried up. Investors were calling in loans.
Herbitter, who has said he has a gun license, told the New York Times at the time that for its investors, the Apthorp had become both a “Waterloo” and “Gilligan’s Island” everyone wanted off the island, but no one could ever leave.
Mann was desperate to bring more money in but couldn’t agree with Leviev on how to do it. So many units remained empty that the Apthorp started to look creepy at night, left mainly dark with just a handful of lights from the sprinkling of residents.
A rabbinical court actually had to be brought in to mediate between the developers and with one particularly fed-up lender, Apollo Real Estate Advisors, which was calling in its $125 million loan and threatening foreclosure. After even bickering over which kind of rabbis to use — Orthodox or Conservative — Mann and Leviev came to a resolution, and the units were put on the market as condos.
As the developers moved forward with their grandiose plans, Rechnitz netted a plum role for himself in the venture: selling Apthorp’s units, sources said.
It would pave the way for his first major foray into the city’s real-estate market and help catapult him into a world where he found himself rubbing elbows with de Blasio and police commanders — which ultimately led to his downfall.
Rechnitz was perceived as “a hero” said one person who was involved in the condo- peddling plan.
“They needed to sell units. Lev [Leviev] had money invested. Maurice Mann had failed. The person that Lev tagged to move units was Jona,’’ the source said.
The developers had high hopes for the building: $3,000 per square foot. That meant one-bedrooms selling for around $1.78 million, two-bedrooms for $4.5 million and three-bedrooms for $6 million and more importantly, finally quelling investors’ concerns with promises of rich rewards.
A five-bedroom unit was asking $12.5 million.
Rechnitz was handed a roughly $20 million marketing budget to begin luring back the rich and famous at sky-high prices,
Celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Matt Damon started looking with renewed interest at the property, which over the years included tenants like Cyndi Lauper, Rosie O’Donnell and Conan O’Brien.
But while Rechnitz blew all of his advertising budget, no one was actually scooping up the pads, said a source close to the project.
Rechnitz’s decision on how to spend the marketing pot was questionable at best, sources said.
In one case, he hired a 747 jet, filled it with male models and flew to Europe to shoot an ad for the Apthorp, they said.
“It made no sense, as the building was in New York,” a source said.
But Rechnitz said he wanted to target foreign buyers, said a source familiar with the shoot.
The result was an embarrassing video made about the Apthorp that the New York Times described as reminiscent of “late ’70s pornography [with] a woman purring, ‘The Apthorp: A moment of passion that lasted a hundred years.’”
“He wasted so much money. The plan was terrible,” a source said.
The plane jaunt would eerily foreshadow a later decision by Rechnitz that proved fateful to his career.
He and associate Jeremiah Reichberg paid for a private jet to take NYPD officers and a prostitute on a sex-fueled flight to Las Vegas for the Superbowl, the feds say.
Rechnitz has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the case and is now cooperating with US Attorney Preet Bahara.
“I was flabbergasted,’’ a real-estate source said of Rechnitz’s role in the police scandal. “He was a little nebishy guy.”
Back in 2009, though, Rechnitz and the Apthorp’s developers had other troubles. It was do-or-die time for their massive project.
The building finally had just one month left to sell 25 units to survive.
Disgruntled lender Anglo Irish bank brought in a Douglas Elliman team led by top broker Dolly Lenz in a last-ditch attempt to get sales on track. As the real-estate Web site Curbed set up a “death watch” for the project, 32 units were sold, including four by Rechnitz.
“Jona was great — he was a broker who found buyers at the bottom of the market,’’ a real-estate source said.
But other sources said Rechnitz sabotaged some sales by telling other brokers that certain units were not on the market, even though they were. He then sold these units at deeply discounted rates, sources said.
“[The deals] made no sense,’’ a source said.
Lenz told The Post, “My team sold all the units we needed to sell, but Jona pulled four units for family and friends that he sold well below market rate. They were giveaways.”
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman finally stepped in and briefly halted sales at the building in 2011 but took no further action.
“We don’t regulate sales prices,’’ a spokesman explained to The Post. “We look somewhat narrowly at whether it’s an effective sale and there’s a real purchaser involved.’’
Rechnitz’s spokesman declined comment for this story.
One of the sweetheart-deal recipients was Julianne “Jules’’ Wainstein, the newest cast member of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York.” Her estranged husband, Michael Wainstein, is the former co-owner of Dual Groupe Hospitality. The two are now in the midst of a brutal public divorce.
In 2011, the Wainsteins paid $217,998 for a penthouse that was worth more than $2 million at the time, according to other comparable sales.
Mark Jay Heller, a lawyer representing Michael Wainstein in his divorce, said that there was nothing corrupt about the couple’s purchase.
New York real-estate mogul Joe Sitt also is in contract to buy 70 of the Apthorp’s units for the deeply discounted price of $120 million.
The deal appears to include development rights for the roof, which are worth at least an additional $25 million, sources said. Sitt declined to comment.
A source close to Sitt says it is a fair deal, since 61 are occupied and still rent-stabilized.
The remaining nine including seven penthouses are vacant.
They can be resold at fair-market value, but they are unrenovated, the source said.
Neither Mann nor any of the other three buyers involved with Rechnitz returned calls for comment. Herbitter declined comment.