A government witness in the now-defunct probe of Mayor Bill de Blasio recruited several prominent and wealthy New Yorkers into a Ponzi scheme whose accused mastermind goes on trial this month.
Jona Rechnitz, real estate investor-turned-government witness, convinced Julius Klein Diamonds’ owner Martin Klein and hedge fund manager Michael Weinberger to pump millions into an allegedly fake wholesale liquor business run by Hamlet Peralta, former owner of a Harlem restaurant popular with NYPD brass, the sources said.
Klein and Weinberger could be called to testify about their investments at Peralta’s upcoming May 15th trial, sources said.
Weinberger, who left York Capital last year to start his own hedge fund, was out as much $2 million on the alleged Ponzi scheme after investing around $5 million with Peralta, court documents show.
Weinberger, who ran billions in stock investments at York Capital, declined to comment.
It’s unclear how much Klein invested with Peralta, the former owner of the Hudson River Cafe. The diamond dealer didn’t return a request for comment.
Rechnitz’s lawyer declined to comment, as did Peralta’s lawyer.
Despite acting as a recruiter for Peralta’s alleged scheme, Rechnitz has not been charged in the case because the government has said he did not know the business was fake.
Rechnitz pleaded guilty in 2016 to donating money to de Blasio’s now defunct Campaign for One New York in hopes of winning municipal favors, which sources have said included city-issued building permits.
Manhattan federal prosecutors have since dropped the fundraising probe into de Blasio, but Rechnitz remains the key witness in two other upcoming corruption trials.
The head of JSR Capital is expected to testify in October that he helped bribe former NYC prison guard union chief Norman Seabook to give union money to now-defunct hedge fund Platinum Partners.
The real estate investor is also a key witness in the government’s case against two NYC cops accused of accepting gifts in exchange for official favors, including closing down a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel.
If Rechnitz is called to testify at Peralta’s trial, the defense will seek to paint him as the perpetrator of an illegal loan-sharking scheme intended “to bleed Mr. Peralta dry,” court papers show.
That’s because Rechnitz had been charging Peralta illegal loan-shark rates on the money he was recruiting from investors, unbeknown to his wealthy friends, lawyer Cesar de Castro has claimed in court documents.