ALBANY -- For years, Long Island-based Glenwood Management has cut a profile as a luxury apartment developer and one of the biggest campaign contributors in New York politics.
Headed by 100-year-old Leonard Litwin, the New Hyde Park firm has showered Republicans and Democrats with at least $13.4 million in contributions since 1999, according to a Newsday review. It has become a player in some of the major real estate political battles in Albany, such as rent control and tax credits for New York City apartments, and it has hired a small army of lobbyists, tapping firms with deep contacts in key political blocs and paying them more than $900,000 in 2014 alone.
Litwin and the company stood out for those big numbers. But it was often "off the radar" in the halls of the State Capitol and wasn't known to be close to any particular lawmaker, lobbyists and legislators said.See alsoCampaign contributionsStorySkelos, son face extortion, conspiracy chargesSee alsoRead the complaint vs. Skelos
Litwin "is one of the most influential individual donors in Albany," said one longtime insider. "But [Glenwood] was never front-and-center. It was probably a style."
Now the company has been touched by two scandals involving two of the biggest figures in state politics.
In an indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) induced "real estate developers with business before the state" to use a law firm that paid him kickbacks. Though Glenwood wasn't specifically named in the criminal complaint, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said one of the developers "was the largest political contributor in the state since 2005," which is routinely identified as Glenwood. In addition, a source familiar with the probe since has confirmed Glenwood is one of the developers involved.
Companies not cited
In the latest case, Bharara Monday charged Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, with extortion, conspiracy and solicitation of bribes in matters involving AbTech, an Arizona-based environmental company, and Glenwood. Neither company is accused of wrongdoing. Though the criminal complaint filed doesn't mention the developer by name, it details a series of campaign contributions that match only one company, Glenwood.
State records show that an AbTech subsidiary and Glenwood Management both hired the same veteran Albany lobbying firm in 2014, a fact that the complaint noted. Investigators said a Glenwood vice president is a "cooperating witness" in the Skelos probe and has been granted immunity from prosecution.
Glenwood declined to comment for this story.
Historically, the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, a developer group, has taken the lead and the heat on issues vital to the industry, such as rent control. But one real estate developer said Litwin is the money behind the Real Estate Board of New York. And others said Litwin is well known among those who matter.
"Is he known to insiders? You betcha," a lobbyist said of Litwin. "When he speaks, people listen. They know a serious player has arrived."
Allies called Litwin "very, very smart" and "well respected" in real estate. The board named Litwin "chairman emeritus for life."
"He's probably the most respected guy in this business because of his success and because he's been at it so long," said Jeff Gural, chairman of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a prominent commercial real estate firm. "Until a year ago, he was coming to the [REBNY] meetings and participating. When he was 98, he was driving around the city and looking at sites. A lot of people retire at 70. . . . You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't like Lennie."
Gural said Glenwood is a "first-class operation" that owns quality buildings. He said though Litwin was a prominent developer, he wasn't vocal.
"He's not a shouter, not someone banging on the table," Gural said.
The Newsday review found at least $13 million in donations since 1999 from Litwin, his family, Glenwood, company executives and other limited-liability corporations that share Glenwood's home address, 1200 Union Turnpike Ave. in New Hyde Park.
LLCs can legally circumvent campaign-finance rules that limit contributions by corporations to $5,000 and individuals to $150,000 combined for all campaigns each year, driving up the total donations by Litwin's holdings. Newsday's review found 1,887 separate contributions to 361 recipients (either to candidates or party committees).
Senate Republican committees, which are controlled by Skelos, have received about $1.6 million over that period, more than any other group. But no individual has received more than Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, who got $1.1 million.
Litwin and Glenwood gave $587,600 to Jobs for New York, a REBNY-backed political-action committee that supported pro-development candidates and another $262,800 to REBNY's own political-action committee.
John Faso, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who received support from Litwin, said Glenwood's involvement in campaigns isn't surprising given that Albany politics controls New York City rents and other housing/development laws.
"Lennie is very smart and very knowledgeable about the rental markets and politics," said Faso, who ran in 2006 and now works as a lobbyist. "And because New York has a highly unusual system of regulating rental rates, you could expect that [Glenwood] would be an active player in the political system, defending its rights."
Former Gov. David A. Paterson received $300,000 in campaign contributions from Litwin and company before deciding not to run for re-election.
The conventional wisdom in Albany has been that lobbyists provided access to those in power -- not a specific action or vote. But Paterson said the huge sums in campaign donations and the cost of lobbying is changing that.
"The amount of money that's being spent is so huge that it is creating -- among those who give money -- an expectation," the former governor said.
Glenwood contracted with eight lobbying firms in 2014, often headed by insiders with strong affiliations with certain blocs. For example, it paid $144,000 to Carl Andrews, a former Democratic senator from Brooklyn who leads his own lobbying firm, and another $144,000 to a company led by former Republican Sen. Nicholas Spano.
Glenwood also paid $120,000 to a firm headed by Brian Meara, a longtime friend of Silver and who is the unnamed lobbyist in the federal criminal complaint against Silver, according to news reports. One of the partners in Meara's firm is Mike Avella, a former Senate Republican attorney.
Family's business ventures
Litwin's father, Harry Litwin, started the family's nursery business in Melville in 1933, opening Woodbourne Cultural Nurseries, according to the nursery's website.
In the 1950s, father and son ventured into real estate, building and renting luxury apartments in Manhattan. Litwin's biography on the REBNY website said Glenwood "retains the reputation as one of the best management companies of residential apartment houses in New York City." It manages 27 apartment buildings in the city, according to nybits.com, a rental market site.
In the last year, Litwin reportedly handed over daily operations to his daughter, an executive at the company, and two other Glenwood executives. Veteran lobbyists referred to one of them, Charles Dorego, Glenwood's general counsel and senior vice president, as "the guy who is running the operation." Dorego and AbTech CEO Glenn Rink both serve on an advisory council for Waterkeeper, an environmental group.
Litwin has poured millions of dollars into philanthropies. He co-founded the Litwin-Zucker Research Center for Alzheimer's at North Shore University Hospital. According to REBNY, he also founded the New York Crohn's Foundation to fund Crohn's disease research.
Litwin was once among the 400 richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine, though he dropped off the list in 2008. In a 2006 interview with the magazine, the press-shy Litwin said: "Calling me a billionaire is shocking. My wife will be surprised."
With Michael Gormley