Alleged Russian mob ties follow industrial park developer to Calverton

 A developer behind a proposed Calverton industrial park that planners have described as “far and away one of the largest industrial subdivisions the town has seen” has ties to Russian organized crime, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a 2013 report from investigators with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

While no investigation into Arik Kislin’s business dealings has ever led to any criminal charges, the gaming commission deemed his hotel company’s licensing agreement with Caesars a “significant investigative issue” in connection with a bid for a casino at the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston. Caesars was later dropped from the bid.

“We received information from the FBI that Arik Kislin is in fact known to them and has been linked to various members of Eurasian Organized Crime (EOC),” the gaming commission noted in its report, which remains available online. “The FBI indicated that historical law enforcement information indicates that Kislin handles large-scale investments within the United States for wealthy members of EOC and that Kislin’s activities focus on laundering EOC profits from overseas.”

The gaming commission’s investigation was part of the licensing process and it noted “the instant report determinedly does not endeavor to confirm or refute allegations of Kislin’s criminal affiliations.”

Mr. Kislin’s representatives confirmed this week that he is among the developers behind HK Ventures, the company proposing the 425,464-square-foot Calverton Industry Park. A spokesperson for Mr. Kislin, Juda Engelmayer of Herald PR in New York City, said reports of his client’s alleged ties to organized crime are untrue.

While the New York businessman’s involvement in the project had not previously been disclosed publicly, his name does appear in a financial disclosure report filed last month by the Riverhead Town Republican Committee. The report shows Mr. Kislin, on behalf of HK Ventures, made a maximum allowable $5,000 contribution to the committee on July 1.

“There’s no meat on it and there’s no truth to it.”

Juda Engelmayer

Mr. Kislin, who is perhaps best known as a partner in the Gansevoort luxury hotels and a founder of Chelsea Market, is a principal of Linx Industries, a self-described “diversified private investment company with significant stakes in businesses ranging from private aviation to hospitality to financial services.”

The Calverton Industrial Park, which has been discussed in recent months at meetings of the Riverhead Town Board and Planning Board, is expected to undergo an intensive environmental review conducted by town officials. Mr. Kislin was not named at any of the recent meetings and HK Ventures was instead represented by Melville attorney Keith Brown and real estate broker David Zere, who was identified as the applicant’s representative.

In a May 21 appearance before the Planning Board, which will lead the environmental review, Mr. Brown said his client was attracted to the property because it is within the boundaries of a federal opportunity zone, which makes project investors eligible for long-term deferrals — and possibly permanent federal exemptions — on capital gains taxes. The Opportunity Zone tax incentive, part of the tax reform package introduced by Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump in 2017, was designed to spur investment in undercapitalized communities. Riverhead is home to two opportunity zones: EPCAL and the downtown area. Proponents of the program have touted it as a vehicle for business, housing and jobs creation in poorer areas, while detractors have described it as a windfall for the rich. A 2019 New York Times report described the incentive as a potential “once-in-a-generation bonanza for elite investors.”

HK Ventures, the LLC behind the Calverton Industrial Park proposal, is a partnership between Mr. Kislin’s current private investment company, Linx Industries, and Pinewood Development Corp., a longtime Long Island builder, a Kislin associate explained.

The industrial park is one of several current projects in the works from the Linxwood Group, as the partnership is also known, said manager Scott Johns, who responded to an interview request on behalf of Mr. Kislin. The group is also behind a 72-unit 55-and-over community in Islandia, known as The Polo Estates, and Oak Hills Estates, 23 single-family homes recently constructed in Dix Hills, he said.

Mr. Johns explained that while Mr. Kislin’s investment interests have been primarily in luxury hospitality, including charter planes and yachts, he has also worked on industrial and commercial projects around John F. Kennedy Airport and in Las Vegas, which he said tend to get less publicity than the hospitality endeavors.

Mr. Johns said the industrial park was presented to them as something sorely needed for the East End.

“Warehouse space in the area is very limited,” he said, adding that he believes the buildout of the industrial park would be “good for the town, good for the economy and good for us.”

Mr. Johns said they envision the park being able to assist retailers from the nearby Tanger Outlet Center and the service industry on the North and South forks.

Asked about Mr. Kislin’s alleged ties to organized crime, as outlined in the gaming report and media reports, Mr. Johns said, “That’s all just sensational yellow press” and referred additional comment to Mr. Engelmayer, the spokesperson.

“Unfortunately, this comes up every time,” Mr. Engelmayer said of the allegations, which he said are “recycled” from media reports “years ago.” Mr. Engelmayer said there’s nothing new to the allegations and “those relationships have never been confirmed.” 

“There’s no meat on it and there’s no truth to it,” he said.

In an email, Kislin attorney James Catterson said previously published allegations against his client “have no basis in fact.”

Riverhead Town officials contacted for this story — including Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and planning aide Greg Bergman, who has presented the project to the Planning Board — said they had never heard of Mr. Kislin and had no knowledge of his involvement with the HK Ventures project. 

When asked about Mr. Kislin’s involvement in HK Ventures, Mr. Brown, the zoning attorney on the project, responded, “Whose involvement?”

“That’s not the gentleman I’m working with,” he said.

The paperwork on file with the site plan application at Riverhead Town Hall makes no mention of Mr. Kislin and the forms only mention by name Pinewood Development CEO Uri Hasson, Mr. Johns and Mr. Zere, who Mr. Brown said hired him to appear before town officials on zoning issues.

Mr. Zere’s mother, Marie Zere, is listed as the exclusive broker in marketing materials showing the vacant Calverton land, which is privately owned, listed for sale at $185,000 per acre, for a total asking price of more than $5.6 million. The Zere Real Estate Services website states the property is under contract.

In addition to serving as a vice president and broker with his family’s business, Mr. Zere has worked as a project coordinator and expediter for a Pinewood Development subsidiary. Mr. Zere did not return phone messages seeking comment for this story.

The 30.5-acre site of the proposed industrial park is located on the south side of Route 25, just east of Fresh Pond Avenue. Under the site plan application currently on file, HK Ventures would develop the vacant farmland with eight buildings ranging in size from 49,000 square feet to 56,672 square feet with divided tenant spaces.

Part of the property lies within the town’s water district, but the applicant would need to purchase and redeem 26.3 Pine Barrens credits in order to develop the entire site as proposed. Pine Barrens credits are a development density formula taken off of preserved land in the Pine Barrens and transferred to areas where additional building density is permitted if the developer buys the Pine Barrens credits. Planning Board officials have said the traffic impact of the proposal will also need to be examined, given the project’s proximity to the Enterprise Park at Calverton, with which it shares a common border, the neighboring Tractor Supply store and other nearby businesses.