The recent convictions of both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos both hinged on corruption schemes involving the same Long Island real estate company. Josh Robin filed this special report.
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos are each facing decades in prison. Their convictions both hinged on corruption schemes involving the same real estate company, Glenwood Management.
For years, this little-known Long Island-based firm has reaped influence in Albany, quietly donating more than $10 million in campaign contributions, and in return benefiting from construction tax perks that critics charge help the company's bottom line far more than house the poor.
Its promotional video beckons would-be tenants to live luxuriously in the city's grandest neighborhoods.
You'll find attentive doormen, relaxing amenities and billion dollar views.
And 140 miles north of Manhattan, Glenwood Management is also enticing people. But instead of tenants, in Albany, the company targets state lawmakers.
And discretion, not glitz, plays in Albany's dim halls.
That's where money is the medium of the message, in millions of dollars in hard-to-trace campaign donations.
"Glenwood appears to be the most aggressive abuser of that system," said Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner.
As the Silver and Skelos trials show, Glenwood went even further. It also helped boost the income of the assembly speaker and got Skelos' son a job.
The company assumed a virtually all-out effort to bend state law in order to maximize profits.
City housing laws are mostly made in Albany. Multiple sources involved with the company say the firm saw the price of donations and lobbying as pennies on the dollar compared to the savings — or expense — a change in law could bring.
Some observers lament the Silver and Skelos convictions as just the end to another chapter in pay-to-play culture.
Although, others see a particular irony with Glenwood.
As it dangles luxury in Manhattan, the company has come to epitomize the underbelly of Albany politics.
"It's not only ironic, it's distasteful to see how the process works," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "There's the old saw that politics is sausage making. I think the way Albany operates politics is an insult to sausage."
No one at Glenwood was criminally charged. Two people involved in the company testified under non-prosecution agreements.
The firm, based Nassau County, has been long led by Leonard Litwin, now 101 years old. Litwin's daughter, is now said to run the company day to day.
Sticking to a years-old preference to keep a low profile, the firm declined to comment.
The roots of the Manhattan real estate empire lie 37 miles away from its headquarters, in Suffolk County. A 200-acre tree nursery is still run by Litwin's family. It was started by Litwin's father in 1933.
By the 1950s, Litwin had expanded into city real estate, including the Pavilion on the Upper East Side, seen at the time as New York's largest luxury apartment building."
Over the decades, Glenwood amassed more than two dozen buildings, mostly in Manhattan with regal-sounding names oozing privilege and comfort.
All the way, the company gave more than ten million dollars in campaign donations over about the last decade.
The large sum leaves Glenwood standing apart, even by Albany's bloated standards.
It's gone to a who’s who of Albany powerbrokers from Governor Andrew Cuomo to former Governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to State comptroller Tom DiNapoli. And of course, to Skelos and to Silver and dozens of rank and file lawmakers.
Top Glenwood executive Charles Dorego is also the leading campaign bundler for Scott Stringer, the city comptroller and a possible contender for Mayor.
Rent restrictions, though, are made in Albany so state politicians mostly benefit from Glenwood's largesse.
"They are a donor of mine," said Governor Cuomo. "They're a donor of many elected officials across the state, and that's basically the interaction."
The interaction is actually more complex. State law restricts how much companies can donate to a campaign. Glenwood found a workaround with three letters — LLC. Limited Liability Companies.
"Instead of being held to a $5,000 corporate contribution limit, they're allowed to make a $160,000 individual campaign contribution limit," said Lerner, of the good-government group Common Cause.
"And if each LLC gives up to the maximum, $160,000 dollars, and if, like with Glenwood Management, you legitimately are doing business with more than 50 LLCs, you can give away a lot of money."
Bankrolling check, after check, after check. And even though Glenwood boasts that its apartments offer the best of New York, companies are sometimes incorporated in Delaware, where regulations are looser and taxes lighter.
Take for instance, a Glenwood-owned building near the United Nations. Its LLC is in Delaware.
And it donated $54,000 recently to Governor Cuomo's possible 2018 re-election bid.
It's the type of a transaction that has filled Cuomo's coffers with more than a million dollars from Glenwood LLC's, much of it difficult to trace.
That's according to Susan Lerner of Common Cause, who has spent hours and hours, deciphering the donations.
"We found one entity where its name appears in more than two hundred different ways," Lerner said.
Democrats and Republicans benefit but Glenwood is said to be especially keen on maintaining Republican-control of the State Senate. Most of those Republicans are from outside New York City.
A City lawmaker is expected to be more pro-tenant.
"They were in such a fear of New York City legislators having control of housing laws,” says one source involved with Glenwood.
Led by Skelos, those Republicans helped Glenwood win tax benefits, especially one known as 421-a.
They were supposed to induce Glenwood to build affordable apartments —although tenant advocates like Michael McKee are skeptical the poor enjoyed much benefit at all.
"You really have to be precise about what you're talking about here," said Michael McKee with Tenants PAC. "These are below market apartments. But they only have to maintain them as below market for 20 years, at the end of 20 years they can convert them to market."
In exchange, Skelos badgered Glenwood to find Adam Skelos a job one was at an environmental company in which Glenwood had a financial stake.
Glenwood and Adam Skelos could have made a fortune if Cuomo approved the gas extraction process known as fracking.
In late 2014 the Governor banned it. Hence the anger at Cuomo you can hear in the voices of father and son in a wiretapped call played at trial.
ADAM: "He's such a (expletive). How do we beat him in an election?"
DEAN: "We will. I'm gonna run against him."
ADAM: "I wish you would. I wish you would, Dad. I would be so proud if you kicked his (expletive)."
DEAN: "Yup. Yup. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. 'Cause this is stupid. Everything is by polls and stuff like that."
In part, Silver's case involved how Glenwood helped him boost his own income, outside of the Legislature.
As he told NY1 in 2009, the lawmaker long downplayed his legal work.
"We represent only claimants, individual claimants, in personal injury actions, period." Silver said
That interview was played in court, to prove its falsehood.
"So I don’t represent corporations who have business before the Legislature," Silver said in the same NY1 interview. "I don't represent lobbyists."
In fact, through his work at a law firm, Silver was taking "joint responsibility" in helping Glenwood and another developer lower its tax bills.
Silver made about $700,000 in illegal payments.
Back in Albany, Silver was seen balancing Glenwood’s bottom line against his conference's pro-tenant leanings.
As rent stabilization laws came up in 2011, Silver met with Glenwood lobbyists.
"You give money, you get access," says one prominent lobbyist. "That’s the whole thing.”
Tenant groups say they were shut out — jousting with then-state senate majority leader Pedro Espada, he threw crumbled dollars their way.
The final bill was called a compromise, but one that a Glenwood lobbyist testified left the firm quote satisfied.
Tenant advocate McKee says silver sold out. By then, Glenwood was directing outside tax business his way.
"He gave away the store! He agreed to a staggering array of deregulation amendments that have cost us hundreds of thousands of regulated apartments that are now no longer affordable," said McKee of Tenants PAC. "They still exist. But they're no longer market rate."
More locally, Silver also repeatedly intervened in scuttling plans for a methadone clinic, keeping it away from a Glenwood building.
And what of Governor Cuomo? He has not been charged with anything.
In May, he said he never talked in Glenwood meetings about rent control or the 421-a tax benefit
"No, and I have no family members who work with them, or asked to work with them," the governor said.
Confronted with his schedule — where a meeting with Glenwood executives was about quote rent regulation, his office says he misspoke.
After the conviction of his former partners in government, the governor announced he'd move to ban unlimited LLC donations.
Meanwhile back on Long Island, records show Glenwood is moving to make that private nursery that began its empire into a nature preserve.