By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Other lawsuits arose out of creative financial arrangements. In 1988 Sopher was caught up in what lawyers call a "self-dealing transaction" involving a Manhattan parking garage he managed. The garage was in a midtown apartment building that a company named Conthur Development was converting into a co-op called Penny Lane. Years earlier Conthur had worked out a sweetheart lease arrangement for the garage space with another company. Conthur then sold the lease to Sopher for nearly a million dollars. When Conthur transferred ownership of the apartment building to the new co-op corporation, its members were stuck with a lease that let Sopher pay them far less than the market rate. The co-op sued to terminate it. In a deposition taken for the case, Sopher admitted the $25,000 annual rent he paid for the garage was ridiculously low. The U.S. district judge who heard the lawsuit upheld the co-op's right to terminate the lease.
Also in 1988, after a five-year investigation, the federal Securities Exchange Commission accused Sopher's uncle Victor Posner, a corporate takeover specialist with a Miami Beach office, of conspiring with junk-bond men Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky to illegally park, switch, and hide shares of Fischbach, a New York electrical and mechanical contractor. Sopher was a major shareholder in the company but was not charged in the case. In 1993 Posner and his son Steven were convicted of defrauding stockholders out of millions of dollars. A federal judge fined them four million dollars and barred them from serving as officers in publicly held companies.
Meanwhile Sopher had launched Quik Park in New York in 1989. A few years later he was again accused of refusing to pay somebody. This time some of his garage employees who were members of Teamsters Local 272 in Manhattan discovered Quik Park was not paying their health and welfare benefits. In 1992 the union sued Quik Park in federal court for withholding such benefits from about 150 of his 280 garage employees. According to the union's complaint, Quik Park had set up a dummy corporation for a non-existent garage and had a separate set of books. The 150 employees were listed in the phantom company, according to Teamsters representatives. Sopher and the union settled out of court earlier this year. Under the deal Quik Park agreed to pay $850,000 to the union for the unpaid benefits. "He's been paying monthly payments, which he'll be paying for one year," said Per Bernstein, a Teamsters spokesman in Washington, D.C.
Banks such as Chase Manhattan and other lenders also have sued him to get their money. In 1996 the federal Resolution Trust Corporation filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in New York to recover part of a $4.2 million-dollar loan that Sopher owed to Old Stone Federal Savings Bank. The thrift had loaned the money to him in 1987; by 1994 the businessman was a year and a half behind on his monthly installments. Soon thereafter Old Stone failed and the federal government's Resolution Trust Corporation took it over. In March 1998 Sopher lost the lawsuit filed against him by the corporation, which wanted $1.8 million of the Old Stone loan.
On top of that, Sopher has a record in the Empire State of paying tens of thousands of dollars in taxes late -- or not at all. Throughout the Nineties he and the New York City Tax Commission engaged in suits and countersuits. His distaste for sending his money to governments seems to mesh with his contributions to anti-tax candidates. For example in 1995 he and his wife, Jonee, gave at least $2000 to Bob Dole's doomed presidential bid. Between 1995 and 1997 the couple sent personal checks worth $4000 to the campaign of New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who lost to Democrat Charles Schumer in 1998. Sopher had given Schumer $500.
But Sopher's business associates are in awe of his savvy and persistence. "Developers are always calling Hank to get his gut [feeling] on how well something would rent," said Shepsman, the RSVP manager. "Hank works all night. The guy reads all night. He has more energy than people a fraction of his age."
Even a severe illness has barely slowed him down. In early 1997 doctors diagnosed him with bone-marrow cancer. Since then he has received two stem-cell transplants. He and his wife are helping raise ten million dollars for an expansion of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center in Little Rock, where he received the surgery. Among the improvements: a parking garage.
That same year he made a major business move. He sold a majority stake in J.I. Sopher Realty to another large residential brokerage firm, Douglas Elliman. And then he took Quik Park to Florida.
The Quik Park juggernaut actually began early in 1997 across the bay in Miami Beach. He took aim at his first foothold: a municipal parking facility. While he did so he captured some residential properties (a two-bedroom condo on Fisher Island for $550,000 and a Portofino Tower apartment on the southern tip of South Beach for $457,800.) The City of Miami Beach keeps tight control over its parking facilities, and most are city run. But somehow Quik Park worked its way in through the city's Redevelopment Agency (RDA). In 1997 Sergio Rodriguez, then executive director of the RDA, recommended Quik Park operate the city's newly completed Anchor Shops garage at Sixteenth Street and Collins Avenue, across from the huge Loews Hotel. Rodriguez cited Quik Park's experience managing hotel garages.