Of all the people that Robert Durst must answer to—the cops, the family of Susan Berman, the family of Kathie Durst, and now possibly the family of missing teenager Karen Mitchell—the owner of Harvest Cyclery in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood is probably not the highest on his list of alleged victims. Still, AJ Nichols can attest to the frustration of tangling with someone with Durst’s wealth and power.
Nichols is a young father and owner of Harvest Cyclery, which opened at 606 Bushwick Avenue in 2012. He says he has spent between $10,000 to $15,000 to save his store, despite the efforts of Debrah Lee Charatan, the estranged wife of accused serial murderer Robert Durst, who he believes wants to push him out.
“I just had to get a lawyer. They tried to crush me,” Nichols told The Daily Beast of the campaign to evict him from his 606 Bushwick Ave store.
In papers dated July 16, 2014, Nichols received a notice to cure default that is signed by Charatan with Bentel 41 Jefferson LLC as landlord. Charatan is known as a real estate mogul leading BCB Property Management, which is identified as the managing agent of Bentel 41 Jefferson in court papers.
BCB property did not respond to The Daily Beast’s multiple efforts to reach the company for comment by phone and email. Susan Baumel-Cornicello, the attorney representing Bentel 41 Jefferson, refused to comment on the connection to BCB Property. “I’m not going to comment on that, but what I will say since there is some litigation between Bentel 41 Jefferson LLC and Harvest Cyclery,” she told The Daily beast.
BCB Property is one of the prime developers in Crown Heights and other gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods. In July 2014, Al Jazeera America reported on BCB’s “aggressive eviction campaign” in its Crown Heights apartments. Bob Fugger told Al Jazeera America that he declined BCB’s buyout offer on his unit at 1159 President St. When he was given his new lease by BCB in April of 2014, he said his rent nearly doubled from $1072 a month to more than $1,900.
Complaints about Charatan’s ventures have not only come from tenants. In the 1980s, she headed Bach Realty, an all-female brokerage firm. “By 1987, 20 of the 24 saleswomen had quit or been fired,” The New York Times noted in a 2003 profile on Charatan. “Brokers filed a number of lawsuits and complaints with the state Labor Department, seeking unpaid commissions.”
Charatan and Durst appear to be estranged, but that doesn’t mean that the distant wife doesn’t benefit from the Durst fortune. “BCB claims to have owned the buildings and Durst was not mentioned in the press release, but court filings from April 2013 revealed that he bought the properties in November 2011 with money from his $43-million dollar trust fund,” Real Estate Weekly reported in 2014.
Nichols and I speak as he is renovating his new store space at 1158 Myrtle Ave in Bushwick. Although the area is not nearly as bougie as Williamsburg, it seems like the area is well on its way to being the next backdrop for Girls. It’s the kind of neighborhood that BCB has had a pattern of scoping out and eventually pricing out, some residents say, a working-class community.
“I had a studio in Bushwick and they basically kicked us out of that building, too. I don’t know if Durst bought that building, but I think it was all connected,” said Chris, a resident in one of BCB’s Willliamsburg properties, 202 S. 2nd Street, who has lived there for 20 years. He said BCB took it over about a year ago.
Located across from a Pentecostal church and ensconced among vintage furniture shops and nouveau falafel joints, the residential building isn’t quite as nice as the sleek, modern condo-style place next door, but it’s clearly been renovated. In fact, workers are in the middle of repainting the building when I come by. They have no idea who Durst is. “We’re just trying to do our job,” said one of the workers, a Kosovo native, understandably wary of the questions.
Chris said he’s only heard nice things about Durst and Charatan, despite the fact that he credits their real estate maneuvers with forcing him out of his Bushwick studio.
“I’ve asked some of the supers and stuff if they know him, and they said he’s very nice.”
Nichols’ words are less kind. “They [his landlord] were just dicks to me. They were such assholes,” he said. Since July he has been battling their efforts to evict him for what he claims are spurious violations regarding his placement of bicycles in the basement of his bicycle store space.
Nichols shared with The Daily Beast the Notice to Cure Default papers signed by Charatan and dated July 16. 2014, which claim that “an excess accumulation of bicycles, bicycle parts, boxes, personality, garbage and/or debris” have led to an “unsanitary condition and/or fire hazard.”
“That’s part of the lease,” Nichols claims.
The two parties reached a settlement that was signed and dated on October 15, 2014. Lawyers for neither party were willing to share the settlement with The Daily Beast, but directed us to the public records for the Kings County Clerk’s office.
Harvest Cyclery and Bentel 41 Jefferson agreed to a stipulation, which established a nine-month compliance period with specific regulations for the bike shop to follow regarding the number of bikes that can be stored in the basement—no more than 100—and a prohibition on “storing, displacing and/or placing bicycles and/or bicycle racks more than three (3) feet from the storefront).” Harvest Cyclery also was obligated to present “date-stamped photographs of the side in form of the Premises and the basement from all angles showing compliance” and that “said photographs shall be provided… within 48 hours of written notice” from Bentel 41 Jefferson via “hand-delivery and/or overnight mail.”
It was noted in the stipulation that if Harvest Cyclery complied with the stated regulations, “the notice to cure default shall be extinguished.”
However, Nichols says his saga with Charatan isn’t over yet. “They tried to make a motion, two weeks ago, three weeks ago,” he said when we speak on March 20. According to court records, a motion was filed by Bentel 41 Jefferson LLC on February 17, 2015 to restore the case to the calendar. It is currently open and the next hearing is scheduled for April 22. The documents related to this most recent motion are not in the public record and the lawyers for both parties declined to discuss the details.
To add insult to injury, Nichols said, the attorney that represented him in his initial round of battles with BCB, Jennifer Milosavljevic, was hired away by the lawyers representing his landlord.
“The firm that represents BCB Properties snagged her,” he said.
A source who declined to go on-the-record said Milosaljevic was hired by Cornicello Tendler & Baumel-Cornicello LLP shortly before Nichols and BCB reached the initial agreement in October.
A call to Cornicello Tendler & Baumel-Cornicello LLP confirmed that Milosaljevic was currently working in their offices, as The Daily Beast was connected through to her. In papers dated July 28, 2014, Milosavljevic submitted court documents on behalf of Harvest Cyclery. She is listed as part of the Price Law Firm, which represents Nichols, in a letter pertaining to the case dated August 11, 2014.
When The Daily Beast reached out to Milosaljevic at Cornicello Tender & Baumel-Cornicello, LLP, she declined to comment on the case regarding 606 Bushwick Avenue. When asked why, she responded, “I just can’t. I have no comment.”
Baumel-Cornicello denied the allegation that Milosaljevic was hired just before the case was about to settle. “It could not actually be true. That is incorrect,” Baumel-Cornicello told The Daily Beast.
Nichols is ultimately hoping that the fact that Milosaljevic is now working for the opposition will help him. “My lawyer is going to be like this counsel isn’t even qualified to represent this conflict because of a conflict of interest because they hired away the lawyer on my case,” said Nichols, who remains represented by The Price Law Firm, yet by a different attorney within the practice.
While Nichols by no means has experienced the heartache that others who have tangled with Durst have faced, he is more than ready for this experience to be behind him—and he’s hopeful it will be soon.
“I’m going to win and get what I want,” said Nichols, “which is just to be left the fuck alone.”