NEW YORK CITY — Moses "Mark" Stern, the cooperating witness who played a pivotal role in the arrests of state Sen. Malcolm Smith and five others, is a well-connected upstate powerbroker who kept dirt on politicians for a "rainy day" and had ties to many elected officials, including state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, sources said.
A smooth-talking bankrupt real estate investor, Stern, 40, is a member of the tight-knit Satmar Hasidic community in Monsey, N.Y., who helped local politicians win office by directing tens of thousands of his allies' dollars to campaign coffers and rallying the Orthodox Jewish community's support, sources said.
"Stern tried to help people get into office like Attorney General Eric Schneiderman," a former business associate of Stern told DNAinfo.com New York.
Stern was more than a fundraiser for Schneiderman and other New York City politicians. Part of his strategy was badmouthing opposing campaigns to help his candidate win, the associate said.
In fact Stern kept information on elected officials — just in case he got arrested or for a "rainy day," the associate said.
"He's slimy and deceptive and only looks out for himself and for the next dollar," the associate added.
Schneiderman's office said Stern never directly contributed funds to the attorney general's campaign, but acknowledged a connection between the two.
"Mr. Stern — like thousands of New Yorkers — supported the campaign in his local community," a spokesman for Schneiderman said in a statement.
Stern and Schneiderman were so close that Stern helped fundraise for the attorney general and attended his 2011 inaugural party, sources said.
At the heart of Stern's power has been his ability to get Monsey's Orthodox community to open up their wallets and support candidates.
Among the upstate town's major political donors are Joseph and Esther Markowitz, who run a local real estate company and regularly write four-figure checks to certain candidates from New York City.
During the 2010 campaign for attorney general, the Markowitzes contributed more than $90,000 to Schneiderman, according to campaign finance records. Esther Markowitz donated $52,800, given in major sums on Oct. 7, 8, 12 and 31, 2010, while Joseph Markowitz gave $38,052, on Sept. 8 and Oct. 6, 8 and 29, records show.
The pair and corporations that can be traced back to them have also given an additional $15,500 to Schneiderman’s 2014 campaign.
The Markowitzes have spread their generosity far beyond Monsey and all the way to Queens, donating thousands of dollars to Smith and City Councilman Dan Halloran, the politicians who were arrested on Tuesday.
On Sept. 28, 2012, Halloran received $2,000 from Esther Markowitz and $2,000 from Joseph Markowitz, according to state records.
One day earlier, according to the federal criminal complaint, Halloran met with Stern and an undercover FBI agent in a Manhattan hotel.
At the meeting, the agent said he had funneled $6,500 in illegal contributions to Halloran’s congressional campaign, by paying off straw donors so that the agent’s name wouldn’t appear in official documents.
As Crain’s New York Insider first reported, Halloran’s filings show $6,500 in contributions the following day, including the $4,000 from the Markowitzes.
Smith also benefited from the Markowitzes, receiving more than $10,000 from the pair: $8,500 on Aug. 8, 2012, and another $4,000 on Sept. 12, 2012, according to records.
The Markowitzes could not be reached for comment by phone. Nobody came to the door when a DNAinfo.com New York reporter knocked.
Another politician who benefited from the Markowitzes contributions was Sherri Eisenpress, who represented Stern as his attorney in one of his many federal court battles over $126 million he owes Citigroup. Eisenpress was elected as a Family Court Judge with broad Orthodox support, even though she is openly gay.
According to state campaign finance records, Eisenpress received strong support in the Monsey Orthodox community with Stern's backing, including $11,000 in contributions from the Markowitzes.
Stern was revealed Wednesday as an FBI cooperating witness who brokered an alleged bribery scheme involving Smith, Halloran, Bronx GOP boss Joseph Savino, Queens Republican party vice-chairman Vincent Tabone and two Rockland county officials. The center point of the plot was to get Smith, a Democrat, on the Republican ticket to run in this year's mayoral race. The six were arrested a day earlier.
Stern personally owes $126 million in loans to Citigroup after his real estate firm that owned 11 strip malls in the Southeast went bankrupt in 2009.
Stern did not respond to requests for comment.