Menu JTA Search

Funder of Jerusalem projects accused of wrongdoing

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

LOS ANGELES, July 18 (JTA) — A California state legislator is charging that a major funder of Jewish construction projects in eastern Jerusalem conspired with a public agency to operate an illegally financed casino.

A report released by Assemblyman Scott Wildman, who heads the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee, also recommends that Dr. Irving Moskowitz be investigated for possible criminal and corrupt activities and that he be required to return $12 million in public funds.

Moskowitz has long been a controversial figure in Hawaiian Gardens, a tiny, low-income city in Los Angeles County, where he operates a bingo club and a card casino — and in Jerusalem, where he has bankrolled Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.

The 72-year-old Moskowitz was born in New York, raised in Milwaukee and now lives in Miami. He is a retired physician and hospital developer and a philanthropist who supports Orthodox and right-wing causes concerning the Middle East.

Hawaiian Gardens is less than a square mile in size and has some 15,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos.

In 1988, Moskowitz took over the city’s floundering bingo parlor and soon the 800-seat, nonprofit enterprise was taking in $33 million a year. He also acquired one-third of all the commercial property in Hawaiian Gardens.

Moskowitz liberally supported various civic and communal projects and subsidized the municipal government at the rate of $200,000 a month, which amounted to about half the city’s annual budget.

Periodically, Moskowitz stopped his monthly payments. He did so in September 1997, forcing the city to lay off its entire 21-person police force.

In Israel, Moskowitz financed the excavation of a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem’s Old City. The opening of that entrance in September 1996 sparked three days of Palestinian rioting in which 15 Israelis and 61 Palestinians were killed.

The Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation has also provided an estimated $25 million to establish Jewish housing in eastern Jerusalem.

He also sends money to U.S. organizations opposed to the Oslo peace process.

The current investigation and report focuses on Moskowitz’s for-profit casino and card club.

After many years of wrangling and planning, the casino opened under a temporary license last December. According to Wildman’s report, the Redevelopment Agency of Hawaiian Gardens subsidized the acquisition of the casino with $12 million, despite legal restrictions against the use of public funds to subsidize gambling operations.

According to the report, “A city that embarked on an economic revitalization effort almost 20 years ago, has little to show for its efforts save for an inappropriate gaming establishment, approximately $12 million in expenditures of public funds, and financial dependence on the goodwill of one owner/developer, who is operating an illegally subsidized gaming operation.”

The report has been forwarded to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has the authority to deny the casino a permanent license and to initiate further investigations. The director of gambling controls is currently reviewing the report, said a spokesman for the attorney general.

Another target of the report is Beryl Weiner, Moskowitz’s attorney, who, it is charged, has represented both Moskowitz and the Redevelopment Agency at the same time in an apparent conflict of interest.

Weiner, speaking for the publicity-shy Moskowitz, vigorously denied this charge, as well as all other accusations in the legislative report, which he denounced as “flawed and biased.”

Weiner said the sum advanced by the Redevelopment Agency was $9.5 million, rather than $12 million.

He estimated anticipated gross receipts by the casino to be around $36 million for the current fiscal year, of which $4 million to $5 million would be transmitted to Hawaiian Gardens as license fees. At this rate, said Weiner, the indebtedness to the agency should be paid off in a few years.

Weiner said Moskowitz’s current problems would not affect his support of Israeli causes.

NEXT STORY