Kosher Cannabis?


It seems that chasidim are trying to get into the medical marijuana business.

According to Saugerties Town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel, two of the principals behind NY Growing Partners, LLC are nursing home magnate and Ger chasid Michael Melnicke and Leo Friedman, the son of Satmar powerbroker Moses Friedman, otherwise known as Moshe Gabbai.

The company is one of 43 that submitted an application earlier this month to the New York State Department of Health to become one of five registered organizations to manufacture and dispense approved medical marijuana products in the state. The other two principals in NY Growing Partners are Alexander Solovey and Pat (Pasquale) DeBenedictis.

NY Growing Partners has set its sights on a 12-acre, “shovel-ready” property in upstate Saugerties, about 90 miles from New York, which it plans to use as a manufacturing facility should it be granted a license, according to Helsmoortel. (The term “shovel ready” means that the required preliminary impact studies have already been completed, streamlining the approval process.)

Applicants for the licenses were required to pay a $10,000 application free as well as a $200,000 registration fee, the latter of which will be returned to those not chosen. Criteria for consideration include the ability to manufacture medical grade marijuana in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of certified patients and being in possession of — or having secured the right to use — property, buildings and equipment to carry out production operations or, failing that, posting a $2 million bond.

A recent story in the Daily Freeman News noted that NY Growing Partners has not submitted a formal proposal or site plan and will do so only if it receives a license; at that point, Helsmoortel confirmed, it intends to work with the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency to fast-track the local approval process.

Melnicke, Friedman, Solovey and DeBenedictis have been partners in other ventures. A 2014 article in Crain’s notes that The Komanoff Center for Geriatric and Rehabilitative Medicine in Long Beach, L.I., was sold separately to two entities formed by the four men.

Melnicke, ambassador-at-large from Grenada, is a licensed nursing home administrator in New York and Connecticut and, according to government documents, lists his current employment as the receiver of Peninsula Center for Extended Care and Rehabilitation in Far Rockaway. He also has ownership interests in six other nursing homes.

Friedman is the CEO of Advanced Care Staffing, Inc., a healthcare staffing agency and is also a receiver of Peninsula Center for Extended Care and Rehabilitation, which he, Melnicke and another partner bought, through four limited liability companies, out of bankruptcy for $24 million in 2012. It is now known as the Peninsula Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

In July of 2014, Advanced Care Staffing contributed $3,000 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In November of the same year, Friedman added another $10,000 to the governor’s coffers. Through his companies, Leo Friedman gave more than $30,000 to Kenneth Thompson’s successful campaign for Brooklyn district attorney.

Leo Friedman’s father testified before the grand jury that indicted chasidic sex abuse whistleblower Sam Kellner. The Brooklyn DA’s office dropped the Kellner case after a review by his office determined the witnesses against him lacked credibility to such an extent the case could not be prosecuted.

While the health department has released only the names of the 43 companies vying for the five licenses, almost all of them have issued press releases, given interviews to the media and/or have websites containing information about themselves, including their principals. Many of the hopefuls are in the pharmaceutical business and/or have experience in the medical marijuana field in other states. (It’s unclear what expertise in the field NY Growing Partners brings to the table.) Some of these companies are in the process of trying to acquire property and, because they will need building and Department of Environmental Conservation permits, have presented proposals to local town planning boards detailing their intentions.

But not NY Growing Partners, LLC, about which public information is scant. This is despite the fact that the company has engaged the services of Zimmerman/Edelson, a Long Island-based public relations firm with close ties to Cuomo. Indeed, Helsmoortel told The Jewish Week Monday that he has been trying to persuade representatives of NY Growing Partners to reach out to the public in the town, to no avail.

“My secretary contacted them to ask for outreach and they said they’re not doing it now,” he said.

Emails to Zimmerman/Edelson and Leo Friedman seeking information about NY Growing Partners did not receive a response. A message left for Melnicke was not returned.