Looting Hawaiian Gardens
in a Small, Casino Town
|by Douglas P. Shuit
Originally published 25 March 1999
in Los Angeles Times
Politics: Hawaiian Gardens' city attorney resigns, charging that the city's benefactor is behind move to oust her.
The physician considered by some to be the city of Hawaiian Gardens' absentee landlord is stirring the pot again.
time, Irving Moskowitz--who controls legal gambling in Hawaiian Gardens and
keeps the city alive by funneling millions of dollars in gifts through a
charitable foundation--is said to be the force behind the abrupt resignation
of City Atty. Julia Sylva.
And the city attorney is not going quietly.
owns the only casino in the city and is receiving money to expand it from
the city redevelopment agency. The problem, Sylva said as she resigned Tuesday
night, is the fact that Moskowitz is represented by a lawyer whose law firm
also represents the redevelopment agency.
Sylva considers that a clear
conflict of interest and said she decided to resign when she realized that
members of the City Council and other officials were not listening to her
"It's an outrage," she said in a statement to the council
Tuesday night. "They are using public funds to build a casino. . . . They
would prefer to take legal advice from [Moskowitz's] attorney."
a retired physician who lives in Miami, has gained international celebrity
by establishing Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem on land he purchased
from Arabs. Profits from a bingo parlor he owns in Hawaiian Gardens are believed
to have contributed to the money he has spent in the Middle East.
Moskowitz nor his attorney, Beryl Weiner, were available for comment Wednesday.
The city's largest landowner, Moskowitz in recent years has been channeling
on-again, off-again payments of $200,000 a month--about half the city's estimated
annual budget--through his Irving Moskowitz Foundation.
also owns the city's only hospital, has other real estate investments and
contributes widely to such things as the city's food bank and youth baseball
and football programs. He is so well known in the square-mile city that whenever
anyone refers to "the doctor," there is never a doubt about who they are
But the plug was pulled on the $200,000-a-month payments
in December, and it plunged the beleaguered little city deeper into chaos,
which led to a shake-up of the City Council and, in Sylva's interpretation,
"It's not a surprise," said Councilman Placido Alvarez
of Sylva's announcement. Alvarez said that if she hadn't resigned, it was
likely that critics on the City Council would have replaced her.
had been expected since the March 2 city election, when two new council members
said to be friendly to Moskowitz's interests were elected, giving the council
a new three-member majority, said Alvarez, a local real estate agent who
said he now has only one ally on the council.
In recent months, there had been a number of clashes, in court and out of court, between Sylva and Moskowitz's attorney.
a Los Angeles attorney who had worked for Hawaiian Gardens on a contract
basis for three years and served on the Hawaiian Gardens City Council four
years during the 1970s, blames her troubles on Moskowitz.
the doctor's agenda was to terminate me and get rid of my legal mind," she
said. "I kept asking, 'Why is a casino operating with public funds? This
is illegal. Public funds cannot be used for gambling.' " She contended that
the proper permits and approvals were not filed in conformance with time
requirements of state law, a stance she concedes is disputed by Moskowitz's
Other council members agreed with Alvarez that Sylva's
departure was just a matter of time. "I was glad that it was done that way,"
said Councilwoman Petra A. Prida. "I'm glad she turned her resignation in,
instead of letting us do it in public."
Prida noted that a number of suits were pending against the city and that some officials believed Sylva could have settled them.
of the suits stem from former businesses, like the city's landmark greengrocer,
Plowboys Market, that were forced to close when the redevelopment agency
moved in to take possession of land for the casino project.
* * * Times staff writer Nancy Trejos contributed to this story.
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