Looting Hawaiian Gardens
in Hawaiian Gardens? Legislator's report urges criminal investigation
of casino owner Irving Moskowitz
|by Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Originally published 21 July 2000
in The Jewish Journal
A key committee chairman of the California legislature
has released a report charging that Irving Moskowitz, a major funder of pro-settler
initiatives in Israel, conspired with a public agency to operate an illegally
report also urges that Moskowitz and the agency be investigated for possible
criminal and corrupt activities and that he be required to return $12 million
in public funds. Assemblyman Scott Wildman (D-Los Angeles), who heads the
Joint Legislative Audit Committee, made public the 149-page report prepared
by the committee's staff.
Moskowitz has long been a controversial
figure in Hawaiian Gardens, a tiny, low-income city in southeast 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 East
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,
devoutly Orthodox. Hawaiian Gardens is less than a square mile in size and
has some 15,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos.
Moskowitz took over the city's floundering bingo parlor, and within a short
time, 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.
soon gained a kind of godfather status in the small city, liberally supporting
various civic and communal projects and subsidizing the municipal government
at the rate of $200,000 a month, which annually came to about half the city's
Periodically, Moskowitz stopped his monthly payments.
He did so in September 1997, forcing the city to lay off its entire 21-person
In Israel, meanwhile, the tax-exempt Irving I. Moskowitz
Foundation has provided an estimated $25 million to Orthodox settler groups
to establish Jewish housing developments in Arab neighborhoods, moves opposed
as politically incendiary by both Likud and Labor governments.
moneys went to American organizations opposed to the Oslo peace process,
such as American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, National Council of Young Israel,
Zionist Organization of America, PRO-Israel, the Washington-based Center
for Security Policy, and Americans for a Safe Israel.
investigation and report focuses on Moskowitz's for-profit casino and card
club. After many years of wrangling and planning, the casino opened last
December under a temporary license. 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
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 report is currently under
review by Harlan Goodson, director of gambling controls, a spokesman said.
criticized in the report is the casino's location, adjacent to a middle school,
a hospital, a place of worship and public park.
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 vigorously denied this charge,
as well as all other accusations in the legislative report, which he denounced
as "flawed and biased" and fit only for the garbage can.
On one key point, Weiner said that the sum advanced by the Redevelopment Agency was $9.5 million, rather than $12 million.
put anticipated gross receipts by the casino at 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.
for the past two years, largely responsible for focusing media and public
attention on his activities, has been a citizens group called the Coalition
for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem. The coalition was founded
and is largely energized by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, 51, who says he became
first aware of Moskowitz's "anti-peace" activities in Jerusalem while spending
two years in Israel. Back in Los Angeles, Beliak turned his attention to
Hawaiian Gardens and discovered that "it's the kind of company town in which
Moskowitz calls all the shots."
When a congregational pulpit opened at nearby Temple Ner Tamid in Downey in 1997, Beliak applied and was hired.
year later, the coalition was launched when Beliak persuaded a dozen colleagues,
attending the national convention of Reform rabbis, to picket the casino.
Beliak says that the coalition has no formal membership but has the support
of 500-600 rabbis of all denominations, Christian clergy and Latino activists.
Financial backing comes primarily from the liberal-oriented Shefa Fund, which
has given the coalition $70,000 over the past two years. In addition, $10,000
has been raised by local supporters, says Beliak, who adds that he earns
an annual salary of $1 as the coalition coordinator.
as rabbi of Ner Tamid, a Reform congregation, Beliak also serves two smaller
Conservative congregations, Adat Chaverim in Los Alamitos and Beth Shalom
in Whittier. He also teaches classes at Leo Baeck Temple and the Claremont
Copyright 2000, The Jewish Journal
For education and discussion only. Not for commerical use.
2003 design by elbop for the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem