Looting Hawaiian Gardens
Moskowitz accused of operating illegal LA casino
by Tom Tugend
Originally published 16 July 2000
in The Jerusalem Post

LOS ANGELES (July 16) - 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 financed casino. The 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 Los Angeles County with some 15,000 residents, mostly Latinos, where he operates a bingo club and a card casino, and in Jerusalem, where he has bankrolled Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods.

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 devoutly Orthodox philanthropist.

In 1988, Moskowitz took over the city's floundering bingo parlor and within a short time the 800-seat, non-profit enterprise was taking in $33 million a year. He also acquired one-third of the town's commercial property.

Moskowitz soon gained a kind of godfather status in the mini-city, liberally supporting various civic and communal projects and subsidizing the municipal government at the rate of $200,000 a month, about half the city's annual budget. Periodically, Moskowitz stopped his monthly payments; one hiatus in September 1997 forced the city to lay off its entire 21-person police force.

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.

Additional money went to American organizations opposed to the Oslo peace process, such as the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, the National Council of Young Israel, the Zionist Organization of America, PRO-Israel, the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, and Americans for a Safe Israel.

The current investigation and report focuses on Moskowitz's for-profit casino and card club. 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. It is also under review by Harlan Goodson, director of gambling controls, a spokesman said. Also criticized in the report is the casino's location, adjacent to a middle school, hospital, 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.

The nemesis of Moskowitz for the last 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, of nearby Downey, 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." The coalition was launched in 1998 when Beliak persuaded a dozen colleagues, attending the national convention of Reform rabbis, to picket the casino. Beliak says the coalition has no formal membership, but has the support of 500-600 rabbis of all denominations, Christian clergy, and Latino activists.

Copyright 2000, The Jerusalem Post.

For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.

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