The Forward reports Connecticut Senator Josef Lieberman last week held a meeting in the Brooklyn home of Rabbi Milton Balkany. Also in attendance was the Zionist Organization of America's Morton Klein and Young Israel's Rabbi Pesach Lerner.
Rabbi Balkany, known as the "Brooklyn Bundler" for his practice of bundling campaign contributions from his family – including the Rubashkins of Postville and Allentown infamy – and close friends. This effort allows Rabbi Balkany to skirt existing campaign financing laws and "give" donations well in excess of the legal limit, later using the influence this buys to further his projects.
Rabbi Balkany misused a $700,000 federal grant meant for handicapped students. Balkany admitted wrongdoing in an agreement with government and returned the money. But, as the Forward notes, Balkany now denies the facts of that agreement and the very text he signed:
Balkany, interviewed by telephone, said that press reports of his legal woes were nothing more than "smearing."
"There never was an indictment," he said about the 2003 charges. He added: "The government raised something. They walked away with egg on their faces. They made an apology."
"I have dedicated my life to Jewish education and the Jewish community," he said.
Helpfully, the Forward prints the statement Rabbi Balkany signed:
In 2004, prosecutors released a statement from Balkany in which he acknowledged violating an "understanding" with the government.
"Contrary to my understanding with HUD, I authorized the use of the grant to pay for general administrative and operational expenses of both Bais Yaakov and the Children's Center of Brooklyn, even though I knew that the specific terms of the grant did not permit me to use the funds in this manner," the rabbi said in the statement.
In other words, Rabbi Balkany admitted embezzling the money, money which was meant to benefit handicapped Jewish students. (If memory serves, something like $300,000 of the embezzled funds ended up in his son's bank account in Israel.) The politically well-connected rabbi got off without a record. But reports at the time indicated that Rabbi Balkany is also barred from receiving further government grants. He also was barred from a federal Parisian chaplaincy he created, apparently because of allegations he sold his services – and political influence – to prisoners and their families. Balkany is alleged to have delivered special privileges in return for payoffs.
Balkany is the son-in-law of Aaron Rubashkin, patriarch of the Rubashkin family that runs the Postville, Iowa-based AgriProcessors slaughter house. AgriProcessors is under investigation by the USDA for alleged cruelty to animals (please see the links on the left side of this page). The USDA investigation started in December of 2004. The USDA indicated it would release the results in January of 2005. But it did not, and has remained silent for more than one year. Freedom of Information requests regarding the investigation have been rejected because the investigation is classified as "open."
There are those who believe Rubashkin and Balkany arranged for this unusual delay through Balkany's influence. As the months tick by without result, the number of insiders who believe this grows. Others believe Agudath Israel and the OU were able to get the investigation report quashed, allegedly because the rabbis charged with the plant's kosher supervision advocated and administered the cruelty.
That Lieberman would consort with Balkany is surprising. As the Forward notes, several politicians – including President Bush – have returned Balkany-related donations.
But why were Klein and Lerner there? Apparently, taking $700,000 from handicapped Jewish children is not enough to keep Klein and Lerner away from the Balkany money trough.
UPDATE: A reader points out that Rabbi Balkany was not the only crooked rabbi in attendance. A photo of the event in HaModia shows Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Who is Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum? A two-time convicted swindler, once in the 1970's, and again in the 1990's:
Why is Joe Lieberman associating with these shysters? And why do Orthodox Jews allow them to lead their community?