Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, long-time Jewish Press columnist and executive vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America (Igud HaRabbonim) has a checkered past. He has been found guilty of fraud in a civil court action, has a Security and Exchange Commission civil fraud prosecution hanging over ghis head, was convcted of tax fraud and served jail time, and has older problems going back thirty years. Now, he and a charity he runs are linked with taking apparently illegal donations to try to oust Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
The Jewish Week's Larry Cohler-Esses reports:
…The Internal Revenue Service prohibits the use of charity money for partisan political purposes—including abroad—and bars donors from taking deductions on contributions made to such causes. Hikind’s use of a religious charity to channel funds connected to his ad were first noted on The Politicker, a blog published by The New York Observer, and followed up on YudelLine, a Web site authored by Larry Yudelson, a former reporter for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The ad in question ran last month in a number of high-profile Jewish papers, including The Jewish Week, The Forward and The Jewish Press. Headlined in large type at the top of the ad with a picture of Olmert was the message: “PRIME MINISTER OLMERT, PLEASE RESIGN!”
The ad went on to denounce Olmert, also in upper case type, as, “ARROGANT,” “IRRESPONSIBLE,” “DELUSIONAL,” “INEPT,” “CONFUSED,” “INDECISIVE,” “OVERWHELMED,” AND “INCOMPETENT.”
“Olmert, please resign. For the sake of Israel and the Jewish people,” the ad concluded. Its sponsor was identified as “ASSEMBLYMAN DOV HIKIND,” adding, “COMMITTEE IN FORMATION.” Smaller type on the bottom instructed donors wishing to “participate in this campaign” to “forward your tax deductible contributions to Yad Moshe, 1254 E. 35th Street, Brooklyn NY 11210”—Sender’s residence.
After reviewing the ad, Bruce Hopkins, one of the country’s leading authorities on charities law said, “I just don’t see how these contributions are tax deductible. They’re clearly for a political campaign.”
Further, he said, if the funds collected were spent to advance the cause of ousting Olmert, “It would cause them [Yad Moshe] to lose their tax-exempt status.”
Hopkins conceded that in most cases, “When you think of a political campaign, you think of transferring money to help someone get elected or to prevent their election. Here, it’s more in the nature of a recall. But it’s the same outcome.” He noted the ad’s use of the word “campaign” in its solicitation and suggested that could have legal implications.
Marcus Owens, a former chief of the IRS’s exempt organizations division, which includes charities, said, “What the ad suggests is potentially actionable. An ad calling for the resignation of a political figure is not a charitable act.”…
Rabbi Tannenbaum declined to say how large Yad Moshe’s budget was. And no financial data on the charity were available because it is registered with the IRS as a religious organization. Unlike secular nonprofits, such as education or social-welfare organizations, religious charities are exempted from reporting to the IRS or to the public on their finances or how they spend their money. The government maintains this exemption to avoid entanglement between religion and state. The charities, in exchange, are expected to rigorously avoid involvement in partisan politics.
Rabbi Tannenbaum, however, has had a checkered record when it comes to handling money. The cleric, who heads the Rabbinical Alliance of America and is spiritual leader of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights, pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1996 and served 10 months in prison for the felony.
More recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Rabbi Tannenbaum with securities fraud in a civil case. And a jury in 2002 found him guilty in a federal civil suit filed by a plaintiff who claimed he was a victim of the fraud, which involved false claims about the assets of a company whose stock Rabbi Tannenbaum and others were promoting. The SEC case remains unresolved. Rabbi Tannenbaum is appealing the jury’s decision in the civil suit.
Rabbi Tannenbaum declined to comment on his criminal conviction. But he said that the campaign to get Olmert to resign “is absolutely not political. It’s definitely within the functions and purposes of a charitable organization . ... We’re not endorsing any candidate. We’re talking about the unity of the Jewish people. It’s moral and religious.”
He said he and Hikind chose to use Yad Moshe as their conduit on the advice of an accountant, whom he declined to name.
Rabbi Tannenbaum said of Yad Moshe, whose address is his residence, “It’s a congregation, basically. All the things I do besides my shul [B’nai Israel of Linden Heights] are through Yad Moshe.” These include “a lot of chesed activities”—aid and comfort to the downtrodden—“bikur cholim”—visiting the sick—“and other activities like that.”…
Add to this another strike against the greasy Rabbi Tannenbaum:
In a proceeding pursuant to CPLR 5231 (f) to recover accrued installments under an income execution, B'nai Israel of Linden Heights appeals from a judgment of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Saitta, J.), dated July 29, 2005, which granted the petition and awarded the petitioner the principal sum of $3,538.55.
Ordered that the judgment is affirmed, with costs.
On November 8, 2002 the petitioner David Sheldon was awarded judgment against Gershon Tannenbaum (hereinafter the judgment debtor) in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas in the sum of $422,643.95 following a trial on the merits. The judgment was subsequently docketed in the Kings County Clerk's office.
The judgment debtor is employed as rabbi and spiritual leader of the appellant, B'nai Israel of Linden Heights, a synagogue in Brooklyn, and receives a annual salary of $16,000, paid in semi-monthly installments. On or about January 30, 2003 an income execution against the judgment debtor's salary was issued and delivered to the New York City Sheriff, County of Kings pursuant to CPLR 5231 (b). Upon the judgment debtor's failure to pay the required installments, the income execution was served on the appellant, as the judgment debtor's employer, pursuant to CPLR 5231 (e). Following the appellant's failure to tender any payments pursuant to the income execution, [*2]the petitioner commenced this proceeding to recover accrued installments. The Supreme Court granted the petition. We affirm.
The judgment debtor's annual salary of $16,000 constitutes "money from any source" upon which an income execution may be issued pursuant to CPLR 5231 (b). Contrary to the appellant's contention, the only exemptions from application of the judgment debtor's salary to the satisfaction of the underlying money judgment are those set forth in CPLR 5205 (d) and 5231 (b). As the income execution in this case complied with the provisions of CPLR article 52, the Supreme Court properly granted the petition.
The parties' remaining contentions are without merit. Crane, J.P., Spolzino, Fisher and Lunn, JJ., concur.
[Hat Tips: JWB and Ploni.]