“Letters of support are not uncommon, and we have provided them for a large number of initiatives in hopes of bringing jobs to our community. We do an initial review and understand that there is a series of steps that will be required to move through the selection process, both at the state level and the local level with the town.”
Michael Melnicke is prominent Gur (Gerrer) hasid. Leo Friedman is a son of Satmar Zalman faction powerbroker Rabbi Moshe "Gabbai" Friedman. The two are in the nursing home business together and are now attempting, with two non-Jewish partners, to get a license to grow, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana in New York – which appears to be the reason they donated large amounts of money to a key politician in Ulster County where they want to base their marijuana operation.
The Daily Freeman reports:
KINGSTON, NY – Ulster County Executive Michael Hein said Monday that his support of a proposed medical marijuana farm in Saugerties is not the result of the developers making donations to his campaign fund between 2012 and 2014.
Hein said he supports NY Growing Partners’ plan, and has written a letter of support reflecting his position, because it would provide an economic boost to the county and needed relief to patients who would use the drug.
“I think that Ulster County, with its strong agricultural background, is well-suited to this type of industry,” Hein said in a phone interview.
“Letters of support are not uncommon, and we have provided them for a large number of initiatives in hopes of bringing jobs to our community,” he added. “We do an initial review and understand that there is a series of steps that will be required to move through the selection process, both at the state level and the local level with the town.”
Campaign finance records show NY Growing Partners principal Michael Melnicke contributed $5,000 to the group Friends of Mike Hein on May 16, 2013. Advanced Care Staffing, whose chief executive officer, Leo Friedman, also is a NY Growing Partners principal, contributed $2,500 on July 17, 2012, and $5,000 on July 17, 2014.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed state legislation in July 2014 allowing patients with certain conditions to use a non-smokeable form of marijuana that can be ingested or vaporized. The state health department is expected to grant up to five medical marijuana licenses this summer, with each recipient allowed to establish up to four dispensaries.
The department has received applications from 43 would-be marijuana producers, including NY Growing Partners, which wants to establish a marijuana production operation on Kings Highway in Saugerties. The NY Growing Partners operation would adhere to the Jewish dietary laws known as kashrut, the company has said, allowing patients who only consume kosher products to use the medication produced in Saugerties.
Ulster County has no say over the granting of any medical marijuana licenses, but Hein said: “We’ve been very engaged in the whole concept of medical marijuana and understanding that it can bring significant relief for a large number of people who are severely ill. I believe New York state has done a thoughtful piece of legislation to address this issue to ensure that it is extremely well monitored.”
Another principal in NY Growing Partners, Pat DeBenedictis, who also goes by the first name Pasquale, runs a company called Robinson Management, which was among six bidders in 2012 seeking to buy the Golden Hill Health Care Center from Ulster County. The bid ultimately was rejected.
DeBenedictis is not listed among donors to Hein’s campaign fund. Robison Management contributed $10,000 to the Cuomo campaign on Oct. 21, 2010.
Hein, a Democrat, is seeking election this fall to his third term as executive. He is being challenged by Republican Terry Bernardo, a former chairwoman of the county Legislature.
Hein said Monday that he does not let campaign contributions impact the way he governs.
“At no point does any support that we receive from anyone influence any decisions we ever make,” he said. “I continually do what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Ulster County, and we have a strong track record in support of that.”
Melnicke, who lives in Brooklyn, was one of five contributors out of 48 who gave $5,000 to Hein’s campaign during the pre-primary filing period in 2013. Two of the other $5,000 donations came from one address in Brooklyn and the remaining two from a single address in Scarsdale. The next-largest donations were one for $2,000 and two for $1,250. All others were less than $1,000 and most were less than $200.
State campaign filings show Melnicke contributed $5,000 to Andrew Cuomo’s campaign fund in December 2013 and another $1,000 in January of this year.
Cuomo’s campaign also received $10,000 from Friedman in November 2014 and $3,000 from Friedman’s Advanced Care Staffing in July 2014. In August 2014, Advanced Care donated $2,500 to Cuomo’s running mate, Kathy Hochul. And two months later, the company donated $10,000 to the New York State Republican Committee.
Representatives of NY Growing Partners could not be reached for comment Monday.