Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rabbi Balkany & Sen. Lieberman

If there was only eight people around the dinner table, how did they daven Mincha & Maariv? Forward: Senator Joseph Lieberman met last week with some Orthodox leaders at the home of Milton Balkany, a rabbi whose legal troubles led President Bush's campaign and a New York mayoral candidate to return contributions linked to him. The well-connected political fund-raiser once dubbed the "Brooklyn Bundler" by the good-government watchdog group Common Cause, Balkany has been at the center of controversies dating back some years, which have led to various accusations but no criminal convictions. In August 2003, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York charged Balkany, president and director of the Bais Yaakov School in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, with theft of government property, false claims, and wire fraud and obstruction of justice for allegedly misappropriating a $700,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The charges prompted President Bush's campaign to return $4,000 that Balkany, a self-described Republican, had raised for the 2004 re-election run, the Forward reported in 2003. In March 2004, the charges were dropped when prosecutors came to a deferred prosecution agreement with Balkany that allowed him to return the money.Bush is not the only politician to have returned campaign funds linked to Balkany. After Balkany's agreement with the government, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York congressman who ran for New York City mayor in 2005, returned contributions from relatives of Balkany when the government's original charges were brought to his attention, the New York Post reported in January 2005. Federal records show that Balkany gave Lieberman a $2,000 contribution in May 2003 and a $500 contribution in March 1999. The recent meeting at Balkany's home was first reported in the January 11 weekly edition of Hamodia, an Orthodox newspaper published in Brooklyn.The recent meeting comes as Lieberman, a Democrat, is seeking re-election in Connecticut. The Lieberman campaign told the Forward that the event was arranged by the senator's fund-raiser, Fran Katz Watson. Lieberman's senatorial office confirmed the fund-raiser's involvement, but insisted that the gathering was not a fund-raising event."Senator Lieberman is an observant Jew, and there is support for him in the Orthodox community," Lieberman's spokeswoman, Casey Aden Wansbury, wrote in an e-mail. "This was not a fund-raiser, but an outreach event with this community of supporters and potential supporters."The national president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, who attended the gathering, confirmed the assertion."This was not a fund-raiser," Klein said. "It was a friendly get-together. Nobody was writing checks. We talked about issues surrounding the Arab war against Israel and [confessed spy Jonathan] Pollard. It was eight people around [Balkany's] dinner table. We davened. Joe Lieberman led Mincha and Ma'ariv. He said Kaddish for his mother......
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