New York Post: The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which lost out on a $500,000 government grant due to its connection to a corruption scandal, is giving up its lease on the Midtown Museum of Tolerance next month, The Post has learned.
On Thursday, Center officials wouldn’t say if the funding setback contributed to the decision, instead attributing it to a “very steep rate hike” at the East 42nd Street site.
But on Friday, a museum representative said the decision not to renew the lease was made on March 31, 2015 — long before reports surfaced of a federal investigation involving city government.
Officials said the museum would continue to operate until it finds new space.
“We are not closing the Museum of Tolerance in New York. The lease in our current location expired and was not renewed because of a very steep rate hike. We are seeking a new space to develop new cutting-edge museum quality exhibits that will support our world-class training. As we are looking to develop a new facility, we are not minimizing out Simon Wiesenthal Center presence in New York. We are continuing to offer our dynamic programming including traveling exhibitions, film premieres and special events in the interim,” the museum said in a statement.
“We will have an office in New York and we will be hosting exhibitions and programming in prominent pop-up New York locations, including universities, churches, synagogues and film venues — until we find a new venue for the museum….”
The City Council yanked a proposed grant to the museum after ex-board member Mark Huberfeld was indicted for allegedly paying a bribe to direct correction-union pensions to his hedge fund.
The trustee — Murray Huberfeld, a hedge-fund manager — was arrested last week for allegedly raising $20 million from a New York City correctional officers union through kickbacks. A real estate investor who allegedly conspired with Huberfeld was also a contributor to the Wiesenthal Center and had helped secure city funding for its programs.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center noted in a statement that Huberfeld resigned from its board on June 15.
The City Council apparently got cold feet over the connections.
“Given some of the investigations and some of the recent news about certain things that have been happening with regard to some of the people that have been affiliated with it, the council decided it wasn’t prudent this year to be funding something with the center,” Council Communications Director Eric Koch said following the budget vote.
Federal prosecutors claim that Norman Seabrook, the head of the union that represents New York City correctional officers, invested $20 million of the union’s pension money in Huberfeld’s hedge fund, Platinum Partners. Huberfeld allegedly agreed to pay kickbacks to Seabrook. Both men have been charged with honest services fraud, and both are denying any wrongdoing, NBC reported.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill De Blasio said there will be no mayoral allocation for the center this year.
Huberfeld is acquainted through Jewish philanthropic circles with Jona Rechnitz, a Brooklyn real-estate investor who helped arrange the union’s investment in Platinum, The Wall Street Journal reported. Rechnitz has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case and is cooperating with federal investigators, The Journal reported.
Rechnitz had helped secure $655,000 over two years from the council to fund law-enforcement sensitivity seminars at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, The New York Post reported in April. The Los Angeles-based center has a museum branch in midtown Manhattan.
Rechnitz and his wife donated $9,900 to De Blasio’s 2013 campaign — money the mayor said in April would be returned, the New York Daily News reported.
In a statement sent to JTA Friday, the center said: “At no time was the Simon Wiesenthal Center aware of any alleged unethical or illegal activities regarding our donors. The institution is vigilant and adheres to all city, state and federal laws. We are conducting our own review and will determine if any further action is appropriate.”
The statement noted that the law-enforcement training program has been in place in New York since 2004, “long before Jona Rechnitz had any connection with the Museum of Tolerance New York.”
“There was no impropriety in receiving $655,000 from the City Council of New York. Those funds were used to train front line Criminal Justice professionals and meticulously followed all lobbying laws and protocols of full disclosure to the City Council,” the statement continued. “We plan to continue to applying for funding in future for this highly praised and important training program, so that we can continue to provide this training to Criminal Justice professionals in New York.”