After Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. announced his support of gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo in early May, Cuomo’s opponent, State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, called on his good friend, Assemblymember Dov Hikind, to denounce the endorsement. Hikind was perfectly happy to do so: Jackson, after all, had voted against a House resolution calling for total solidarity between the U.S. and Israel, a measure Hikind staunchly supported. He was also glad to help McCall, whom he had endorsed in the 1998 State Comptroller race. Now, Hikind is backing McCall in the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial race–carrying with him the influence of more than 10,000 Orthodox Jewish votes in and around the 48th Assembly District.
Also at McCall’s request, Hikind had accompanied the state comptroller to Israel this past March. The trip, which is best known for a photo op of McCall firing a rifle n the West Bank, garnered criticism from not only Cuomo’s supporters but also some of McCall’s, who questioned the comptroller’s decision to visit Israeli settlements. But McCall was merely answering Hikind’s demand that he “do something meaningful” in response to the Mideast crisis.
It’s not the first time that McCall has done Hikind a favor. After Hikind’s July 1998 acquittal of federal corruption charges in connection with the Jewish social service organization Council of Jewish Organizations (COJO) of Borough Park–and a congratulatory phone call from McCall two days later–McCall’s office paid Hikind $420,000 to cover his legal expenses. The payment, approved by Carl McCall and former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, was made in February 1999 under a little-known section of New York’s Public Officers Law that provides for the payment of “reasonable legal fees” to state employees accused and then acquitted of crimes related to their job. Over the past five years, not counting Hikind, there have been30 instances in which New York State employees were reimbursed for legal expenses under the Public Officers Law. The total amount of reimbursements made to the 30 state employees as of May 2001 equaled $262,789, just slightly more than half of the sum paid to Hikind by McCall’s office.
The only problem is that Hikind should have never received the payment. The Public Officers Law requires that state employees provide “the original or a copy of an accusatory instrument within ten days” of arraignment. Hikind was indicted on August 7, 1997 and did not submit any paperwork until July 21, 1998. He missed the 10-day application period for reimbursement by nearly a year.
Hikind’s attorney, wannabe Borough Park City Council member Robert Miller, argued that his client couldn’t have filed earlier because the wording of the indictment did not clearly indicate that Hikind was charged with crimes related to his role as a public official. Yet the indictment states, “Hikind…[used] his position with the New York State Assembly to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding for the COJO entities.” It further alleges that Hikind “devised and participated in a scheme to defraud the people of the State of New York.” Paul Chernick, former director of the now defunct COJO of Borough Park, pleaded guilty to misappropriating state funds and attempting to bribe Hikind. Hikind’s lawyer argued that he accepted the money without “corrupt intent.”
Donald Berens, the deputy Attorney General who oversaw the case, says he cannot recall why Hikind’s reimbursement was approved: “I remember the names of Dov Hikind and COJO. I do not remember much beyond that.”
While the AG’s office decides whether or not an applicant qualifies for reimbursement, it’s the comptroller’s office that determines the “reasonableness of the legal fees and expenses.” In an inter-office memo dated December 1, 1998, State Comptroller assistant counsel Harvey Silverstein commented, “The top hourly rates before discount and the total billed, even after discount, are historically high.” In February 1999 Silverstein reiterated, “[O]ur office was still concerned that the fee seemed high” and “that some of the legal fees needed further justification.” Silverstein calculated that the Hikind reimbursement should equal $393,629.25, for a compiled 3,332.21 hours worked by Hikind’s six attorneys. Silverstein’s recommendation was discarded.
McCall’s office approved reimbursement with just $61,000 deducted from the $481,000 requested by Hikind.
What did Hikind do with the money? The comptroller’s office says it’s not its business. Asked if she knew what happened with the reimbursement, spokesperson Theresa Bourgeois responded, “No, we don’t. We made the payment.” She further commented that McCall himself had no awareness of, nor involvement in, the Hikind reimbursement.
Hikind’s defense team, from the law firm Newman, Schwartz & Greenberg, had already been compensated for its work by December 1, 1998. The reimbursement therefore went to two Hikind-associated funds. rust For Fair Justice, the legal defense fund that helped raise money for Hikind’s court case–it appears to have worked on no other cases–received $332,000 from McCall’s office. Friends of Dov Hikind, Hikind’s campaign fundraising organization, received$88,000.
Like COJO funds, which Hikind was accused of using to pay for his children’s schools and his nephew’s wedding caterer, along with trips to Israel and France, the comptroller’s reimbursement has been kind to Hikind’s family. The ultra-conservative Jerusalem Reclamation Project, for which Hikind’s wife, Shani, serves as executive director, has received $5,250 in donations from Friends of Dov Hikind since the reimbursement. Jerusalem Reclamation Project’s mission is to create a Jewish-only Jerusalem by buying out Arab owned property in the city’s eastern section.
Shortly after reimbursement, Friends of Dov Hikind paid his daughter Deena $1,100 and his son Yoni $675. It also spent $14,561 on car payments, $9,110 on insurance payments, and $8,553 in American Express fees. (Friends of Dov Hikind failed to return phone calls from City Limits inquiring about the purpose of these expenditures.) Bensonhurst COJO received $500 and employees in Hikind’s Assembly office have received a combined total bonus of $1,100. But the biggest recipient of the comptroller’s largesse was Wolf Sender, a former Giuliani assistant commissioner in the Division of Youth and Community Development who testified on Hikind’s behalf during the assemblymember’s trial. Since February 2000, about a year after Hikind’s reimbursement, Sender began receiving payments from Friends of Dov Hikind, for a total of $5,950, according to the most recent Board of Elections reports. Friends has spent more money on consulting fees for Sender tan for any other individual since Hikind’s reimbursement was issued in February 1999.
After Sender lost his $67,000-a-year position under Giuliani that same month, he remained largely unemployed until McCall gave him a $70,746-a-year assistant public information position on the comptroller’s staff. Hikind recommended Sender to McCall’s office.
Following Hikind’s acquittal, Sender claimed that Giuliani officials had urged him to testify against Hikind. When Sender lost his city position in February 1999, Hikind supported Sender’s contention that he had been fired because he failed to provide incriminating testimony during Hikind’s trial.
Sender is not the first Hikind ally to receive a patronage job with McCall. After Hikind supported McCall’s 1998 campaign, his former chief of staff, Jeff Reznik, received a $59,232-a-year position in the comptroller’s office.
The McCall-Hikind friendship has endured since then. He paid his condolences and sat shiva with Hikind and his mother after Dov’s father passed away in April 2000. At Hikind’s behest he gave at least $1,200 to a West Bank fundraising group, the One Israel Fund, and paid $3,000 to attend a March 1999 fundraiser for Hikind’s failed Brooklyn Borough President run. He also attended the opening of Hikind’s United New York Democratic Club in Borough Park and, last May, spent $2,500 to attend a Hikind fundraiser at a private Brooklyn residence.
Come primary time, Hikind will most likely use what Speaker Sheldon Silver has coined his “pit-bull” political instincts to gather a large Jewish bloc vote in support of Carl McCall. Given their close history, this should come as no surprise.
Jesse Goldstein is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. Theodore Ross is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.