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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NEWS | HAWAIIAN GARDENS

City Condemns Card Club Report

Officials say the claim that they illegally funded the casino is untrue. They want report quashed.

September 08, 2000|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hawaiian Gardens officials are blasting a state legislative report that accused the city of illegally spending redevelopment money to subsidize a card club and are demanding a halt to the report's distribution.

In a recent letter to the former chairman of the state audit committee, the Hawaiian Gardens city attorney charged that the report was not authorized by that committee and was replete with confidential information.

City Atty. John Cavanaugh also demanded that the committee's former chairman, Assemblyman Scott Wildman (D-Los Angeles), immediately return all city documents used in drafting the report.

Wildman, who relinquished the chairmanship last week but has named himself head of a subcommittee to investigate the card club issue, has rejected the city's request and has scheduled a public hearing on the matter in two weeks.

"All of these machinations are really to divert attention from the substance of the report," Wildman said.

The dispute is the latest flare-up over the Hawaiian Gardens Card Club and its controversial owner, Irving Moskowitz, who is an influential figure in the southeast Los Angles County city of 15,200.

The city and Moskowitz were harshly criticized in the report issued in July by Wildman's office. The report accused Moskowitz and the city of conspiring to violate a 1996 law that prohibits the use of redevelopment money for gaming enterprises.

Wildman's staff said the city has spent $4 million in redevelopment funds to purchase the land and pay for infrastructure improvements for the casino, which opened in 1997. The city is poised to spend another $8 million for legal fees and lawsuit settlements resulting from the relocation of several businesses at the site, Wildman's staff said.

Moskowitz and the city denied that such spending is illegal, saying the city reached an agreement to develop the casino before the 1996 law took effect.

Moskowitz, a wealthy, retired physician who lives in Miami, has long been the target of criticism because he has used some of his personal wealth to build settlements in East Jerusalem that critics say threaten peace efforts between Israel and Palestinians.

Moskowitz also uses money from his charitable foundation to keep the financially beleaguered city of Hawaiian Gardens afloat. Last month, his foundation donated $330,000 to keep various city services operating.

Wildman said he assigned his staff to investigate Hawaiian Gardens and the card club last October after several former city officials raised questions about the relationship between the city and the card club.

But attorneys for Hawaiian Gardens and Moskowitz criticize Wildman for releasing the report before the joint audit committee could read it and submit it to the state auditor general for a thorough investigation.

In his letter, Cavanaugh said the report "was neither authorized nor officially sanctioned by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee." He added that some material that appeared in the report was confidential "attorney-client" information, though he does not identify that material.

An attorney for Moskowitz, Beryl Weiner, agreed with Cavanaugh and accused Wildman of using his position on the audit committee to generate publicity to improve his political career.

Wildman is leaving office in December and has announced his intention to seek a seat on the Los Angeles City Council next year.

"Wildman is playing fast and loose with the rules," Weiner said.

The report has yet to be approved by the full audit committee.

But Wildman denies Weiner's allegations, saying that many investigative reports produced by his staff are never approved by the full committee or turned over to the state auditor general. He cited as an example a report by his staff on the Belmont Learning Complex controversy.

"It's a standard report," he said. "We've issued two or three dozen of them."

He also rejected the charge that he is using the controversy to boost his political stature, saying he launched the investigation into Hawaiian Gardens long before he decided to seek a City Council post.

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