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WINNICK ENDS HIS SILENCE

With His Donation Comes His Name

October 02, 2002|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the Winnick Family Children's Zoo in Los Angeles, Maury Laham, 71, stood at the railing of the sea lion exhibit as two sleek animals frolicked in the rushing water below. His 8-year-old granddaughter shrieked in delight, but he did not look happy.

"Some of my money probably went into building this place," he said, shaking his head.

Laham is a stockholder in Global Crossing Ltd., the telecommunications company founded by Los Angeles multimillionaire Gary Winnick. The company filed for bankruptcy protection Jan. 28. At its peak, Global's market value was $54.5 billion. Winnick testified before a congressional panel Tuesday amid allegations that fraud bolstered the fortunes of the firm.

Before Global Crossing's stock tanked, Winnick sold more than $600 million of shares over recent years. Proceeds from those sales funded generous donations from the Winnick Family Foundation, his personal charity.

Now, the Winnick name is emblazoned on the 1-year-old children's wing of the Los Angeles Zoo. It also adorns a new section of the Los Angeles Central Library and a cafeteria at Long Island University, Winnick's alma mater. The Winnick Family Heritage Hall is under construction at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center is planning a Jerusalem branch that will bear the Winnick name.

"I'm glad someone got something worthwhile out of that money," said Laham, who lives in South Pasadena. "The stock isn't worth 2 cents."

Actually, shares of Global Crossing are currently valued at 2.2 cents in over-the-counter trading.

Winnick has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his activities are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Justice Department and other federal agencies.

None of the organizations that accepted Winnick's naming money are thinking of giving it back. Yet. But the money puts them in an uncomfortable position.

"Maybe in this era of Enron and WorldCom, nonprofits should have some kind of a prenuptial agreement that says they can remove the name if the person gets in trouble later," said Brad Goodins, director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College. "It's a whole new world out there, and when you accept a donation, you just have to hope it will not come back to bite you later."

Don Youpa, head of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., which raises funds for the zoo, said he doesn't expect problems to arise from the $2-million gift to renovate the children's area.

"It's not the company name that is on the sign," Youpa said.

Officials with the Los Angeles Public Library express no regrets about the $1-million donation that the Winnick Family Foundation made to create the Winnick Popular Library, which opened two weeks ago in the main library downtown.

"It allowed us to expand and improve an area that is of tremendous benefit to the 13 million people who visit the library every year," spokesman Peter Persic said.

He said he has not heard any complaints from people who use the area that holds bestsellers, popular movies, CDs and magazines.

It would be difficult to avoid the name at Long Island University's C.W. Post campus, Winnick's old stomping grounds. Already built is the Arnold S. Winnick Student Center cafe, named for his father.

"It's an all-you-care-to-eat facility," university spokeswoman Rita Langdon said. "You can get pizza, Greek food, Mediterranean, anything you want."

Under renovation nearby is a Tudor administration building that will be known as Gary Winnick House.

The Winnick wing of the Skirball center is set to be completed next year. "He paid off his pledge--$5 million," a Skirball spokeswoman said.

Plans for Winnick to get his name on a Wiesenthal center in Israel have been downsized, but officials at the Los Angeles-based organization said it had nothing to do with his troubles.

In 2000, the center said Winnick would donate $40 million toward the $120-million conference center and museum, to be called the Winnick Institute Jerusalem. Since then, the project's scope has expanded while Winnick's pledge has been reduced to between $10 million and $15 million. His name will appear on a single building.

"This was all decided a long time before any of the troubles," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

But now that the troubles have arrived, does Hier think it would be better--if only for public relations--to cancel the donation and keep Winnick's name off the building?

"Nothing has been proven. The man has not even been charged," Hier said. "It would be unethical to make a decision like that now. It's not the American way."

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