It’s been a long while since the Park51 mosque saw headlines made in one form or another. The planned mosque and community center on Park Place in Manhattan certainly got tons of attention a few years ago when Imam Feisel Rauf along with developer Sharif El-Gamal announced plans to turn the buildings at 51 and 53 Park Place into a mosque and community center.
Revelations about the plan immediately became a cause celebre for the likes of Pamela Geller and other Islamophobes who claimed that the mosque was part of Ground Zero or would otherwise tower over the Ground Zero site. Their obnoxious and noxious claims about the development plans and the site made headlines, but their opposition did not stop the plan from moving forward in NYC bureaucracies for building permits and landmarks preservation.
Yet, far from towering over Ground Zero (where 1WTC is now the tallest building in New York City, and will soon be the tallest skyscraper in North America), the site has languished as donations haven’t reached a critical mass to begin construction, there’s been a longstanding fight with Con Ed over rent payments for part of the property, and now comes word that two of the donors are suing the Imam over siphoning off donations to fund a lavish lifestyle.
The ex-‘Ground Zero’ imam, his pockets stuffed with donations given to Islamic nonprofits, splurged on a high-flying lifestyle that included expensive trips with a New Jersey gal pal, a stunning new lawsuit charges.
The married Feisal Abdul Rauf fleeced the Malaysian government for $3 million and a Westchester County couple for $167,000, according to a lawsuit filed by the couple, businessman Robert Deak and his wife Moshira Soliman.
The money was given to help Rauf’s two nonprofits, the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which work to combat anti-Islamic sentiment.
Instead, the controversial imam used some of the cash to provide lavish gifts and getaways to a woman identified as Evelyn Adorno, who shared ‘a personal relationship with Rauf,’ said Deak’s attorney, Jonathan Nelson.
Adorno lives in North Bergen, N.J. — the same town as the 64-year-old imam and his wife, Daisy Khan.
The rest of the cash was spent on a luxury sports car, personal real estate and entertainment for the imam and his wife, charges the 11-page lawsuit.
Park 51 has been open for religious services since last year, but hasn’t been open as a community center, and the building hasn’t undergone any of the construction that required Landmarks Preservation Committee approval to the exterior. It’s essentially using the space as it has been since not long after the 9/11 attacks. The exterior is unchanged and interior spaces haven’t been reconfigured either.
The Daily News also reviewed documents about Cordoba and intimated that there might be tax fraud or avoidance:
Cordoba reported no revenue in a 2006 tax filing and just $15,000 in gifts, grants and contributions in a 2007 filing, even though the Deak Family Foundation reported giving Cordoba $38,000 in 2006 and $30,000 in 2007.
In later filings, Cordoba retroactively reported additional revenue for 2006 and 2007.
Despite that, this isn’t nearly as cut and dried as the Daily News suggests. The Cordoba Initiative sued Mr. Deak and Ms. Solimon in 2010 for $1.5 million in US District Court in Washington DC for fraud and breach of trust relating to the sale of a condominium. The Cordoba’s suit claims that Deak and Solimon inflated the value of the condo and then failed to transfer the title of the property.
In other words, it appears that this is a relationship that has gone sour over the past couple of years, and things began unraveling beginning in 2010 between the Imam and the donors. That’s when Deak and Solimon began looking into Rauf’s actions - likely in retaliation for the suit over the condo.
This isn’t the first relationship that has soured in the Park51 development. Rauf split with developer Sharif El-Gamal who owned the Burlington Coat Factory building at 51 Park Place that they had hoped to turn into a religious and community center that they hoped would mirror the work of the JCC in Manhattan uptown. Gamal is still involved in the Park51 project, but plans have stalled with a paucity of funds available to bring the full vision to fruition.