GZM Developer, Imam Have Tax, Financial Issues; Will National Media Care? (Updates: NYT Notes Problems on Pg. A17)

GZMelGamalAndImamRauf0810This past weekend, intrepid journalists at the New York Post and NorthJersey.com released information they unearthed about proposed Ground Zero Mosque "organizer" Sharif El-Gamal and frontman Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, respectively, that the wire services, the New York Times and the national TV networks would likely have run with by now had the items related to a major church or synagogue.

But since the news has to do with what has turned into the PC crowd's cause celebre and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's personal pet project, you may not see the stories covered anywhere else.

The arguably more important story of the two concerns the tax problems of Mr. El-Gamal (pictured above via the Post) and his company, because they directly related to the GZM's property. The story by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein went up early Sunday morning:

Mosque big owes 224G tax

The mosque developers are tax deadbeats.

Sharif El-Gamal, the leading organizer behind the mosque and community center near Ground Zero, owes $224,270.77 in back property tax on the site, city records show.

El-Gamal's company, 45 Park Place Partners, failed to pay its half-yearly bills in January and July, according to the city Finance Department.

The delinquency is a possible violation of El-Gamal's lease with Con Edison, which owns half of the proposed building site on Park Place. El-Gamal owns the other half but must pay taxes on the entire parcel.

... Before any building can go forward, the developers also must get approval from the MTA because the 2 and 3 subway lines run under a portion of the Park Place property, The Post has learned.

... El-Gamal's spokesperson insisted to The Post that the taxes had been paid and that the "subway lines do not pose a problem."

The Post revealed this month that El-Gamal owned only half the site.

The news about Imam Rauf (picture above is an AP file photo) comes from Peter J. Sampson and Jean Rimbach at NewsJersey.com ("Ground Zero Imam has history of tenant troubles; N.J. apartments in need of repair"). In addition to the problems noted in the headline, it seems that Rauf has experience squeezing money out of the political system:

The Muslim cleric at the center of the proposed mosque and community center near Ground Zero is also a New Jersey landlord who got more than $2 million in public financing to renovate low-income apartments and has been beset for years by tenant complaints and financial problems.

Imam Feisal A. Rauf won support for his Hudson County projects from powerful politicians, among them Robert C. Janiszewski, the disgraced former county executive. He also was awarded grants from Union City when U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was mayor.

... Rauf forged ties with Fred Daibes, the prominent waterfront developer and bank chairman. Additionally, Rauf is a onetime business ally of a Daibes associate who sued the imam for alleged mortgage fraud. The 2008 suit was quietly settled in June.

The revelations about Rauf, who lives in North Bergen, add another dimension to the public profile of a man both lauded as a builder of bridges between diverse religions and cultures and vilified as being insensitive to the survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack by proposing a mosque near the World Trade Center site.

... Page after page of municipal health records examined by The Record show repeated complaints ranging from failure to pick up garbage, to rat and bedbug infestations and no heat and hot water.

Cynthia Balko, 48, of Union City — a longtime tenant of Rauf’s — said she’s had to live with rats, leaks and no heat: “I don’t have anything nice to say about the man.”

She finds it hard to believe Rauf’s going to build a world-class Islamic community center, with fitness facilities, auditorium, restaurant, library, culinary school and art studios, as well as a Sept. 11 memorial and space for Muslim prayer services.

“He can’t even repair the bells in the hallway. He doesn’t take care of his properties. But he’s going to take care of a mosque?”

The biggest tax involved in all of this may be on the establishment press's cover-up mechanisms.

So far, they're holding. As of shortly after midnight Eastern Time, three stories at the Associated Press time-stamped with Monday's or Sunday's date that mentioned the Ground Zero Mosque, which the AP refers to as the "Park51 project" (here, here, and here) had no reference to either gentleman's difficulties. A search on "Park51" at the New York Times returned nothing beyond the AP items just noted.

UPDATE: A BizzyBlog reader informed me that the Times has a story on Rauf and the GZM that it published online last night, and which appears in today's print edition on Page A17 ("Imam Says Politics Has Stoked Controversy Over Center"). I missed it because the project name of "Park51" is not in Michael Grynbaum's article (nor is the word "mosque").

Grynbaum included the following about the property tax issue:

Even as the project’s developers collected $10,000 at a fund-raiser this weekend, they were working to settle an outstanding property tax bill of more than $200,000 on the site where the center is expected to be built.

Representatives of the real estate concern run by Sharif el-Gamal, the developer on the project, said they had delayed the payments while negotiating with the city for a lower tax.

Mr. Gamal plans to buy the land from Con Edison, the current owner, which has said the transaction would proceed as long as Mr. Gamal agrees to a price set by an appraiser.

But a local property tax dispute may pale next to the bigger challenges faced by Mr. Gamal, 37, a relative novice in the New York real estate world, as he embarks on what is likely to be a difficult and protracted round of fund-raising.

That's nice. Only 21 more such fund-raisers, and they'll be out from under that problem. Then Mr. Gamal can start working on the 10,000 additional fund-raisers needed to finance the project's $100 million cost.

There's also this about Mr. Gamal, who is 37:

His late-blooming real estate career came after a difficult youth: Mr. Gamal pleaded guilty to at least six misdemeanors in his late teens and early 20s, including charges related to disorderly conduct, drunk driving and attempted shoplifting. He was once arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Manhattan, according to a law enforcement official. In 2005, Mr. Gamal was arrested after he punched a man who owed rent to his brother, who is also a property owner. Mr. Gamal later settled the matter for about $15,000. “I regret many things that I did in my youth; I have not always led a perfect life,” Mr. Gamal said in a statement issued Sunday by his spokesman.

In 2005, Mr. Gamal would have been 32.

UPDATE 2: It turns out that the Times is also playing catch-up on Mr. Gamal's criminal history. On Saturday, James Fanelli at the New York Daily News covered that topic ("Park51 developer Sharif El-Gamal has a history of run-ins with the law"). Holy moly (so to speak). Read the whole thing ("Sharif El-Gamal has a history of at least seven run-ins with the law, including a 1994 bust for patronizing a prostitute."). 

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.