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Yeshiva Facility Deals Costly for Montgomery

The Montgomery County school system leased the former Belt Junior High School in Wheaton, left, to the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in 1999 but later reclaimed it. In 2005, after making renovations, the county reopened it as the Loiederman school. To compensate Yeshiva, the county provided it a contract and a lease, which was signed in June, for the former Montgomery Hills school in Silver Spring.
The Montgomery County school system leased the former Belt Junior High School in Wheaton, left, to the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in 1999 but later reclaimed it. In 2005, after making renovations, the county reopened it as the Loiederman school. To compensate Yeshiva, the county provided it a contract and a lease, which was signed in June, for the former Montgomery Hills school in Silver Spring. (Robert A. Reeder - Twp)

A Yeshiva financial document reviewed by The Post indicates the organization's actual cost at Belt: a little more than $4 million. The document also says how much it spent at Montgomery Hills: less than $6.4 million.

All told, the document indicates that Yeshiva spent about $10.4 million in renovating both schools, approximately $500,000 more than the value of the $9.9 million contract with the school system. The original 1999 lease-purchase deal with the county for Belt was an "as is" transaction that required Yeshiva to fund the millions of dollars needed in improvements.

The school system had agreed to take back one renovated school and provide another in return. But the system later spent $12.4 million on Belt before reopening it in 2005 as the A. Mario Loiederman Middle School.

In switching schools, Yeshiva lost the option to buy that had been part of the Belt transaction. Instead, it received a lease for up to 90 years at Montgomery Hills.

Cohen said in a statement: "After raising millions of dollars and spending hundreds of hours of volunteer time, the [Belt] facility was renovated as a permanent home for Yeshiva." The school system, he added, "requested that Yeshiva move out of the newly renovated Belt school and take on the burden of renovating the abandoned Montgomery Hills School."

A school system e-mail and other records indicate that FBI agents made inquiries about the construction contract in 2005. Michelle Crnkovich, spokeswoman for the FBI's Baltimore office, said that a fraud investigation was closed this year but declined to say why.

In June this year, a county official signed the Montgomery Hills lease with Yeshiva.

Role of Duncan Aide

Pasternak, an aide who has served Duncan as a political adviser for more than a decade, oversaw the transactions involving Yeshiva as a special assistant to the county executive. In written answers provided to The Post in late May, he said that although he had been "involved in the Yeshiva school project," county real estate officials and lawyers "handle leases for the County."

Janice Turpin, the school system's team leader for real estate management, wrote in notes dated Aug. 9, 2002: "Pasternak negotiating lease," referring to Montgomery Hills.

Pasternak, in an e-mail dated Feb. 3, 2003, asked another county official to "[l]et me know if you believe this [draft] allows us to enter into the lease that we need to have with Yeshiva."

In an e-mail dated Feb. 25, 2003, a month before the construction contract was signed, Turpin described Pasternak as "very anxious to get the construction agreement [to] the Yeshiva folks ASAP."

In an interview, Hawes said Pasternak took part in construction contract negotiations.

Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring), who voted against the lease on the two occasions it came up for council approval, said Pasternak was deeply involved in the matter. "Nothing of substance got approved without his okay," Perez said.

Duncan campaign manager Scott Arceneaux said that Pasternak met Abramoff through the Orthodox Jewish community and accepted his offer to raise money for Duncan. This May, after inquiries from The Post, Duncan announced that he would return $20,000 in campaign donations linked to Abramoff.

In recent years, campaign money has continued to flow from Yeshiva-related donors to Duncan. In January and March 2004, his campaign raised $20,000 from Cohen, Berman and other contributors connected to them. This past January, the campaign took in $23,000 from six donors affiliated with Cohen or Yeshiva.

"I believe that Doug Duncan has done a great job for Montgomery County, and therefore I have supported him," Cohen said.

Researchers Bobbye Pratt and Alice Crites contributed to this report.


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