The one holdout on the board of the Hebrew Academy for Special Children who opposed the return of Bernard “Moshe” Kahn — a former executive accused of using Camp HASC funds for improper personal gain— has been dismissed; twice in one day, in fact. But Lillian Lieberman, a member of the board for three decades, is not going quietly.
She has filed a lawsuit, along with two Camp HASC parents, with the Beth Din of America — affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America — alleging that the six remaining board of trustees members have not fulfilled their fiduciary responsibilities to the camp and entire organization.
HASC is a Brooklyn-based non-profit that offers a variety of special needs services, including a highly regarded summer program in the Catskills for several hundred physically and mentally impaired children and adults.
After the HASC board did not respond to the Beth Din, the religious court gave Lieberman permission, in effect, to pursue an injunction from the civil courts, which she did.
Lieberman filed a suit June 15 with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, asserting that she was dismissed that morning without cause and calling for a stay against the HASC board. She said the meeting to remove her from the board was held without her knowledge. The judge ruled in her favor, at least temporarily, saying the merits of the case should be presented July 20 and that until then, the removal of Lieberman the morning of June 15 “is stayed.”
According to members of a group calling themselves The Committee to Save Camp HASC, the board, led by Barry Hertz, defied the judge’s stay and fired Lieberman again when it met on the evening of June 15.
Lieberman, whose son, attorney Benjamin Lieberman, is serving as her spokesperson, maintains that she is acting on HASC’s behalf in seeking to remove Kahn from a management role. She asserted in court papers that the other board members “serve as ‘puppets’ of …Kahn.”
Hank Sheinkopf, a public relations consultant hired as a spokesperson for the board, said Lieberman was removed because her actions are “disruptive” and “resulting in costly and unnecessary expense, taking funds from HASC’s basic mission.”
He also said the judge’s stay “in no way requires Ms. Lieberman to remain on the board until the July 20 court date.”
This latest round in what has come to be seen as a battle between Moshe Kahn and his small group of supporters on the board and a large number of camp officials, parents and donors was described as “bizarre” by Larry Pollack, a New Jersey attorney, anti-Moshe Kahn activist and father of a Camp HASC teen with cerebral palsy.
Pollack is one of the three plaintiffs in the Beth Din case and a leader of the loosely affiliated Committee to Save Camp HASC.
He told The Jewish Week, “We are being told by the board that we are the ones making trouble, with bad publicity, etcetera. But we just want to save the camp; it’s Moshe Kahn’s actions that have already brought the bad publicity and hurt donations.”
As The Jewish Week reported two months ago, the controversy goes back to 2003, when Kahn was forced to step down as the top executive of HASC.
At the time, The Jewish Week reported that a forensic audit of the camp’s records found that Kahn “used more than $1 million in funds from the government-supported charitable organization for personal and other improper expenses, including lavish spending, such as a sheva brachot wedding party for his daughter, maintaining a previously unknown HASC bank account, and keeping no-show employees on the payroll.”
This spring, after a new pro-Kahn board took control and brought him back as a top administrator at a salary of $180,000 a year, there was an outcry from staff and supporters of the camp who called the move an outrage.
In her lawsuit in civil court, Lieberman said she has been a trustee of HASC for “the past 30 years, having joined the board at the request of the HASC founders who were family friends.” (They were Rabbi Max and Mrs. Blanche Kahn, parents of Moshe Kahn and Shmiel Kahn, who ran the camp after his brother stepped down in 2003.)
Lieberman said that the board was
reconstituted under Moshe Kahn’s ally, Bernard Hertz, and that board members who refused to approve a settlement offering Kahn a four-year term and key role were forced to resign.
She signed, she said, primarily to serve as “the only truly independent” trustee on the board and monitor its actions.
In the court papers, Lieberman said that Kahn has gone against the ground rules for his return by assuming a management role and becoming involved in HASC’s financial affairs. She claimed that his return has “cost HASC dearly in terms of contributions and
the financial involvement of benefactors,” estimating that “HASC has lost about 70 percent of its private funding – millions of dollars.”
Sheinkopf, the public relations consultant representing the board, acknowledged, “fundraising is down,” but attributed it to the general economic climate.
Lieberman said she joined the Beth Din suit against the current board’s actions because it has been “illegally constituted,” with less than the required number of members, and has had no membership meeting, no board elections, no annual meetings, and is making decisions “detrimental to HASC and its summer program, including allowing [Moshe Kahn] to return in an administrative position.”
Lately, she said, meetings have been held without her knowledge and she was informed that a new set of by-laws was in place without her knowledge.
The new by-laws presumably allowed for Lieberman’s dismissal.
The civil court case is scheduled to be heard July 20.