More Blows to the Ground Zero Mosque

Threatened with eviction from part of the property.

[The picture above was taken by Pamela Geller. Visit her site at].

Park51’s Ground Zero Mosque project has been struck with three more blows over the past two weeks. First, it is being threatened with eviction from part of its property. Then, developer Sharif el-Gamal was caught giving faulty receipts to reporters. And just now, it’s been exposed that al-Gamal is in violation of a court order and owes New York City tens of thousands of dollars. Victory can’t be declared yet, but this has been a very bad couple of months for Park51.

Part of the land slated to become the Ground Zero Mosque is a former substation owned by Con Ed, which Park51 is leasing. The two parties agreed to have the property appraised and rent raised, since the $2,750 Park51 was paying was set in 1972. The property was appraised at $10.7 million, so Con Ed raised the rent to $47,437 a month, requiring retroactive payment back to July 31, 2008. Con Ed told Park51 it must pay $1.7 million in back rent by October 4 or face eviction.

Park51 sued to temporarily prevent the eviction and a hearing is set for November 17. Park51 says Con Ed’s demands are “outrageous,” and it only owes $881,519 and the rent should only be $25,875 a month. If Park51 is ordered to pay the rent or surrender the property, the Ground Zero Mosque will be limited to the 5 stories that el-Gamal owns. He is already preparing for such an eventuality, saying that some of the property might be turned into condos, hotels or offices. The Ground Zero Mosque will still be built, but will be a shadow of what he wanted it to be.

El-Gamal was previously evicted from his offices in August 2010 for failing to pay $39,000 in rent. He’s also being sued by Citibank for almost $100,000. Former associates of el-Gamal are skeptical about the sources of his wealth, especially in light of his extensive criminal record.

At the same time, el-Gamal has been caught in a lie to reporters who found out that he owed $30,000 in property taxes. He is supposed to make quarterly payments for $224,000 in taxes that weren’t paid last year. The New York Daily News found out that he didn’t make the required $30,000 payment by October 3. When el-Gamal was called, he said the check had been sent. He gave the newspaper an email receipt from the New York City Department of Finance supposedly showing that the payment was made on October 5.

About 30 minutes later, the Finance Department sent its copy of the payment receipt over to the newspaper. It had the same payment---but was dated October 18. Other reporters approached el-Gamal and found the same discrepancies.

On October 23, yet another scandal emerged when it was revealed that el-Gamal did not show up for a hearing on September 28 in regards to how he has failed to follow court order and address 366 housing-code violations at an apartment building he owns. The tenants repeatedly complained about the poor conditions they are living with. In addition, he owes New York City over $60,000 in taxes, fees and fines for that single building. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development sued and fined his company. The New York Post writes that if el-Gamal again doesn’t show up for the hearing on Thursday, October 27, he may be arrested.

Making matters worse for Park51, its top investor, Hisham Elzanaty, is now being sued for running a “highly developed and sophisticated kickback scheme” involving insurance fraud. Allstate Insurance is suing him for $5.1 million. He’s also being sued by State Farm for $1.9 million and by Geico for $1.7 million. That’s a total of $8.7 million. This same individual donated $6,000 to the Holy Land Foundation, which has been found guilty of being a front for Hamas set up by the Muslim Brotherhood. It has not been proven that he knew this when he made the donation.

The Ground Zero Mosque is facing severe financial difficulties that are undermining the project. In a PBS documentary that aired about the controversy, el-Gamal is seen saying, “This idea has no funds. I’m at a deficit…I don’t even know how we’ve gotten this far.” Fundraising has fallen far short of the $100 million Park51 needed for its original vision. A federal grant for $5 million was denied by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in September. The group is also facing tough questions about its transparency and sources of funds.

El-Gamal complains about the lack of support from the American-Muslim community. About 35 percent oppose the Ground Zero Mosque, and apparently, those who do support it aren’t willing to provide help. In the aforementioned documentary, el-Gamal laments, “Where’s the Muslim community…I would expect that we’d have a line out the doors of people saying, ‘Thank you’…We don’t have that.” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the former spokesman for Park51, is among those Muslim supporters of the project that are unwilling to help him. In the aforementioned documentary, he ridicules el-Gamal as a “control freak.”

On September 21, Park51 tried to save itself from the stream of negative coverage by opening up part of the Ground Zero Mosque for a photo exhibit. This was a ploy designed to demoralize opponents by declaring an early victory. This should not overshadow the questions that are emerging about the integrity of Park51, the well-reported concerns about their beliefs and the facts about their fundraising woes. These latest developments, again, put Park51 in a damaging light and even those who feel the project is a good thing, should be re-evaluating whether this is a group they should support.

Former New York City firefighter and first-responder on 9/11, Tim Brown, is mounting a legal challenge to stop the Ground Zero Mosque in its tracks. When the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission decided against declaring the site slated to become the Ground Zero Mosque as a landmark, he sued. His lawsuit was dismissed when the judge ruled that he didn’t have legal standing. Brown is going to appeal the decision, giving Park51 another headache to deal with.

The fight is not over. Sharif el-Gamal is dedicated to constructing that mosque as much as his opponents are dedicated to stopping it. However, although it’s too soon to cheer, hardly a month goes by without something going wrong for Park51. Opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque have good reasons to smile.

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