A Total Abuse of Power

By Ari Bussel

There are very many Israelis living in Los Angeles. Many do good in various fields, from philanthropy to medicine, high tech to education.

One has created a foundation some three decades ago. Each year, the foundation brought Israeli doctors for a two year stay at Cedar Sinai Medical Center.

The hospital and research facilities is one of the top in the country, and the opportunity to work here is extraordinary. First, the Israelis meet some of the world’s best doctors. Second, they get to work with some of the most advanced technologies that exist.

One such doctor with his wife – also a MD – and their three kids made the most out of their stay. He was at the forefront of medical advancement at Cedars while she worked at UCLA. The team at UCLA, made predominantly of Russian-speaking researchers, benefited greatly from her addition to the team. Her salary was meager, she had no benefits, and yet it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Like them there were several fellows who arrived each year. I think that all returned to Israel to continue their practice there. The doctor of the last paragraph returned to a hospital that did not have the imaging equipment needed. He was driven, and the two years spent here did not go to waste. The Government eventually invested in imaging equipment that was far superior to what the Soroka Hospital of the Negev (situated in Beer Sheva, just across from the Ben Gurion University) had previously.

While indirectly, his stayed already paid off. It was his determination and drive that led to this eventuality, even if he is still frustrated knowing there are multiple machines at Cedars, many standing idle, only because doctors compete among themselves and money at Cedars seems not to be an object.

The program of this foundation is an extraordinary one. It creates ambassadors and builds bridges. It fosters exchanges of knowledge, expertise, practice and experience. Israel, for instance, is on the very front of terror medicine – there is no other country in the world that has (unfortunately) amassed so much experience responding to terror and mega casualties.

To maintain the program on a skeleton staff, there was a volunteer board of very famous people. They lent their names, group of extremely wealthy friends and prestige, and they got together several times a year to perform their duties. For instance, it has become a tradition to meet each year for Hannukah along with the fellows, their families and other supporters to celebrate the holiday season.

They performed another role. Like in any foundation recognized and authorized by the Internal Revenue Service of the Department of Treasury, they would convene to perform their duties. At the very least, financial statement had to be prepared by a CPA, reviewed and signed by the Board (or officers thereof) and likewise tax returns had to be compiled and submitted.

One would surmise that the board members carried their responsibility with due seriousness, upheld their fiduciary responsibilities and would not, under any circumstances, commit perjury or otherwise endanger their reputation while working for a good cause. One could further safely assume that each board member was otherwise involved with other philanthropic endeavors.

I would like to emphasize that year after year, tax returns were required to be prepared, reviewed, signed under penalty of perjury and submitted to the IRS. Year after year, for a quarter of a century.

It is at this point where one must stop to re-evaluate the information. A non-profit foundation working at Cedars, a top hospital in the West Coast. Israeli doctors are brought here for two year terms, they work at Cedars, get paid, presumably are authorized to render medical opinion (or work otherwise by some arrangement which strictly complies with the law), and return to Israel. The foundation is overseen by a group of very known people. The foundation submits taxes to the relevant authorities, thus ensuring its tax-exempt status is upheld and that the stream of income from various entities and individuals is allowed to continue legitimately.

Each year the major event in terms of fundraising was a gala dinner at a five star hotel in Beverly Hills. The event generated in excess of half a million dollars from the per-plate charge, the auction that preceded it and the tribute book. There was a gala-dinner committee, made up predominantly of very wealthy women with a lot of time on their hands. They would spend time going through the minutest detail, including the color of the napkin to match the décor, and whether or not a certain ambiance was appropriate, from the dance floor to the gift bags.

The Committee would also assemble to oversee the last-minute preparations of the hall, including preparing the gift bags to each attendee. More than the assembly-line effort, the ladies took off to a “well earned lunch” at the hotel, which was more the highlight of the day. They did deserve such an outing after all.

It was a fascinating world, not any different than any other non-profit foundation. In fact, in many respects, this foundation spent relatively little on overhead, and the annual gala production was not as extravagant as many others’ (held at the very same hotel, in the very same hall).

All in all, it was a foundation with which one felt proud to be associated. Good people all around.

Something happened beyond anyone’s expectation. The foundation’s “executive director” fell ill. I am not sure if that was her title, but for all intends and purposes, this was the role she fulfilled, similar to executive directors of many other foundations I know. She is the one who interfaced on all logistics and day-to-day formalities, while the President of the foundation was its face to the world, especially with all the very-important-people.

She was the office backbone, although she had two other people working for her.

It might have been an allergic reaction or an unknown bug or virus that attacked her. Whatever the cause, she experienced symptoms that worried her husband sufficiently to take her to the emergency room … at Cedars. As a Cedars employee, she was insured there. [One may want to investigate the exact relation between the foundation and Cedars, but this is outside the scope of this Postcard. Who paid the employees checks, where they on W2 or 1099, did the foundation and Cedars properly declare them or classified them incorrectly are things others make look into.]

She was hospitalized and her medical condition deteriorated so fast that she was put on hospital induced coma while various regiments were tried on her. One poison after the next were dripped into her body, in the hope that one would work. It was a laboratory the likes of which only a top hospital like Cedars can administer at its then-brand new Saperstein Critical Care Tower.

It seemed to the family members and group of close friends and other supporters that no expense was spared (well, she was a Cedars employee and insured by it), no treatment was overlooked. The group of doctors that are part of the foundation became an extended family, taking time off their rounds and outside their working hours to come, inspect, console and be part of a large family of caring people.

For weeks she was on the verge of death, somewhere between this world and the next. To continue running the operations of the foundation, another Cedars employee was brought in. Also, this presented an opportunity. We will touch about this later.

It got to the point no one expected her to recover. Those who camped at the critical care tower were ready for the seven day mourning period following the death of a Jewish person.

But the Almighty designated things differently. It was His decision she was to return. She needed to start breathing on her own, eating and drinking on her own, and even talking. The process was slow, tedious, but everyone felt they personally experienced a miracle, one a person witnesses at most once during one’s lifetime. It was a period of jubilation for those surrounding her, a period of extreme hard work on her part – learning to live again, from taking the first step to standing on her two feet by herself to going to the bathroom on her own.

With the passage of years, one cannot tell the outward difference of “before” and “after,” although in every word and every deed of the person eternal gratitude is embedded, just the sheer joy of being alive.

It was not her time to go, so it was decided, although a twist was added. It was the Jewish New Year issue of the only major Jewish weekly in Greater LA. Other than holding a monopoly over the marketplace of ideas, the Jewish Journal is dependent greatly on Cedars, one of its “partners” and major advertisers.

An “investigative” piece appeared in the Journal making the executive director into a criminal who stole from the foundation. It was so one-sided that it was laughable. It was so horrendous in its transparent purpose of maligning the person that it could serve as the benchmark in the top classes for how to properly enact a smear campaign.

Attack, without merit, lacking the proper facts in evidence, use conjectures and insinuations and overall create a case out of thin air, and present it to the public at large when the accused has no real chance to clear one’s name. Where is the presumption of innocence?

It was orchestrated and timed so well that one must stop to think how and why. The why is probably easy, a scapegoat was found for whatever dirty deeds the foundation and/or Cedars were trying to bury or have unearthed. The who is much more interesting, for clearly connections and a lot of power had to be exerted to have the article written and published as and when it was.

Even a person who is completely healthy and reasonably well off would be struck as if by a lightening when hit with such revelations as were disclosed in the Journal. But how would a person who just returned to among the living, had medical bills in the millions and was struggling to regain the most basic functions was to cope with these vile accusations

It was at this moment that the foundation president and doctors, who stood by her day and night throughout the almost-death period distanced themselves. No one talked. The conspiracy was admirable.

Apparently, money was chronically stolen from the foundation. Checks that were always counter signed were written but no one remembered why, for what real purpose or under whose authorization (even when the president of the foundation was one of the co-signers). The annual tax returns prepared by a CPA, reviewed by officers of the board of directors suddenly became a complete mockery. Start digging and all sorts of irregularities will be found. But no one is responsible – not the president, not the CPA, not the officers or the board at large, not even Cedars, its accounting, bookkeeping and numerous other departments who are supposed to ensure compliance.

Imagine, one person who singlehandedly for a period of decades, close to a quarter century maybe, blinded everyone. They co-signed checks. They lost all documents. They misplaced their oversight or responsibility.

Let us remember, these are either people who control immense power and wealth, individually and in various capacities, or an entity that handles billions and is responsible both for compliance and for people’s lives.

One “executive director,” classified for accounting purposes (or avoiding taxes or misleading in report filing with the Department of the Treasury) as “administrative assistant” capable of creating such an illusion everyone fell in her trap.

How was it discovered? Well, she was on her deathbed, and her replacement, another Cedars employee brought in on an interim basis uncovered these irregularities.

Permit me to be skeptical. The story of a cover-up, when no one of those involved, those who would bicker on the placement of a teaspoon or the color of the flowers, not pay attention or notice? And for the situation to go on year after year after year without a single person every noticing? I only wonder what managed to camouflage this stink in the State of Denmark, an extremely potent perfume?

Equally as likely is another conspiracy theory – Cedars and the foundation were trying to achieve something (say move responsibility from one to another), the executive director-admin assist was on her death bed without any chance of recovery, so a decision was made knowingly to blame it all on her. Nothing would happen to her, she was to be buried soon any way.

Except life planned a different game and made the person come back to life. Oh, how easily can plans change without any intention!

If Cedars exerted influence, directly or indirectly (some of Cedars very-top officials were associated with the foundation), this must be investigated. If the whole file was tailor made to fit the person who almost died, one must be held accountable for so doing.

I cannot fathom why would a foundation that did so much good would throw away two and a half decades down the drain. So much good and such an ugly end. Every person associated with the foundation should be held accountable, from the President to the Board to the CPA. If it turns out that that employee indeed managed to twist them all on her smallest finger, she should be hired by the FBI or the CIA. Clearly, they could benefit from such extraordinary abilities.

What is most disconcerting is the Jewish Journal piece. A top lawyer should take the case and sue them for defamation. It was the most malicious, purposefully-written piece that was designed to malign and attack, that created a scapegoat and held her guilty, like a witch in Medieval times, without any chance of rebuttal until after her last scream is gone and her corpse and ashes smoldering over the stake.

Shame on the Jewish Journal. Shame on whoever was the culprit. Foundations move huge sums of money for the greater good, for causes they advocate. If Cedars and the foundation have gone to such lengths to either unearth or bury this case, imagine what happens when hundreds of millions or billions are involved! Who then sell their souls to the devil?

Some day, an investigative journalist or maybe an investigator from the Government many want to research what really took place. Amazingly disgusting and hideous things may be discovered. Apparently, when enormous wealth and power are involved, so all the means seem justified.

The opportunity for a book about Cedars and the length to which one went in this case may be a very interesting reading. I lament a foundation and its mission, the vision made into reality by one doctor, a legacy that will forever be contaminated by wrongdoings.

Even if the employee is convicted, any reasonable person would have very reasonable doubts, for too many things do not add up. In my world, 1 + 1 = 2, and those at the helm have fiduciary responsibility that cannot be shifted to an administrative assistant, not even to an executive director. This is a case where no one stands responsible, and everyone joins in pointing their fingers toward the witch on the stake.

Only the witch was never a witch, and now those laughing with glee are themselves at the center: Those Jews, wherever they are they do wrong.

Why, would anyone tell me why, would anyone try to explain why we cannot take the purest most good intention and not let it be what it meant?!?