Was that big Powerball win one big hoax?


“We’ll provide the ticket. You provide the dream.”

That was the note that came with each of the nearly 18,000 Powerball tickets that Jewish businessman and philanthropist Shlomo Rechnitz gifted on the week of Jan. 10 to all of his employees and all the residents of his nearly 80 nursing homes in California, giving each a shot, however small, at the record $1.6 Powerball jackpot.

And for a few hours on the afternoon of Jan. 14, it looked like one of those tickets had made a dream come true for one of his employees — a nurse — after Rechnitz spokesman Joshua Nass sent an email and gave interviews saying as much.

Then, that same evening, everything changed when the New York Daily News and the Los Angeles Times reported that this woman, a 62-year-old registered nurse working at the Park Avenue Healthcare & Wellness Center in Pomona, did not win. The Daily News reported that the mistake emanated from a prank orchestrated by the nurse’s son. The Los Angeles Times quoted the nurse’s daughter, who also works at the nursing home, as saying the reports “were the result of a misunderstanding” based on a photo of her mother’s lottery ticket — a photo the son reportedly doctored and then texted to his mom as the winning ticket.

Although California lottery officials have confirmed that a winning ticket was purchased at a 7-Eleven in Chino Hills, just a few miles from the Pomona health center, as of press time, no winner had come forward.

Nass said that on the evening of Jan. 13, when the employee (who has kept her name out of the press) was led to believe she was the lottery winner, she and her fellow employees broke out into celebration, as witnessed by the center’s manager, David Levy. 

“There were two nurses at the facility who witnessed her reaction,” Nass said. “Her kids proceeded to come by and pick her up to take her home.”

“We relayed a series of events that indisputably transpired at the nursing home yesterday evening, which we have on surveillance footage,” Nass said when asked why this woman was publicized as the winner without confirmation from lottery officials. 

Nass said Rechnitz has now offered to pay for a 10-day trip for his employee to go to a resort of her choice anywhere in the world.

“To the extent that it’s even a possibility that this was a hoax or a prank that was perpetrated on her, it’s despicable, it’s abhorrent,” Nass said.

In addition to the California winner, two more winning tickets were purchased — in Florida and Tennessee — meaning each of the three winning tickets is worth approximately $528.8 million before taxes. Florida and Tennessee don’t have state income taxes; California exempts lottery winnings from its 12.3 percent state income tax.

How much the potential Chino Hills winner will receive depends on whether he or she elects to receive one lump-sum payment ($187.2 million after taxes), or a 30-year annuity that could provide significant tax savings, because the winnings Powerball invests (government bonds) aren’t taxed. 

Rechnitz, 44, is a well-known philanthropist, particularly — but not exclusively — of Orthodox Jewish causes. He has donated millions of dollars, including $5 million to the indebted Mir yeshiva in Jerusalem in Nov. 2011, $2.35 million to purchase a creditor’s note on the Chabad of California’s Westwood headquarters one month later, and $1 million to rebuild Orthodox Jewish schools damaged by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, and to help the families whose children were at those schools. In April 2013, he purchased the scandal-plagued Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats after its former owner, Mike Engelman, was videotaped bringing unidentified products into the store while the mashgiach (rabbinic kosher supervisor) was absent. The Rabbinic Council of California, which revoked Doheny Glatt’s kosher certification, approached Rechnitz about a possible purchase amid concerns that the shop and distributor’s closure could significantly impact prices locally of kosher meat.

“The Rabbinical Council of California approached me and said, ‘Shlomo, could this be one of your charity things?’ ” Rechnitz told the Journal at the time.

He writes $10,000 checks to families of police officers in Southern California who were shot on duty. In November, during a layover at an airport in Shannon, Ireland, he came across 400 U.S. soldiers and decided to give each one $50 so they could purchase a good meal at the airport. A YouTube video of Rechnitz speaking to the uniformed soldiers went viral, accumulating nearly 650,000 views.

Rechnitz is also California’s largest nursing-home owner, with about 75 facilities stretching from San Diego to Eureka. Rechnitz got his start in the medical field in the late 1990s, co-founding TwinMed, LLC — a medical supplies wholesaler — with his twin brother, Steve. Instead of selling supplies by the item, he offers nursing homes a set daily rate for all supplies for each patient.

Rechnitz has since moved into the business of acquiring and managing dozens of nursing facilities, but not without controversy. In 2014, Long Beach attorney Stephen Garcia filed a class-action lawsuit against Brius Management, one of Rechnitz’s companies, which owned 57 nursing homes in California at the time. The suit accused the company of misrepresenting its quality of care, committing fraud and routinely violating industry regulations. Rechnitz’s attorney, Patricia Glaser, dismissed the lawsuit as baseless and charged that Garcia filed the lawsuit after Rechnitz denied him a consulting contract.

Also in 2014, the Sacramento Bee published an investigative series on nursing homes in California, focusing in particular on Rechnitz and ranking 35 of his nursing homes as “below state averages” for quality of care, nurse turnover rates, ratio of nurse aids, ratio of licensed vocational nurses and ratio of registered nurses. The Bee determined that the nursing homes Rechnitz owned for all of 2014 had nearly triple the California average number of “serious deficiencies” per 1,000 beds that year, according to data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Also in 2014, California Attorney General Kamala Harris attempted to block Rechnitz’s purchase of 19 nursing homes, only to later drop that injunction.

In October 2015, the FBI raided the Alta Vista Healthcare & Wellness Centre in Riverside, one of Rechnitz’s nursing homes. Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, told the Journal in October that agents “were seeking evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation.” Eimiller confirmed on Jan. 14 that the investigation is ongoing.

And in August, two former senior employees of the Mesa Verde Post Acute Care Center in Costa Mesa were charged with four misdemeanor counts of inflicting injury on an elder and failing to report elder abuse. That same month, Harris filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Verdugo Valley Skilled Nursing & Wellness Centre in Pasadena, criminally charging two nurses at the facility for “dependent-adult abuse.” 

Rechnitz recently sponsored a wish-granting program for patients at the Mesa Verde nursing home, providing, for example, as recently described in a Los Angeles Times article, a limousine ride and dinner for an elderly patient and his family.

Are magnet schools LAUSD’s last hope to keep Anglo kids in the system?


It’s not yet clear whether last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on school desegregation will affect the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), but the questions the decision raises certainly resonate across the Jewish community. In the year 2007, is desegregation still a worthy goal or is it time to move on?

As a parent of three children who have attended magnet schools in Los Angeles, this is not a theoretical concern. It’s about the future of my kids.

Unlike the remarkable racial and ethnic diversity that defines Los Angeles as a city, our public school system has become increasingly homogeneous, defined by the large and growing Latino population. Just 9 percent of the total K-12 enrollment is white.

Enter the magnet school program. Many white parents value magnet schools as the only viable public school option where their child can receive a quality education and not be the only white kid in the room.

LAUSD created magnet schools in the 1970s as a strategy to promote desegregation on a voluntary basis. After the heated and divisive battles over “forced” busing (where Jews figured prominently on both sides of the issue), magnets were designed to use voluntary choice, rather than coercion, to promote integrated school environments.

This premise still holds today. These specialized school programs are often so outstanding that they inspire parents of all racial backgrounds to send their kids outside of their home neighborhoods.

Because magnet schools were created and funded as a strategy to promote desegregation, rules were established to maintain a ratio reflecting the district’s larger population of white students on the one hand and kids who are among the “predominantly Hispanic, black, Asian and other non-white” populations on the other.

A lottery, based on a complicated point system, determines which applicants are accepted to each magnet school. Based on the long waiting lists and intense angst of parents who struggle to master the point system, magnet schools have proven very popular and successful.

In many parts of L.A., parents will lament that “our local school is OK, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable with Johnny being the only white kid in his class.” One can see how they would feel drawn to a nearby (or not so nearby) integrated magnet school, where their child is much more likely to find they are one of many white students.

In addition to providing a more integrated enrollment, the magnet schools have achieved strong academic results. Magnets are often called the “crown jewels” of LAUSD. Yet it is the very success and appeal of such magnet programs nationally that have raised the recent constitutional question about the rights of those kids who are turned away, largely because of their race.

Every year, many white students apply to specific magnet schools but are not selected, in part because the total white enrollment would fall outside the targeted ratios of the LAUSD desegregation program. This could be summarized as the “one white kid too many” scenario.

From the perspective of that child and his or her parents, they are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin. This was part of the context of the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases.

The annual lottery to admit kids to L.A. magnet schools produces winners and losers, and race is definitely a factor. I believe the larger public benefits warrant this “downside,” but that is easy for me to say, as someone who has successfully placed my kids in magnet schools. But beyond the personal, there are important benefits for all from this program.

Magnet schools may be the only hope for retaining the remaining white enrollment in LAUSD. If they were to be eliminated, how many white families would make a renewed commitment to their local neighborhood school, where few other white students now attend?

To be sure, there have been some success stories where a small band of motivated parents have led efforts to “bring back the community” to their local school. But how many who do not have the benefit of such localized efforts would consider the end of magnets to be the “last straw” and follow their neighbors off to private schools? How many might move away from L.A. altogether?

By now it is fairly apparent to most observers that the future of Los Angeles will be defined by the needs and priorities of the Latino community. As Jews, we should be concerned that our large public school district serves primarily Latino kids, most of whom will never meet a Jewish child in their school careers.

Our own kids and the city as a whole are better served by an inclusive school system that is representative of the whole population. A city whose children are educated in segregated ethnic and religious enclaves will not be prepared to navigate the challenges and opportunities generated by the city’s overall diversity.

While these issues are compelling in many parts of the Jewish community, they may simply be moot in the larger sense. Most Jews and other whites have already left public schools and no longer see this as their particular problem, as evidenced by the stunningly low voter turnout for the heated recent school board election in the Valley. Still, there is some irony — and maybe even some hope — in the fact that the winning candidate, Tamar Galatzan, is Jewish.

At the same time, civic leaders in the Latino, African American and Asian communities have also moved on from the question of desegregation. Drawing in more white students is far less important to them than securing the resources and effective instructional programs to serve kids of color.

Due to many legal complexities, it remains unclear whether the LAUSD magnet schools will be affected by the recent court ruling. But even if the status quo remains, it would be a mistake to let the issue pass without a conversation about the relationship and engagement of the Jewish community with our public schools. Looking to the future, should we press to create viable public schools as an option for our own children or is it simply too late?

Mark Slavkin, vice president for education at the Music Center, served as a Los Angeles Board of Education member from 1989 to 1997.

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