Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz was hailed as “one of the world’s greatest young philanthropists and businessmen” by broadcaster Larry King after the California nursing home owner won an award in 2012.
Rechnitz briefly seemed destined to win even bigger kudos this week when it was reported that a nurse at one of his facilities had scored the epic windfall from one of the 18,000 Powerball tickets Rechnitz bought and handed out to his employees.
It turned out to be a hoax: The nurse’s son was only joking that she had won a slice of the $1.6 billion jackpot.
Rechnitz called the son’s prank “detestable.” But he added: “I guess I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, in wanting to make his mom happy.”
The whole affair has now cast a fresh national spotlight on the 44-year-old Rechnitz, who owns Brius Healthcare Services, California’s largest chain of nursing homes.
The attention has mostly reflected Rechnitz’s long history of quirky good deeds along with his penchant for self-promotion.
“Rechnitz is always there with a helping hand,” wrote Josh Nass, an admirer who studied Rechnitz’s philanthropy. “The breadth of his philanthropy and the diversity of those he helps are astounding.”
There was the time last November he spotted 400 U.S. solders in an airport in Shannon, Ireland eating from paper sacks and bought them each $50 dinners instead. Or the time he paid off the mortgage for a Chabad house in Los Angeles.
But some of the attention has not been not so glowing.
The Powerball kerfuffle have reporters looking once more into a series of ongoing local, state, and federal probes dating back several years into the 80 facilities run Rechnitz.
Several of his employees have been criminally charged and there was a new FBI raid of his Riverside, Calif. operation last fall, The Sacramento Bee reports.
Rechnitz has said he is being singled out unfairly.
“All of a sudden, we show up to court one day and there is an emergency motion that refers to us as a quote-unquote serial violator of laws. It questions if we would pass the good character requirement … It basically makes us look like the Charles Manson of the nursing home business,” he told The Bee.
Rechnitz’s legal woes stand in stark contrast to what is an undeniable record of good deeds and philanthropy, not the least of which was his Powerball generosity.
Rechnitz was born in Los Angeles, California and went to Israel for college.
The musically-inclined exec released an album in 2014 entitled Shir, featuring famous Jewish artists singing his composed tracks. All of the proceeds go to the Keren Hashviis fund supporting Israeli farmers.
Rechnitz has a history of large contributions to Jewish organizations and causes. The Jewish Journal reports that he donated $5 million to Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, $2.35 million to bail out Chabad of California, and $1 million to help rebuild Orthodox Jewish schools after Hurricane Sandy.
In 2013, Rechnitz stepped in to rescue Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats after a controversy involving the former owner’s alleged flouting of religious oversight rules. Under Rencnitz’s ownership, kosher certification resumed, preserving a kosher entity in California on the eve of Passover.
Aside from Jewish-related organizations, Rechnitz also is charitable to law enforcement causes. He writes $10,000 checks for families of Southern California police officers who were shot in the line of duty.
After Rechnitz’s latest brush with notoriety, one question on a lot of people’s minds is whether he can come up with a way of turning the lemons of the Powerball hoax into public relations lemonade.
ABC News reported that Rechnitz urged the nurse to smile at the situation.
He offered take the sting off the disappointing twist by paying for an all-expenses-paid family vacation to the destination of her choice. It’s not clear whether her son will be invited.
This story "Meet Shlomo Rechnitz, the 'Mitzvah Mogul' Blindsided by Powerball Hoax" was written by Emily Siegel.