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Garden State Philanthropist Arrested

The arrest of Charles Kushner seems likely to put an end to one of the most remarkable careers in Jewish philanthropy and public life in New Jersey.

Kushner, the high-profile political donor and real estate mogul arrested Tuesday for allegedly hiring a call girl in an effort to blackmail a witness in a New Jersey corruption probe, is a pillar of Jewish philanthropic life in the Garden State and a major supporter of Orthodox causes.

The arrest seems likely to scuttle Kushner’s recent effort to acquire one of Israel’s largest banks, Israel Discount Bank, as well as a thus-far unpublicized bid for the Jerusalem Post — two moves that would have transformed him into one of the most prominent businessman-philanthropists on the Jewish international scene.

Kushner’s standing as a leading philanthropist takes on added significance in a state where Jews take both their politics and federations seriously. One of the state’s two Democratic senators, businessman Frank Lautenberg, was first elected in 1982, after running a campaign that stressed his background in public service, which consisted mainly of his federation leadership. His record includes a stint as president of United Jewish Appeal, then the charitable network’s national body. Like Lautenberg, Kushner, 50, boasted a string of impressive accomplishments in business, politics and Jewish philanthropy that seemed to build off of each other. He was the top donor to New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey and rubbed elbows with former President Bill Clinton and Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jewish communal leaders appeared to be keeping quiet about the scandal this week. Reached by phone Wednesday, Jack Bendheim, another prominent supporter of Democratic and Orthodox causes, said of Kushner’s arrest: “I’m not going to touch it.”

Kushner was arrested for allegedly hiring prostitutes to cavort with prosecution witnesses in a probe of his political donations that was being conducted by the Federal Election Commission. The probe, which ended with Kushner reportedly agreeing to pay a $508,000 fine, focused on allegations that he made donations in acquaintances’ names without their knowledge. He is alleged to have tried to use pictures of the prostitutes’ dalliances in order to blackmail witnesses.

Kushner has been at odds with members of his family for some time. The New Jersey Star Ledger described the feuding as “Five years of bad blood.” His sister-in-law, Lee Kushner, when asked about the arrest, told the Forward sarcastically: “We’re just peachy.”

Kushner’s arrest could prove embarrassing to the many Jewish institutions that he supported. The son of Holocaust survivors and a resident of Livingston, N.J., Kushner reportedly has served on the boards of several Jewish organizations, including the liberal Orthodox group Edah and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey. He attends the Synagogue of Suburban Torah Center and received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University in 2002.

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