Special Treatment for Jewish Prisoners, Rappers Leads to Employee Discipline, Resignations at New York Jails
Rabbi Leib Glanz sought and obtained permission to perform a bar mitzvah ceremony at the Tombs for the son of Tu-via Stern, a notorious public figure recently captured after he jumped bail and spent almost 20 years on the run. Stern had fled to Brazil after being indicted in connection with a $1.7 million financial scam. He was sentenced in March 2009 to 2½ to 7½ years.
The catered bar mitzvah took place in the jail’s gymnasium on December 30, 2008 and included sixty guests, a local singer and a band. Guests were served kosher food on real china with metal knives and forks, and were allowed to keep and use their cell phones. Metal utensils and cell phones are a violation of jail security policies.
Stern was permitted to dress in street clothes, and those who attended the event were entertained by popular Orthodox singer Yaakov Shwekey. Jail guards reportedly were paid overtime to supervise the celebration.
Rabbi Glanz had long been known as a mover and shaker in the New York political community. Unlike most appli-cants who are thoroughly vetted before being hired, Glanz was appointed chaplain in 2000 by the administration of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Glanz’s reputation stemmed from his position as a go-between for political officials and the powerful Jewish Satmar community. He made his way into the company of such powerful figures as State Senator Eric Adams, 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole and Kevin Sheekey, deputy to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
During his tenure as jail chaplain, Glanz was known for his propensity to make life a little easier for Jewish prisoners and often had them transferred from the more punitive Rikers Island facility to the Tombs. Former prisoners told the New York Post that Glanz’s office was like a safe haven inside the jail. Jewish prisoners would go to his office to use his unmonitored phone for a variety of reasons, some of them illicit. Some would place sports bets. Others would try to raise bail money. One prisoner called a friend for assistance in hiding evidence in his case.
“Guys are fighting with their wives, guys are calling up saying, ‘I want to lay $600 down on this game, that game, I want to bet this horse’ ... guys are calling girls for a little phone sex,” said a former prisoner. “Some of us would use his desk as a craps table and shoot craps for commissary items.”
Beyond the fiasco involving the bar mitzvah, Glanz had also arranged a satellite TV hook-up outside the jail so a Hasidic prisoner could watch a relative’s wedding in Israel. According to one source, the video feed was two-way so the wedding guests could see the prisoner.
“The rabbi had brought in wine and food and everything ... and they sat in the visiting area for hours,” said an unnamed retired jail official. “The rank-and-file [guards] were like, ‘You gotta be shitting me.’”
According to former prisoner Robert Feder, Rabbi Glanz had so much power at the jail that he was able to have guards transferred elsewhere if they interfered with him or his favored Jewish prisoners. “If an inmate had a problem with an officer, that problem disappeared – that officer wasn’t there anymore,” said Feder.
Given his political connections and influence, it was no surprise to his supervisors when Glanz asked for and received permission to perform a bar mitzvah ceremony at the Tombs. Glanz even provided the number of guests who would at-tend the event.
What his supervisors didn’t know was how lavish an affair Glanz intended to provide or the negative backlash that would result. The fallout was not immediate. In fact, the event went so well that Glanz used the jail’s gym again, to hold an engagement party for Stern’s daughter in April 2009. Glanz also wrote a letter to the judge presiding over Stern’s case, asking for “maximum leniency.”
Once the story broke in the news media last June, disciplinary action was taken against the Department of Corrections’ assistant commissioner for ministerial services, Imam Umar Abdul-Jamil, as well as Warden George Okada, Chief Peter Curcio, Chief Frank Squillante and Rabbi Glanz. The discipline included suspensions and loss of vacation time.
On June 15, 2009, Chief Curcio announced his retirement from the department. He had been appointed chief just one month before the bar mitzvah took place, and was one of the officials who approved the event.
Glanz tendered his resignation the next day. Following media reports about the lavish bar mitzvah, most of the Jewish prisoners held at the Tombs were moved to other facilities.
Rabbi Glanz and the four other jail officials were not the only New York City corrections employees to come under fire for lapses in judgment and giving prisoners preferential treatment. On May 30, 2006, Warden Emmanuel Bailey had booked hip-hop performer “Papoose” for a nearly two-hour concert at the Rikers Island jail.
Toward the end of his performance, Papoose, whose real name is Shamele Mackie, gave a shout-out taunt to his former friend Miguel “Dough Boy” Jeffrey, who was a prisoner at Rikers. Jeffrey claimed that Mackie had shorted him on studio time; in retaliation he fired shots at Mackie’s entourage and stole a $40,000 gold chain from one of the rapper’s relatives.
Jeffrey, who was serving a 12-year sentence for armed robbery and assault, was not allowed to attend the concert because officials were aware of the friction between the two. Mackie’s on-stage “dissing” of his former friend “was like throwing a match on gasoline,” said Jeffrey, who had a leadership position in the Bloods gang.
Jeffrey reportedly ordered retaliation, and in the months following the concert there were 8 stabbings or slashings involving gang members and Mackie’s imprisoned friends at the George Motchan Detention Center on Rikers Island.
Bailey was reprimanded for failing to get approval for the concert. Corrections Department spokesman Stephen Mo-rello said “a procedural step may have been missed.” However, that didn’t mean “the handling of this event involved venality, corruption or a lack of competence,” he stated.
According to the New York Post, Corrections Chief of Department Carolyn Thomas initially ignored requests to investigate the concert and the subsequent violence at Rikers. Ironically, it was preferential treatment for another rapper – Foxy Brown – that led to the resignation of Thomas and two other jail officials.
Brown (whose real name is Inga Marchand) was serving a one-year sentence at Rikers Island for violating her probation in an earlier case involving an assault on two manicurists. While incarcerated she was allowed to conduct a magazine interview and photo shoot to promote her new album, and allegedly had unlimited phone and TV access and wore Gucci shoes.
Brown was released from jail on April 18, 2008 after serving less than nine months. She denied receiving any special treatment, saying, “It was incarceration, not vacation. I only wore the designer clothing I was allowed to have.”
Morello defended the actions of corrections officials. “Inmates were entitled to wear their own clothing,” he said, and noted the magazine interview had been approved by the Department of Media Services as “a matter of routine.”
News of the photo shoot became public in late June 2009, and Carolyn Thomas, Warden Okada and Chief Squillante all resigned four months later in October. Imam Abdul-Jalil, who had been disciplined in the bar mitzvah scandal, was also reportedly involved in arranging preferential treatment for Brown.
“It is imperative for a new team of leadership to take over, clean house, and immediately restore accountability, which has been absent for too long,” said Norman Seabrook, president of the Corrections Officers Benevolence Association.
Sources: New York Post, New York Times, www.cnn.com, www.thejewishweek.com, New York Daily News, www.starpulse.com
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