It looks as if there now might actually be review of the sweetheart deal the city of Boston gave to the Islamic Society of Boston on land for a mosque — sold to the ISB for substantially below market value.
See here for details.
“Judge widens review of city mosque deal,” from the Jewish Advocate, with thanks to MB:
The case against the City of Boston and a Muslim group over a controversial mosque project in Roxbury could get stronger, after a judge admitted new documents raising questions about the city”s conduct in the deal.
“This is a significant step forward,” said Evan Slavitt, the lawyer representing James Policastro, the Mission Hill resident who originally filed a lawsuit against the city and the Islamic Society of Boston in October 2004. The suit charges that the city”s sale of public land at a significant discount for the construction of a mosque in exchange for a package of benefits, including an Islamic lecture series, violated the separation of church and state.
The ISB is suing The David Project, which played a role in bringing about the Policastro suit, along with the Boston Herald and Fox 25 News, for defaming the organization and conspiring to block its mosque project. Construction on the Islamic center, which is about three quarters complete and is projected to cost more than $24 million, is currently stalled due to lack of funds.
In issuing her decision late last month, Judge Regina Quinlan rejected the Boston Redevelopment Authority”s claim that only materials it submitted as part of an administrative record of the deal could be reviewed. Policastro’s claims, the judge wrote, were of “constitutional dimension” and other documents that have recently come to light could be used to support the case.
Among the documents the BRA did not include in its administrative record was an opinion from the BRA”s legal counsel in the early stages of the project warning that discounting the sale price of the land for a religious group could pose constitutional problems. An Ethics Commission opinion also noted that the close involvement of a Muslim BRA official, Muhammad Ali Salaam, could create the appearance that decisions were “unduly influenced by personal loyalties.”
Other documents indicate that Ali Salaam was intimately involved in many aspects of the deal, traveling to the Middle East on a fund-raising trip with ISB officials and writing letters on behalf of the ISB on BRA stationary.
Slavitt said that he now plans to file a motion that would compel BRA and ISB officials to provide testimony. So far they have refused to comply.
Citing the litigation, BRA officials also refused to participate in a public hearing on the deal called by a Boston city councilor in May.
Slavitt said that it’s too early to say what the outcome of the lawsuit will be but, he said, it could ultimately invalidate the transaction, meaning that the ISB would “have to tear down the establishment.”
Keep your fingers crossed.