- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

Some donations for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks are going to a legal group that is defending several Arabs detained since the attacks.
The September 11th Fund, which has raised $337 million, provided a $171,000 grant last month to the Legal Aid Society for "emergency civil legal assistance." The legal group has complained about the treatment of the suspects being detained as security risks in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The allocation has prompted the National Legal and Policy Center to demand that the United Way recover the grant money and "publicly seek a full accounting by an independent accounting firm of the resources used by the Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to detainees."
"This is undoubtedly a conflict of interest," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the policy center. "I don't see how people who donated to the September 11th Fund can help but wonder if their money went to defending these people who are locked up in Brooklyn. There is a blatant conflict of interest here."
None of the grant money is going for the defense of three detained Arabs whom the Legal Aid Society is representing, a spokeswoman said last night.
"Those [people] have not been charged with terrorism," said Pat Bath, who added that Legal Aid attorneys also have interviewed five other detained Arabs. "What has happened is that so many people have been detained, people of Middle East descent, that the court has asked us for assistance. Some will be let go, and I imagine that some will actually be charged. But these people we represent have not been charged."
In a Wall Street Journal article last week, Janet Sabel, who heads the immigration division for the society, said the detained Arabs "are being held in isolation, treated as security risks and interviewed by the FBI with almost no opportunity to get counsel."
The September 11th Fund was created by the United Way and the New York Community Trust, another tax-exempt group, which this year had given grants to at least two immigration rights groups.
"This money is to be spent only to help lower-income individuals affected by the September 11 tragedy," said Jeanine Moss, a spokeswoman for the September 11th Fund. "It is a very narrowly defined focus and they report back to us on a regular basis on who they have helped and in what amount."
The help, Miss Moss said, includes issues relating to child custody, housing, immigration and legal issues for small businesses.
Because the detained individuals represented by the society are not charged with criminal offenses, they are not entitled to publicly funded counsel.
In a letter written to the United Way yesterday, Mr. Boehm and policy center President Peter Flaherty, wrote, "At a time when the public is questioning why so few of the victims have received aid they desperately need from groups that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, it is disturbing that the Legal Aid Society rushed to provide free civil help to the detainees."
A spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has been investigating abuses of charitable donations and the 200-plus groups that administer them, called the grant "a public relations nightmare."
"It's another black eye for charities," said Ken Johnson. "Someone at United Way has to be incredibly dumb, incredibly inept or both, not to catch this."
Earlier this week, an official with the September 11th Fund promised that "every single dollar" will go to victims, their families and the affected community. The fund also was the beneficiary of $150 million raised by the Sept. 21 "Tribute to Heroes" telethon.
Legal Aid's Miss Bath denied any wrongdoing, saying it was "outrageous and offensive that anyone would try to say that we are supporting terrorists."
The Legal Aid Society operates with 1,700 employees and a $125 million annual budget.
While the funding was earmarked, according to the September 11th Fund, some donors may take such allocations into account when they consider donating again, said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute on Philanthropy.
"There are plenty of attorneys who are doing pro bono work for these victims," Mr. Borochoff said. "It is a call that the donor can make."


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