Along with George Soros, the JEHT Foundation was one of the largest funders of progressive criminal justice reform work nationwide. According to the New York Times:
When Jeanne Levy-Church created the JEHT Foundation in 2002 to promote justice, equality, human dignity and tolerance, she tapped into investments run by Bernard L. Madoff.
Those investments were initially made more than three decades ago by her father, Norman Levy, who entrusted his real estate fortune to Mr. Madoff. Financed solely by regular contributions from Ms. Levy-Church, the foundation gave away more than $75 million over the next few years.
But on Monday, the young foundation announced that it would cease operations by the end of January — a victim of the same investments that made it a star in liberal philanthropic circles. “The returns had been steady and strong for all these years,” said Robert Crane, the foundation’s chief executive. “It was shocking.”
Mr. Madoff’s investment firm, Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities, collapsed last Thursday when federal regulators arrested him on charges that he had masterminded a scheme defrauding investors of $50 billion by his own estimate. ...
Ms. Levy-Church and her husband, Ken Levy-Church, supported JEHT each year with a contribution from their Madoff funds. There will be no more.
“Our programming is totally dependent on the ongoing funding, so for all intents and purposes it has ceased,” said Mr. Crane, JEHT’s chief executive. “People with grants currently in hand will keep that money, of course, but we can’t make good on pledges and grants that are for multiple years.”
The foundation’s 24 employees are losing their jobs, and organizations like Human Rights First, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Juvenile Law Center are losing revenue.
Another foundation sustained by the Levy-Church fortune focused on sustainable food policies must also shut its doors because of the Madoff debacle.
The JEHT Foundation was particularly important because it had undertaken to finance grants in areas like civil liberties advocacy and criminal justice reform that more traditional liberal foundations had considered too edgy to support.
In Texas, JEHT in the past has supported criminal justice advocacy work at the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and the Innocence Project of Texas - all organizations I've worked for during periods when they received JEHT support - as well as the Texas Defender Service and probably other reform groups I'm not aware of. One of JEHT's larger, recent campaigns in Texas supported voter registration work among ex-felons.
It's hard to know what impact JEHT's closure will have - they're not rescinding grants that were already let, but multi-year grants won't be honored and JEHT will not be issuing new funds for these types of projects.
This is a major blow to the criminal justice reform movement nationally, but at the same time JEHT's prior work has already helped build up a new cadre of skilled activists on these topics who didn't exist just a few years ago because nobody was providing them professional-level support and development. So even if JEHT never gives another dime, the foundation will have spawned a legacy that will outlive its formal, legal structure.
While the foundation's denouement was a disappointment, the contributions by Crane and Co. have been significant and much appreciated. They've financed much important work that will continue to impact criminal justice policy in the coming years even now that their money has dried up.
BLOGVERSATION: See more from Daily Kos, Thinking Outside the Cage, ForPeace, and MoneyLaw. See also this video from foundation E.D. Robert Crane.
MORE: See the New York Times' extensive coverage of Madoff's fraud, which they describe as the first international ponzi scheme.
AND MORE: From the Dallas News, "JEHT funding for Dallas DNA tests already granted."