Wednesday, December 17, 2008

JEHT Foundation closure a blow to criminal justice reform

News came on Monday that the JEHT Foundation, a philanthropic charity out of New York that has funded a great deal of criminal justice reform work in Texas and around the country, will cease giving grants and close its doors in January because their money was invested with alleged Wall Street crook Michael Madoff who apparently lost all their money in a $50 billion "ponzi scheme." You can read the announcement from their President Robert Crane here.

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."


Anonymous said...

People with all their eggs in one basket are morans. If that was an estate or a retirement fund who had committed such negligence by investing solely with one person or fund the board would have been subject to civil liability for their negligence. What a tragedy that this fund has to close due to the criminal acts of Madoff, but also the sheer stupidity of those in charge.

Anonymous said...

JEHT is a huge loss. They just hosted a meeting in Fort Worth last week with criminal justice leaders from Texas' 5 big counties encouraging them move towards evidence based criminal justice practices. It was great and so promising for our state. The demise of JEHT is bad news, but hopefully the leaders gathered in Fort Worth won't forget what they learned. By the way, people who refer to "morans" are the real morons.

Raymond E. Foster said...

This entire incident is amazing - a 4 decade ponzi scheme?

Anonymous said...

I have to agree. Morans is not the right word. How dare you. Madoff was a well respected investor that for years had brought them great turn arounds. They trusted a man they they had spent years working for and who had one of the best resumes to speak of. I am sorry this happend to the JEHT. I hope that something can be worked out when they find out just how much money Mr. Madoff has. Grits. Question. Do you know if the JEHT is still going to take donations? Lets us know.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

JEHT is shutting its doors, 11:14. I think it's too late for donations unless they're of the nine figure variety!

Anonymous said...

Do a GIS for "get a brain, morans"

Anyway, I don't care how respected one person is. The most basic principle of investing is diversity. Madoff actively asked people to keep things quiet because his investments were "secret" and he could not at any time during the scheme provide information as to what his investments were going to. That makes this board a bunch of morans.

Anonymous said...

They did make other investments. But the biggest were with him. And any investment manager will tell you to "keep things Secret." and are you shore he said that to JEHT board. I am just saying we should be more respectful to a team of people who work hard to make a change and I dont think Morans is the best way to pay that respect

Anonymous said...

Actually, it looks as the board may have been stacked with people who were there in name only as a resume builder or because they were related to people or organizations that could have donated more money. Sure, the rank and file employees did a good job. But their board's actions were negligent to say the least.