Menino's mosque

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 24, 2008

Ali-Salaam was directly involved in the effort to raise that money from the beginning — as was Menino. The mayor met with Esam Mudeer, a Saudi executive, in 1998 to discuss fundraising for the mosque. Ali-Salaam then tried to put together a trip to Saudi Arabia that was to include Menino, BRA director Thomas O'Brien, BRA chairman Clarence Jones, and others.

That trip was also to include Wilkerson, along with State Representative Gloria Fox.

According to BRA correspondence first reported last year by the BostonGlobe, O'Brien agreed to the trip, which did not take place. No explanation has been given for why it did not occur.

Menino and the BRA director did, however, allow Ali-Salaam to go to the Middle East in December 1999 to assist in fundraising — although when this trip was first disclosed two years ago, a BRA spokesperson emphatically denied that Ali-Salaam was given permission to fundraise for the mosque.

But such permission appears to have been granted for an earlier trip, according to a never-before-released memo from Ali-Salaam to the ISB directors, obtained by the Phoenix, that discusses plans for a trip to Dubai in May 1999.

This memo, an official BRA form dated April 16, 1999, indicates that the BRA understood Ali-Salaam would be raising money for the mosque during his planned May trip. "In order to take full advantage of the situation, I should schedule private meetings with select individuals who might be inclined to financially support the Project," wrote Ali-Salaam.

BRA director O'Brien, according to this memo, had given Ali-Salaam permission to travel to Dubai for a conference and to raise funds — "to represent the [mosque] project," and "to represent the City of Boston as an emissary of Mayor Thomas M. Menino."

The Phoenix could not determine whether Ali-Salaam made the May 1999 trip. He did go on the December 1999 trip. By April 2000, money began flowing from the Arab world — some $2 million that month alone, according to documents produced in litigation. (Read more on Ali-Salaam's role in Inside Job.)

VIDEO: The mosque’s minaret was capped to much celebration on June 9, 2007, but a second construction phase, containing promised community facilities for non-congregant use, won’t happen at all in the foreseeable future.

Scaling back
Even with those donations, by mid 2000 the ISB had only a fraction of the total they needed to demonstrate the "firm financial commitments" the BRA had been waiting on for two years. Nevertheless, the BRA granted the group official Final Designation in August 2000 — an important procedural step in the ISB's securing of the land.

It is unclear whether the BRA board of directors was even aware that the al-Manzil funding, upon which they had based their initial approval, had been scrapped. Director Consuelo Gonzalez Thorrell concedes that the board had gotten out of the habit of asking "detailed questions about whether the funding is in place." (That used to happen "in the days of Jimmy Flaherty," she says, referring to a Flynn-appointed BRA director.) Instead, the board of directors relied on the BRA staff — in this case, primarily Ali-Salaam — to have handled that "leg work," says Thorrell.

In other words, the BRA board responsible for overseeing BRA staff relied on the staff for its information.

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