Morning Read 3/12: How Howard Jonas made billions overnight; Abbas tells Putin peace impossible without Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes the hand of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a 2015 meeting [Kremlin]
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes the hand of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a 2015 meeting [Kremlin]

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INTERNATIONAL


U.S. Ambassador Advises Israeli Officials: Trump’s Serious About Peace, Work With Him

As Donald Trump’s visit to Israel approaches, both the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and its Palestinians counterpart in Ramallah are trying to figure out what proposal, if any, the U.S. president will bring with him. As of now, 10 days before his arrival, Trump still has no orderly plan to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but he does have a lot of enthusiasm, ambition and, above all, determination to push for a historic breakthrough.

The new American ambassador in Tel Aviv, David Friedman, has held quite a few conversations in recent weeks with diplomats and senior Israeli officials. In these conversations, he repeatedly stressed that given Trump’s strong desire to make the “ultimate deal” on the peace process, Israel must cooperate with his diplomatic initiative and help it succeed.

A senior Israeli official familiar with the messages Friedman has delivered, who asked to remain anonymous, said the ambassador termed Trump a great opportunity for Israel, someone who greatly wants to help the country, inter alia by achieving a peace agreement with the Palestinians. As evidence of this, Friedman noted that all the people Trump has appointed to deal with the Israel issue are graduates of Jewish religious schools.

Friedman’s advice to his Israeli interlocutors, the official added, was to refrain from getting into confrontations with the president and to help him implement his Middle Eastern policies.

Friedman is expected to arrive in Israel on Monday. The next day, he will go to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, together with the ambassadors of Spain and Thailand, to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin. He will then spend a week racing against the clock to finalize the preparations for Trump’s visit, on May 22. [HAARETZ]

Abbas, in meeting with Putin, says Moscow must be part of peace process

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Sochi resort in Western Russia on Thursday, and said that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be “impossible” without the participation of Moscow in the peace process.

“It is impossible to solve the Palestinian issue without Russia’s meaningful participation in the peace process. That is what we have been emphasizing at all international meetings,” Abbas said in his meeting with Putin, according to the official Russian State news agency Tass.

Putin said Russia “will continue to give its full support to the resumption of direct dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.”

“The peaceful coexistence of the two states — Palestine and Israel — is an indispensable condition to ensure genuine security and stability in this region,” Putin said. [ToI]

US Treasury chief to brief key allies on Trump policies

BARI, Italy (AP) — Top finance officials from seven advanced economies have gathered to hear more about U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic policies on taxation and trade as well as to look for ways to promote growth, combat terrorist financing and stop tax avoidance by major corporations.

The meeting of the Group of 7 finance ministers in the southern Italian seaside town of Bari kicked off Friday with a discussion with economists on how to make growth benefit more people.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was due to explain Trump’s plans to cut business taxes and regulation, as well as the president’s push for what he considers more balanced trading relationships. He was to meet separately Friday with Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and then with Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister Taro Aso.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly charged that past administrations had failed to take a tough stand on enforcing trade agreements and this failure had cost millions of good-paying factory jobs and resulted in an enormous U.S. trade deficit. Since taking office, his administration has issued a report that names two G-7 countries, Germany and Japan, for special monitoring because of their large trade surpluses with the U.S. and has sparked a trade battle with Canada, another G-7 country, by imposing higher tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber.

Mnuchin said a trade deal announced Friday with China showed the success of the Trump administration’s trade approach. [AP]

North Korea sends protest to US Congress over sanctions

TOKYO (AP) — A North Korean parliamentary committee sent a rare letter of protest to the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday over its new package of tougher sanctions.

The sanctions were condemned as a “heinous act against humanity” by the foreign affairs committee of the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly, according to a state media report.

It was not immediately clear how the protest was conveyed – if it was sent by mail or how it was addressed – since North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations and virtually no official channels of communication. The report, carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, said the letter was sent Friday.

The Republican-led House overwhelmingly voted May 4 to impose the new sanctions, which target North Korea’s shipping industry and use of what the bill called “slave labor.”

It’s not unusual for Pyongyang to condemn Washington’s moves to censure it, but direct protests to Congress are exceptionally rare. Pyongyang normally expresses its displeasure with Washington through statements by the Foreign Ministry or other institutions, or through representatives at its United Nations’ mission in New York. [AP]

Hezbollah blames Israel as Lebanese receive thousands of anti-Nasrallah texts

Hezbollah on Friday said tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens received text messages and recorded calls during a speech by group leader Hassan Nasrallah the previous night, branding him a “murderer.”

The terror organization blamed Israel and an alleged “Israeli-Saudi alliance” for the psychological warfare, “as part of its attempts to shake Lebanese faith in the resistance, and to plant seeds of division,” the Ynet news website reported.

Many of the texts and calls were identified as coming from Hezbollah’s official public relations offices.

Texts accused Nasrallah of being a murderer and a liar, according to Lebanon’s Mulhak news site. Some accused Nasrallah of being behind the killing of “our martyr” Mustafa Badreddine, a top Hezbollah commander assassinated in Syria a year ago. [ToI]


NATIONAL


Sessions reverses Holder-era policies, tells prosecutors to pursue most serious charges possible in most cases

All 94 U.S. attorneys received a memo late Thursday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ office that instructs them to pursue charges with the longest prison time and orders them to bring back mandatory minimum sentences.

Officials at the Department of Justice said the new guidelines are a direct rebuttal of policies implemented under President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder.

The memo is already being referred to as “the Sessions Memo.”The 94 U.S. attorneys were instructed in the memo to “charge and pursue the most serious and readily provable offense.”

These cases often carry the longest sentences.The memo also brings back into effect mandatory minimum sentences, which are expected to increase prosecutions and the prison population. [FOXNEWS]

Sheriff who ran LA jails faces prison time for impeding FBI

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca is relying on a lifetime of public service, letters of support ranging from ex-governors to ex-cons, and his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in a bid Friday for probation for obstructing an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.

Baca, 74, faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he’s sentenced by a judge who has shown little leniency when it comes to his role atop a department rife with corruption.

The lawman who worked his way up from guarding inmates to running the nation’s largest jail system – and largest sheriff’s department – was convicted in March of obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to federal authorities.

Baca abruptly resigned in 2014 as the probe netted several underlings who plotted to hide an inmate informant from his FBI handler when they learned the jails were being investigated.

The crimes tarnished Baca’s reputation as a man on a mission to promote education and rehabilitation behind bars and who preached tolerance and understanding between people of different cultures and faiths. [AP]

Trump creates panel to study voter fraud, suppression

President Donald Trump created a commission on Thursday to investigate voter fraud and suppression, the White House said, a move that follows Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump signed an executive order creating the bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which would be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

The move provoked anger among top U.S. civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, who called it a voter suppression tactic.

Trump, who took office in January, has said there was widespread voter fraud in the November election. The Republican won the White House through victory in the Electoral College, which tallies wins in states, but lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by some 3 million ballots.

The bipartisan commission would not be limited to investigating Trump’s election fraud claims but look at issues that have been raised over many years.

“The commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of federal elections, and provide the president with a report that identifies system vulnerabilities,” Huckabee Sanders said. She said the report would be complete by 2018. [REUTERS]


LOCAL


Cuomo, Christie want Amtrak to cede control of Penn Station

Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie want Amtrak to let them choose the private management company that would run Penn Station, saying that the train company has brought the situation at the hub from “bad to worse to intolerable.”

The pair sent a letter to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman demanding that they cede control of the station as soon as possible.“Every commuter in the New York/New Jersey area agrees with us that drastic action must be taken to immediately remedy the situation,” they wrote. “The time, energy, and suffering of our commuters in both states requires nothing less.”

Moorman also said during a hearing on Thursday that he thinks the company shouldn’t be managing the country’s busiest train station.

Penn Station, which houses Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit, has been plagued by nightmarish delays and two derailments in the last six weeks. [NYP]

New York’s economy is sputtering

New York had one of the slowest-growing economies in the nation in 2016, according to a federal study released Thursday.

The Empire State ranked 38th out of 50 states, with inflation-adjusted gross domestic product growth of just 0.8 percent, about half the nationwide average of 1.5 percent, according to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

New York was even a cellar dweller compared to 10 other surrounding Northeastern states. Only Delaware ranked lower — 41st — with 0.3 percent growth.

The fastest-growing states in 2016 were out West — Washington, Oregon and Utah. All three states’ GDP increased by more than 3 percent.

Among the largest urban states, Florida ranked fifth with 3 percent growth, and California ranked seventh with 2.9 percent growth. [NYP]


Bring Meron Home this Lag Ba’omer
By Yoel Krausz

Bonfires. Bows and arrows. Music. Upsherins. Dancing through the night. This is Lag Ba’omer.

Add the holiness of a special site and thousands upon thousands of people celebrating with you- and it is Lag Ba’omer at Meron. Being at Meron on Lag Ba’omer is an experience that stays with you for life- as kedusha, simcha, and energy permeate the air, leaving deep grooves of inspiration. But not all of us can be zoche to be at Meron each year, or have the opportunity to tap into its spiritual blessings.

But this year, you can! You can bring Meron into your home and life this Lag Ba’omer, with the Tehillim Kollel of Meron. Throughout the year, devout men pray at this holy site, completing the entire sefer Tehillim each day. But you can take advantage of the most special time of the year at the Kever of R’ Shimon bar Yochai and enlist these special messengers to engage in fervent prayers on behalf of your family. Whether you need Parnassah, Shalom Bayis, Children, Shidduchim or any other yeshuah, you can entrust your Tefillos to the ehrliche Meron Kollel, who will utilize all their powers of concentration and sincere devotion to storm the heavens with your requests.

Tehillim Kollel is offering exclusive savings for Lag Ba’omer day and also running special membership offers during this time. Late afternoon, this Friday, May 5 th , is the last day to sign up for Lag Ba’omer savings. For more detailed information, contact the Tehillim Kollel’s central office at (718) 705-7174 or email at info@tehillimkollel.org


Greenfield to host Mayor de Blasio in Boro Park Town Hall on Tuesday, May 16th

Councilman David G. Greenfield will host Mayor Bill de Blasio at a special town hall on Tuesday, May 16th at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School at 5800 20th Avenue.

The event will allow Mayor de Blasio to learn more about pressing local concerns for residents of Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst.

“I am pleased that the Mayor is coming directly to Boro Park to hear our concerns,” Greenfield said. “As they say, the buck stops with him. So if you have an issue that you feel passionately about, please join us this Tuesday night and have your voice heard directly by the Mayor.”

The town hall is co-sponsored by Community Board 12 and 14, the 66th and 70th Precinct Community Council, the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, COJO of Flatbush, the Chinese American Social Service Center and Sephardic Bikur Holim, along with Boro President Eric Adams and Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

“This is the first time that I can remember that a mayor was willing to come directly to Boro Park and have a conversation with anyone in the community,” Greenfield said. “This is a unique opportunity. I invite everyone in my Midwood, Boro Park and Bensonhurst district to join us.”

Although seating is free and open to anyone, there are a limited amount of seats so anyone wanting to attend must RSVP. To do so, email : townhallrsvp@cityhall.nyc.gov or call (212) 748-0281.

False Payroll Information Allows 3 State Senators to Collect Thousands

ALBANY — Staff members of the Republican-led Senate have repeatedly sent false information to the state comptroller’s office that allowed tens of thousands of dollars in payments to three renegade Democratic senators who are allies of the Senate Republicans.

The information — certifying Senators Diane J. Savino, Jose R. Peralta and David J. Valesky as committee leaders, despite Republicans holding those roles — was included in emails sent over three years to the comptroller’s office from the Senate payroll office. The emails were obtained through a freedom of information law request on Thursday.

Mr. Peralta of Queens, Ms. Savino of Staten Island, and Mr. Valesky of Syracuse are all second in command of Senate committees, and are all members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight Democrats who have partnered with Republicans to control that chamber for the last six years.

As a result of their arrangement with the Republicans, the conference has garnered perks like larger staffs and stipends for committee chairmanships, which are authorized by state Legislative Law 5-a. But that law makes no mention of stipends for Senate committee vice chairmen and vice chairwomen, like the three independent Democrats.

The Independent Democratic Conference has maintained such payments are allowed by a clause that allows payment for service in any “special capacity therein or directly connected therewith,” though the law lays out exact dollar amounts payable to leaders in other positions.

In at least three cases — in 2015, 2016 and March of this year — Senate payroll officials have sent certified lists identifying the three senators as leaders of their respective committees. In 2015 and 2016, two documents identified Mr. Valesky as chairman of the Health Committee, requesting two payments totaling $7,500. He received the stipends, though he was and remains the committee’s vice chairman.

Earlier this year, Ms. Savino was made vice chairwoman of the Codes Committee by the independent Democrats’ leader, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. Mr. Peralta, who defected to the conference from the minority Democrats in January, was made vice chairman of the Energy and Telecommunications Committee on March 7.

Two weeks after that, a member of the Senate payroll staff sent an email to the comptroller’s office with a “Senate certification” of members’ owed stipends, and a request that checks be sent out in early April. A list that was attached identified Mr. Peralta as the chairman of the energy committee, and Ms. Savino as the Codes Committee chairwoman, asking for payments of $9,375 to Mr. Peralta and $13,500 to Ms. Savino. [NYT]


POLITICS


Trump Planned Firing Before Letter

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he was planning to fire former FBI Director James Comey regardless of any advice from the Justice Department, because Mr. Comey was a “showboat” who he claimed had lost the faith of his employees.

In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Mr. Trump offered his first full account of the events that led up to the firing of Mr. Comey on Tuesday as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In doing so, the president contradicted the initial White House accounts that he acted after top Justice Department officials recommended Mr. Comey’s ouster.

Mr. Trump also confirmed he had directly asked Mr. Comey whether he was personally a target of a federal investigation involving his campaign’s possible ties to Russian hackers.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Comey told him he wasn’t a target. Close associates of Mr. Comey said on Wednesday that he didn’t provide such assurances to Mr. Trump about an investigation in which the president has a personal stake. [WSJ]

Rosenstein Pressed White House to Correct the Record on Comey Firing

WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pressed White House counsel Don McGahn to correct what he felt was an inaccurate White House depiction of the events surrounding FBI Director James Comey’s firing, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Mr. Rosenstein left the impression that he couldn’t work in an environment where facts weren’t accurately reported, the person said. The deputy attorney general objected to statements by White House aides citing Mr. Rosenstein’s critical assessment of Mr.Comey’s job performance to justify the firing.

Mr. Rosenstein, who had been confirmed by the Senate just two weeks earlier, met with Mr. Trump on Monday, where they discussed Mr. Comey’s job performance. At the White House’s prompting, Mr. Rosenstein Tuesday wrote a memo to the president detailing his concerns about the director’s conduct.

In that letter, Mr. Rosenstein never expressly recommended that Mr. Comey be fired.

Mr. Rosenstein grew more distressed when, in television interviews that evening, White House advisers reiterated that the decision was made in response to the Justice Department’s recommendation.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump said he had already made up his mind to fire Mr. Comey before he received a letter from Mr. Rosenstein, in contrast to statements from White House officials on when the decision was made.

“Regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey,” Mr. Trump said in an interview Thursday with NBC News. [WSJ]

White House furious after being trolled with Russia Oval Office photos

Washington (CNN) The White House did not anticipate that the Russian government would allow its state news agency to post photographs of an Oval Office meeting between President Donald Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the US, a White House official said.

Photos of Wednesday’s meeting, taken by a Russian state news media photographer one day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey amid questions about possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow, were ultimately posted by Russia’s news agency, TASS.

The White House did not post photos of the meeting until Thursday. The State Department did post photos of Lavrov’s meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but that was open to the press.

“That’s the problem with the Russians — they lie,” the official added.

The Russians used the photos to troll the White House in its social media posts Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted a photo of a smiling US President shaking hands with Lavrov on Twitter, adding strange and ironic optics to the questions already swirling around the White House over Comey’s firing. [CNN]

Trump says he wants Russia probe to be ‘so strong and so good’

President Trump on Thursday said firing James Comey as head of the FBI will not stop the investigation into Russian interference in the election.

Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt that he wants the FBI’s investigation to “be so strong and so good.”

“And I want it to happen,” he said. “If Russia did anything, I want to know that.”

Trump said he would consider the possibility the investigation needs to be lengthened.

“As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” Trump said. “I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people.”

Meanwhile, Trump insisted there was “no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians,” which was one of the allegations the FBI was investigating.

During the interview, Trump defended his decision to fire Comey, which sent ripples across Washington and prompted outcry among Democrats.

Lawmakers from both parties have questioned the timing of the firing, with portions of the White House’s explanation coming into question on Thursday.

Trump said that he wants someone “competent” handling the FBI investigation and he has no doubts about the bureau itself.

“I just want somebody that’s competent,” Trump told NBC News. “I am a big fan of the FBI, I love the FBI.”

He also pushed back on critics arguing that Russia successfully interfered in the election.

“The Russians did not affect the vote,” he maintained. [THEHILL]

The one phrase that doomed Comey

Telling Congress that he was “mildly nauseous” at the thought of having influenced the presidential election may have won former FBI Director James Comey plaudits among Democrats and within the bureau. But his choice of words may have doomed him with President Donald Trump.

He found the testimony last week infuriating and griped about it extensively for at least two days, several associates and advisers said. “He was basically defending Hillary Clinton,” said one adviser, explaining Trump’s interpretation of Comey’s testimony. Another person said: “He couldn’t figure out why Comey would go out and say that.”

The firing — which shocked much of Washington, including many of Trump’s senior aides — came days after Comey asked Congress for more resources to pursue the investigation, which had stalled, according to officials briefed on the matter.

But senior aides and other associates who know the president say the firing was triggered not by any one event but rather by the president’s growing frustration with the Russia investigation, negative media coverage and the growing feeling that he couldn’t control Comey, who was a near-constant presence on television in recent days.

Trump did not appreciate that Comey declared his campaign to be under investigation on live TV, said two people who know the president well. He didn’t like that Comey contradicted his unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama tapped his phone line at Trump Tower.

And Trump was displeased that the FBI seemed uninterested in pursuing investigations into the leaks he believes are weakening his administration.

“He got tired of him,” one White House official said. “I think that’s how you would explain it. He got really tired of him.” [POLITICO]


CULTURE


When Hitler was a popular Jewish last name in New York

“Herr Adolf Hitler of Germany would be covered with confusion if he dared to enter the strictly kosher home of Mrs. Rose Hitler, pretty young Jewish housewife, who lives at 233 E. 92nd Street, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Brownsville.”

That is the start of an improbable JTA article from June 1933, entitled “Kiss the Mezuzah — and meet the Brownsville Hitlers.” It is a snapshot of a time when Hitler was a recognizable, if increasingly ironic, Jewish surname in New York City. According to Rose Hitler, more than 30 families across the city bore the last name of the man who became the chancellor of Germany that year and one of history’s worst monsters.

The JTA article got a few things wrong: Rose’s family actually spelled their last name “Hittler,” and her husband’s name was Frank, not Fred, according to their marriage records. (We gave Frank Hittler his proper name back in our video above.)

But the article was accurate about the increasing discomfort of New Yorkers named Hitler or Hittler. Living in what was a very Jewish neighborhood at the time, Frank and Rose’s kids began having trouble at school. Herbert, age 9, constantly got into fistfights. Friends of four-year-old Rita called her a Nazi.

Rita, a vivacious girl, finds her big brown eyes filling with tears whenever her playmates tease her and call her a Nazi. “I ain’t a Nazzy,” says Rita. “I’m Jewish.”

Her friends reply in chorus: “Rita’s a Nazzy, Rita’s a Nazzy!”

Rose admitted she was surprised by the whole ordeal.

“My father-in-law, may he rest in peace, used to say when he was living that he never heard of a Hitler who wasn’t Jewish,” she said. “Take my brother-in-law, Louis Hitler, who lives on Pulaski Street. Take all the other Hitlers in New York.” [JTA]


FINANCE


China, US reach agreement on beef, poultry and natural gas

WASHINGTON (AP) — China will finally open its borders to U.S. beef while cooked Chinese poultry is closer to hitting the American market as part of a U.S.-China trade agreement.

Trump administration officials hailed the deal as a significant step in their efforts to boost U.S. exports and narrow America’s trade gap with the world’s second-largest economy.

The United States would also allow U.S. companies to ship liquefied natural gas to China as part of the bilateral agreement reached following President Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April. The agreement covers a number of long-standing barriers in areas ranging from agriculture to energy to the operation of American financial firms in China.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed the agreement as “a herculean accomplishment” forged in record time. [AP]

How Telecom Speculator Howard Jonas Made Billions From Verizon, AT&T

Howard Jonas has struck gold. Again.

The businessman and telecom speculator has agreed to sell one of his companies, a long-struggling wireless venture, to Verizon Communications Inc. for $3.1 billion. The deal’s price nearly doubled in recent weeks after a bidding war broke out between Verizon and AT&T Inc.

It is a big premium for an obscure company called Straight Path Communications Inc. that has just nine employees and has yet to build out a network. And it is another windfall for Mr. Jonas, who made a splash in 2000 by selling a stake in internet-calling company Net2Phone for more than $1.1 billion in cash to AT&T.

“We don’t sell things unless someone comes along and gives us an outrageously good price,” Mr. Jonas said in an interview Wednesday. He spun off Straight Path in 2013 and owns more than 70% of its voting shares through a trust, according to a securities filing.

The 60-year-old cut his teeth selling hot dogs in the Bronx, N.Y., at the age of 14, studied economics at Harvard and eventually moved into the phone business with the founding of long-distance provider IDT Corp. in 1990. He used the windfall from his Net2Phone deal to fund an array of ventures including looking for shale oil in Mongolia, publishing “Star Trek” comic books and trying to cure cancer.

One of these forays led to the creation of Straight Path. IDT bought a swath of U.S. airwave licenses and other assets for $56 million in 2001 and 2002 from Winstar Communications Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy protection. At the time, Mr. Jonas praised the deal: “It might not top the Dutch settlers buying the Island of Manhattan for twenty four dollars, but it comes pretty close.”

The thinking was the Winstar assets would allow IDT to expand its telecom offerings to customers, but the business didn’t develop as expected and led to losses that eventually piled up to $300 million, Mr. Jonas said.

“If you asked me two years ago what was the worst mistake I made in business, I would have said Straight Path,” he said this week.

The business was spun off in 2013 with a handful of employees and Mr. Jonas’ son Davidi running it. Few people were interested in Straight Path’s portfolio of licenses in extremely high frequencies because they don’t travel far or penetrate walls and can even be disrupted by moisture in the air.

Hedge funds bet against the stock. The shares tumbled in October 2015 when one investor, Kerrisdale Capital, started a public campaign to argue it was overvalued, saying, “Straight Path is a bubble, driven by hype, misconceptions, and wishful thinking.”

Although Straight Path’s airwaves were once considered mostly useless, analysts now say they may play a crucial role in ultrafast, high-capacity 5G networks that are in development. Mr. Jonas expects they will be used for high-speed connections between cellular sites on the edge of a network and the core landline network.

Since going public, Straight Path’s stock had traded mostly below $30, but rose above $220 in recent days as the bidding war waged on. It is trading at $178.40 Thursday afternoon, just below Verizon ’s bid valuing the company at $3.1 billion.

When the Winstar bet didn’t work out for 15 years, Mr. Jonas said he didn’t think about selling. “You see the job through and I don’t think you sell assets,” he said, noting his project to find oil in the Golan Heights has lost about $100 million so far.

He was surprised, however, when a bidding war erupted for Straight Path, saying he was happy with the initial agreement with AT&T for $1.6 billion.

Mr. Jonas’s latest interest is far from telecom: Drug developer Cornerstone Pharmaceuticals Inc. is taking up 90% of this time. The Cranbury, N.J., company is testing a treatment targeting pancreatic cancer and certain blood cancers. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration gave approval for the drug to move further into human testing.

With the windfall from Straight Path, Mr. Jonas now doesn’t have to search for partners to help fund development of the drug. “We had this cancer company we couldn’t fund,” he said. “I’m just going to write the checks myself.” [WSJ]

These are the biggest Brooklyn deals of the first quarter

Some highlights from the full list of Brooklyn’s top 10 sales for the first quarter of 2017, according to data from Real Capital Analytics, is below:

3. 475 Kent Avenue, $55.7 million

Buyer: Gaia Investment Corp
Seller: Ferdinand and Nachman Brach

The Israel-based firm Gaia Investment Corp purchased this 11-story former pasta factory in South Williamsburg for $55.7 million in February and plans to make high-end renovations to the property. The building has a rather eventful history, including an incident from 2008 when roughly 150 tenants were evicted temporarily after fire officials found an illegal basement matzo bakery that they said was at risk of exploding.

6. 48 North 3rd Street, $42.5 million

Buyer: CW Realty
Seller: SWGI Realty

Cheskie Weisz’s Brooklyn development company CW Realty plans to demolish this roughly 25,000-square-foot Williamsburg warehouse and replace it with a 96-unit mixed-use development. The project would be seven stories tall and include ground floor retail, a parking garage and a rooftop garden.

7. 1245 Avenue X, $37 million

Buyer: Seymour Nierenberg
Seller: Wasserman Realty Inc

Seymour Nierenberg purchased this seven-story apartment building in Sheepshead Bay for $37 million in January. The structure contains 135 units and was built in 1963.

10. 185 Marcy Avenue Office Building, $30 million

Buyer: Acuity Capital Partners
Seller: Glory Capital
Brokerage: Meridian Investment Sales

Acuity Capital Partners purchased this six-story Williamsburg office building for $30 million in February. It was built by the YMCA in 1905 as a rooming house and currently hosts tenants including Voore and Speedy Road Test NY [TRD]

05/12/2017 10:33 AM by David Kinzer
Tags: Morning Read

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