The Norwalk Hour

From neighborho­od ‘mayor’ to felon

Convicted on 4 counts, controvers­ial rabbi who worked to rehabilita­te Edgewood could face decades in prison

- By Ed Stannard

NEW HAVEN — Long before he was accused of sexually abusing students at his yeshiva and convicted of reckless endangerme­nt of minors, Rabbi Daniel Greer was the “Mayor of Edgewood,” whose businesses bought and renovated properties to turn around a neighborho­od that was in decline.

In the 1980s, the Orthodox rabbi, a Yale Law School graduate, said his goal was to create quality rental housing for lowincome tenants and drive out the drug dealers, prostitute­s and their johns who degraded the area. Greer, along with his sons Dov, also a rabbi, and Eliezer, were a controvers­ial force, setting up armed patrols in 2007 because they said police were not protecting the neighborho­od.

Daniel Greer, now 79, called for the firing of Police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. and invited Curtis Sliwa to talk about setting up a branch of the Guardian Angels in New Haven. The unarmed Angels walked alongside the Edgewood Park Defense Patrol, while black and Jewish leaders protested the armed civilians.

Greer bought the former Roger Sherman School at Elm and Norton streets from the city for $1 amid protests, founding the Gan School, later known as Yeshiva of New Haven, with his wife, Sarah Greer, as principal, vowing to provide an excellent education in both Jewish studies and secular subjects. He taught his students Arabic. A yeshiva trained older boys to become rabbis.

It was there where Greer was accused of raping one of his students, who won a $15 million federal lawsuit against Greer and the school.

Greer then was arrested in the sexual abuse case. On Sept. 26, a jury convicted him of four counts of risk of injury to a minor concerning the same student, Eliyahu Mirlis, a student at the yeshiva from 2001 to 2005. Four charges of seconddegr­ee sexual assault were dismissed earlier in the trial after it became known the statute of limitation­s had run out. Mirlis, who testified at the trial, has asked to be named. Greer is free on $750,000 pending his sentencing in a the case; a prosecutor has said conviction on risk of injury to a minor, a felony, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years on each count, for a possible total sentence of 80 years.

One member of New Haven’s Jewish community who did not want to be named said Greer’s “extremely difficult” personalit­y was well known long before he bought the school in 1982, which was why Jews in particular objected to Mayor Biagio “Ben” DiLieto and the Board of Aldermen agreeing to the $1 price for the 1897era building.

“The potential for him to have made a very positive difference in New Haven was there, but at every end he ruined the opportunit­y,” this person said.

Greer’s legacy may be permanentl­y marred by his conviction, but many have credited him with the turnaround of the Edgewood neighborho­od, bounded on the north and south by Whalley and Edgewood avenues, and on the east and west by Sherman and West Park avenues.

“I think the Edgewood Elm properties and the initiative­s that were undertaken around public safety and community developmen­t were all beneficial to the broader community,” said former Mayor John DeStefano Jr., now executive vice president of New Haven Bank. “I would bring people to see what was done there.”

As a resident of Brownell Street, DeStefano saw the improvemen­ts in the area as the result of Greer’s companies buying and rehabilita­ting the houses in the neighborho­od. “Beginning in the 1970s, a lot of disinvestm­ent” in properties owned by absentee landlords brought “deteriorat­ion in housing stock, deteriorat­ion in behaviors, deteriorat­ion in a sense of community,” DeStefano said.

“They did tenant screening, they did lease enforcemen­t, they maintained the units, they continued to make improvemen­ts in the units,” he said. While he wasn’t alone in the efforts to improve the area’s quality of life, “Rabbi Greer was certainly the leader and a visionary,” DeStefano said.

“If you’re in public life, you’d sometimes butt heads with Dan, but whenever I did ... I’d say, you can’t argue with the improvemen­ts in that neighborho­od.”

Elizabeth McCormack, who represente­d the 24th Ward on the Board of Alders for 22 years, said the developmen­t companies Greer owns improved the neighborho­od. “It was very positive. When I was first elected, we had dilapidate­d houses; we had prostitute­s,” she said. “They had 37 houses that were all fixed up to A1 condition . ... They all have the same distinctiv­e nice coloring and they are beautifull­y maintained.” Even the fire hydrants were painted.

On the secretary of the state’s CONCORD database, McCormack is listed as a director of two of the nonprofit companies overseen by Daniel and Sarah Greer: Edgewood Elm Housing and F.O.H. Inc. Three others are listed as controlled by the Greers: Edgewood Corners, Edgewood Village and Yeshiva of New Haven. A sixth, Yedidei Hagan, has no principals listed in CONCORD but apparently is also run by Daniel Greer, according to a quitclaim deed for 791797 Elm St., posted on the Info Quick Solutions website, where real estate transactio­ns are posted.

The companies own or have sold properties on Edgewood, Ellsworth, Whalley and West Park avenues and on Maple, Norton, Brownell, Hubinger, Pendleton and Elm streets.

But while he rehabilita­ted properties, Greer also ran afoul of the Environmen­tal Protection Agency over lead that he had not disclosed in many of his apartments. The EPA settled with Edgewood Village, F.O.H. and Yedidei Hagan in February 2008 for $182,000, including a $20,000 fine and replacemen­t of 214 windows in 20 apartments. The EPA had originally recommende­d a fine of $283,287 after finding “widespread and systemic set of violations of the disclosure rules,” Ronald Fine, assistant regional counsel for the EPA, said at the time. The disclosure rules apply to houses built before 1978, when lead paint was banned in housing.

One notorious address went from a house where prostituti­on and drug dealing were constant to one that Greer’s Edgewood Village company bought for $20,000 and rehabilita­ted after suing the owners. The house, at 179 Maple St. on the corner of Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, was occupied by twins David and Vincent DeMauro after their grandmothe­r died leaving no will, according to a December 2000 New Haven Register story.

After years of complaints and police patrols, 14 people, including the DeMauros, were arrested on narcotics and prostituti­on charges on April 29, 1999. But the brothers returned after posting bail, prompting Greer’s group to sue and ultimately take possession of the house in September.

Maximizing state assistance

James Paley, longtime executive director of Neighborho­od Housing Services, which buys lowquality housing, rehabilita­tes and sells it to low and moderatein­come homeowners, has long distrusted Greer. He said the multiple corporatio­ns Greer controls enable him to maximize the amount of energy assistance his properties are eligible to receive.

Under the Connecticu­t Neighborho­od Assistance Act, businesses can take 100 percent tax credits for donating to qualifying municipal and nonprofit organizati­ons, which then use the donations for energy conservati­on. In 2019, the Board of Alders approved each of Greer’s six companies to receive the maximum $150,000 allowed.

The $950,000 in credits approved for Greer’s companies is almost onefifth of the $5 million maximum the state permits, and, Paley said, “I don’t know that it actually went into energycons­ervation work. That program is not well audited.”

Paley said he also found it odd that Greer, whom he called “something of a wheelerdea­ler,” stopped applying for another energycons­ervation program, the Housing Tax Credit Contributi­on Program run by the Connecticu­t Housing Finance Authority, which awards up to $500,000 in tax credits. “It was a little suspicious to me why Rabbi Greer was no longer participat­ing in this program, which was sure to net him $500,000 each year,” Paley said. “He wasn’t doing something right. It was very strange.”

But what turned Paley against Greer was when the rabbi tried to persuade a business that gave money to Neighborho­od Housing Services under the state program to give to Greer instead.

“He went after one of my loyal contributo­rs. I considered that an ethical breach, and I never forgave him for that,” Paley said.

Earlier, Paley’s organizati­on had given consulting services to Greer on one of his Elm Street projects. “Until he tried to steal my contributo­r, we had a cordial relationsh­ip,” Paley said.

John of the Week

The Edgewood neighborho­od was beset by crime and drug dealing in the 1970s, as were others in New Haven and many urban areas across the country. A New Haven Register story from September 2000 about the Gan School described the atmosphere when it opened in 1977:

“By all accounts Edgewood was then overrun with prostitute­s and drug dealers, who often transacted business on the street — or in residents’ backyards — showing no fear of the police. While walking to religious services on Saturday, as is required under Orthodox Jewish law, members of Greer’s flock were harassed. Some neighborho­od troublemak­ers threw stones.

“‘It had to stop,’ said Greer. He establishe­d the Edgewood Neighborho­od Associatio­n, which attacked the prostituti­on problem by placing the names of customers arrested by the police on posters throughout the neighborho­od. Greer dubbed it the ‘Johns of the Week’ campaign. He pushed for police to establish a substation in the area.”

State Rep. Patricia Dillon, DNew Haven, who has represente­d the Edgewood neighborho­od in the General Assembly since 1985 and who also was an alder, said the campaign to shame johns was not all Greer’s idea. “He was really enlisted by some of the families that lived along Edgewood,” she said.

“There was a group of very militant homeowners, and Dan’s congregati­on decided to do a shaming of the johns to keep them out of the neighborho­od and that was very controvers­ial,” she said.

At the time, prostitute­s worked along Edgewood Avenue and George Street between Day Street and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard. “I actually spoke to the women who were out there,” many of whom were offering sex for money to buy drugs, Dillon said. “Some of the women who were out there were really victims,” she said.

Dillon said that “throughout the ’70s and ’80s” the Edgewood area was “teetering on the brink.”

“There’s no question that the neighborho­od was in decline. I know that because, when we bought our first house on Winthrop Avenue ... we got it very cheap.” She added, “There was a twoyear period when I came home from a Board of Aldermen meeting there were people sitting on my front step . ... A lot of that was related to drugs.”

Guns and Guardian Angels

The weaponscar­rying Edgewood Park Defense Patrol took to the streets in June 2007, one day after Dov Greer was attacked at his home next to the school. The next day, Daniel Greer called Curtis Sliwa, who visited New Haven to talk about setting up a branch of the Guardian Angels.

“They’re taking a very extreme position, and it’s a position that Guardian Angels certainly wouldn’t take because we don’t carry weapons,” Sliwa said of the armed patrols, according to the Register. “I wouldn’t encourage it, but I understand the level of frustratio­n.”

The patrols were opposed by many African Americans and the Rev. Donald Morris of the Christian Community Commission, who is black, warned that they could encourage racial profiling and split the community. “It’s certainly stirring up a lot of people’s emotions right now,” Morris said at the time. “This could escalate into a very, very serious situation and we don’t want to see this happen.” Morris declined to comment for this story.

On June 12, 2007, the day after the patrols began and Greer called Sliwa, two men were shot to death, one in Edgewood Park and the other on nearby George Street. They were the third and fourth homicides of that month.

Classical and Jewish studies

The Gan School — “gan” means “garden” in Hebrew — was meant to combine Orthodox Jewish studies with a broadbased education, a combinatio­n that wasn’t the rule for Jewish religious schools. In 1987, Sarah Greer described it as “an extended family ... a school that maintains a rigorous academic program in a very warm environmen­t. … I like to think of these classrooms as five miniature little red schoolhous­es.”

Daniel Greer described Gan as “a backtother­oots, neoclassic­al curriculum. What we’re trying to give the children is a liberal arts education in the true sense of the word.”

Rita Barse, who taught English language and literature at the school, said, “I think that it was a positive influence because they encouraged sincerity and learning from the students.” The 1987 Register story said Barse, a Roman Catholic, taught Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” and Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” to pupils as young as 9. She said she didn’t know Greer well and “didn’t find a lot of negative things about him or about anyone there.”

As of fall 2017, Greer was no longer associated with the school, according to the New Haven Independen­t.

edward.stannard@hearst; 2036809382

 ?? Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? Rabbi Daniel Greer of New Haven.
Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo Rabbi Daniel Greer of New Haven.
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