Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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Adelson seeks to scuttle Wilhelm dinner

Hurling new charges of anti-Semitism at the Culinary Union, Las Vegas Sands Inc. Chairman Sheldon Adelson is trying to derail a prestigious fund-raiser honoring a top union official.

Adelson, locked in an escalating dispute with the union over his planned $2 billion Venetian resort on the Strip, has asked the Denver-based National Jewish Medical and Research Center not to honor John Wilhelm as humanitarian of the year at a March 21 dinner at The Mirage.

"I think that any head of a union who obviously condones anti-Semitism and allows its members to use it as a tool of intimidation should not be honored by a Jewish organization," Adelson said Wednesday.

Adelson blames the Culinary Union for a reported hate crime at his Las Vegas Country Club home in September. Adelson awoke one morning to find the words "Dead Jews" scrawled in soap on a cabana mirror.

The union, forced to apologize for hurling religious slurs at Adelson during an earlier demonstration at the Venetian's visitor center, has denied involvement in the cabana incident and pledged to help police find the vandals.

Wilhelm, secretary-treasurer of the international Culinary Union, would not respond directly to Adelson's latest accusations of anti-Semitism.

But he said: "Our union is a very longtime supporter of the national Jewish hospital. I think it is extremely sad that Mr. Adelson would inject a labor-management dispute into a fund-raising effort for an extremely important charitable institution."

Wilhelm said that since 1974, the union has contributed $700,000 to the well-known hospital that specializes in treating patients with respiratory and immune system problems.

In 1985, he said, a wing even was named after the union in honor of its contributions.

Adelson, meanwhile, confirmed Wednesday that he had asked the hospital's president, Dr. Lynn Taussig, to drop Wilhelm as the dinner's honoree.

A prominent contributor to Jewish organizations throughout the country, Adelson said he still wholeheartedly supports the hospital, but is encouraging the Las Vegas Jewish community not to participate in the March dinner.

Adelson refused to confirm or deny that he went as far as offering to give the hospital the $70,000 that is likely to be raised at the dinner if the hospital just canceled the event.

Terry Monrad, the medical center's public affairs director, said Wednesday the dinner is going on as planned despite Adelson's opposition.

"We feel confident that Mr. Wilhelm is a deserving honoree of the fund-raising dinner," Monrad said. "As of this time everything remains unchanged."

Wilhelm was selected earlier this year by a group of local hospital trustees that included Las Vegas SUN Executive Editor Mike O'Callaghan.

O'Callaghan, a member of the hospital's national board, condemned Adelson's efforts Wednesday.

"It's a shame that a hospital which has helped so many Nevadans is unnecessarily thrown into a pit of hate," he said. "John Wilhelm, who is giving his name to help these patients, also doesn't deserve mistreatment."

O'Callaghan added: "I've been involved in Nevada charities for 40 years and this kind of bizarre conduct has never surfaced before. During these years, I've seen several public office-holders attend functions honoring political foes. It's the charity that counts."

The Jewish hospital, he said, has taken care of 129 patients from Nevada in the past three years at a cost of $306,111.

University Regent Shelley Berkley, a local trustee who once worked for Adelson, also criticized Adelson's actions.

"John Wilhelm is no more anti-Semitic than I am," Berkley said. "Being a Jew, I take anti-Semitism very seriously. To accuse someone of anti-Semitism when it does not exist only undermines our ability to expose anti-Semitism when it does exist."

Berkley added, "I am dismayed that any individual would attempt to interfere with this important dinner.

"National Jewish is one of the leading medical facilities in the United States and has provided crucial medical services to thousands of Nevadans throughout the years.

"John Wilhelm is a worthy and appropriate honoree, and I am proud to be associated with this hospital and this honoree."

Another hospital trustee, Las Vegas businessman and gubernatorial candidate Kenny Guinn, called Wilhelm a "fine selection."

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