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Donor sues imam at heart of controversy over mosque near Ground Zero

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 9:20 p.m.

NEW YORK — The imam who was a lightning rod during heated debate over a planned mosque near Ground Zero used millions of dollars in contributions to his separate charity for pricey vacations, a sports car and other personal expenses, a donor says in a lawsuit that comes after the imam accused the contributor of defrauding him.

The new suit, filed this week in a Manhattan state court, deepens a financial feud between Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf and Robert Leslie Deak, a businessman who for a time backed Rauf in efforts to foster public understanding of Islam. Rauf has been pursuing his own claims against Deak in a federal court since 2011.

Rauf co-led efforts to build the lower Manhattan Islamic center for a time in 2010, when the proposal became a flashpoint for protests in the lead-up to the Sept. 11 anniversary that year. Rauf's role in the as-yet-unbuilt project was reduced in January 2011, and it's unclear what his role is now; a spokesman for the organizers didn't immediately return a call Tuesday evening.

The legal fight between Rauf and Deak concerns Rauf's own organizations, chiefly the Cordoba Initiative.

Deak, in the new suit, says Rauf bought himself real estate, took trips with a woman other than his wife and bought gifts with $167,000 that Deak provided for an education project intended to combat anti-Islamic sentiment.

The $20 million fraud suit says Rauf also misused $3 million the Malaysian government gave Cordoba. The Malaysian embassy had no immediate comment Tuesday evening.

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