Detroit News columnist Laura Berman, who has been wringing her hands on behalf of women’s issues at that once-great newspaper as far back as I can remember, is chagrined that federal fugitive and Hezbollah money-launderer Talal Chahine is not being made to pay child-support on behalf of his illegitimate daughter, Aliyah.
Ms. Berman writes that Chahine dated the child’s mother, Wendy Whitelaw, while he “was between two marriages,” and the result was Aliyah, now 7. When Chahine absconded last year in advance of arrest for tax evasion and fraud, he apparently failed to make provisions to continue the $1800 monthly support and additional condo payments he agreed to pay his baby mama in lieu of court-ordered child support. Now that he’s no longer sending checks, she is now living back with her parents in St. Clair Shores, struggling along on food stamps and Medicaid.
Ms. Berman frames the story of Ms. Whitelaw as that of a single mother victimized by yet one more deadbeat dad. Ms. Berman is particularly displeased that Chahine left owing “$20 million in back taxes,” while the restaurant chain he had to abandon is still making scads of money, and yet “no government entity has tried to help Whitelaw get help for her daughter -- not the Macomb County Friend of the Court, not the state attorney general and not the U.S. Attorney's Office.” Ms. Berman stopped short of blaming President Bush, but we all know that goes without saying.
(By the strangest coincidence, $20 million was the amount of the bond ordered when another of Chanine’s offspring, Khalil Chahine, (this one produced “between divorces”), was being held in the Wayne County Jail on charges he had murdered romantic rival Paul Hallis in Dearborn in May 2004. Dad didn’t pony up his son's bond, either, and he hadn’t even fled to southern Lebanon at the time. It turned out not to matter, as Khalil was convicted of second degree murder and sent to prison.)
Anyway, Ms. Berman manages to look past the whole Hezbollah money-laundering angle at work in the Chahine saga to the real story of a single mother struggling somewhere whom society needs to feel collectively responsible for. As she sizes things up, there simply must be “a way to get Chahine to pay for shoes, books and a place for a 7-year-old girl to live out of $20 million, and leave plenty for taxes. If anyone cares to try.”
Ms. Berman seems to have misunderstood that $20 million wasn’t the amount of taxes Chahine owed, but the amount of profits he funneled to Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to the federal indictment that caused Chahine to take to his heels last year.
She also seems to have missed, even though the facts are contained right there within her own column, that, as long as Chahine remains in Lebanon beyond the reach of the law, there is no way to make him do anything, even if you’re the Macomb County Friend of the Court.
Without a doubt the whole situation is unfair to Aliyah and her mother. But is it more unfair than the countless other cases where single mothers and their children face reduced circumstances and struggle because fathers are dead, in prison, absconded, disabled, drunk, or run off with their gay lovers to be consecrated as bishops of the Episcopal Church?
And, considering how son Khalil and Chahine’s second wife turned out, (she’s his ex-wife now, and in the joint, too), the young girl may be better off growing up away from the old man and the unseemly influence of La Shish.
Still, if Ms. Berman really feels she has to challenge “anyone who cares to try” about helping mother and daughter, she should forget about the IRS and the feds—who don’t have Chahine’s money, anyway--and start calling around Dearborn to some of the local Hezbollah supporters. They may even be holding a Hezbollah fundraiser this weekend on some pretext or other at the Bint Jubail Center.
Who knows if they may not arrange to get Sheik Hassan Nasrallah (known locally here in Dearborn as “Our Leader” ), to send a generous chunk of that $20 million back to help out the mother and child of one of their devoted soldiers?