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Monday, September 06, 2010

Ground Zero mosque developer has legal and financial entanglements

8/30, "Court records from Florida to New York state reveal that Sharif and his younger brother, Samir "Sammy" El-Gamal, 35, a partner with him in his company SoHo Properties, both have a history replete with intersections with
  • tax and debt issues, dating back to at least 1994 and continuing into this year.
In one case, a NYPD officer arrested Sharif in 1994 for “promoting prostitution.” (He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct.) In another instance, Sharif told a court he didn't hit a tenant from whom his brother and he were trying to collect back rent.
  • He said to police, the tenant's "face could have run into my hand."...
The New York state licensing services division, which oversees real-estate agents, is investigating Sharif and his company, SoHo Properties. "We have an open investigation based on a complaint," the spokesman, Joel Barkin, said. According to the complaint, according to people familiar with the case, Taylor Lukof, a 20-something partner at Toro Trading LLC, a New York firm, gave Sharif and his brother $6,200 that was supposed to be kept in escrow for an apartment. When the apartment didn't come through, Lukof asked for the money back, the people familiar with the complaint said, and was promised the money, but he hasn't received any money. Jack Billelo, district manager at the licensing services division, is overseeing the investigation. Lukof declined to comment. Sharif has declined to be interviewed.

After tracking Sharif's finances and talking to acquaintances about his rough-and-tumble business style, I now don't think the mosque will be built at the location staked out near ground zero. According to people familiar with the mosque project, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, a community leader,

  • were blindsided by the revelations about Sharif, making a partnership unlikely.

Moreover, Sharif’s domineering personality troubles them because it doesn't fit into the slow, methodical, and even boring work of building a nonprofit....

Earlier this summer, I left the humble Jersey City home of Rauf and Khan, with my son, Shibli, 7, believing in their vision. But, over the next weeks, I got a funny feeling about the project. Four years ago, I had started an organization with three other Muslim moms, Muslims for Peace.

  • Sharif had asked one of the moms if the new mosque effort could raise money using Muslims for Peace’s nonprofit status. That didn't feel right to me,
  • nor did the insistence on the location near ground zero, amid so much opposition and hurt.

I recused myself from the mosque effort. With conspiracy theories circulating, I wrote a story that Muslims for Peace had raised less than $9,000 for the mosque. The Muslims for Peace fundraising effort was later nixed because Sharif felt betrayed by the public disclosure, and I stepped down from the organization (though I’m still a Muslim for peace, lowercase).

  • The New York Post reported yesterday that Sharif and SoHo Properties are "tax deadbeats," owing $224,270.77 in back property taxes on the site, and that a Sharif company “failed to pay its half-yearly bills in January and July.” (An El-Gamal spokesman told the Post the taxes had been paid.)"...(CBS NY reports back taxes are due in the amount of $227,000 according to the Dept. of Finance, as of 8/30/10).

(continuing, The Daily Beast): On the trail of the El-Gamal brothers is a Sarasota, Florida, private investigator, Bill Warner, whose interest got piqued when he started getting phone calls last month from New Yorkers saying that the whole story about Sharif wasn't out. Warner is posting his findings on his website and sharing it with the media. He provided me with leads that allowed me to see more clearly the trail of troubles that lies in Sharif's wake....

According to friends, the brothers ran with a fast crowd in their twenties. Sharif waited tables at the posh restaurant Serafina, while Sammy waited tables at Tao. For a short while, Sharif worked as a waiter at Michael Jordan’s, named after former basketball star. But, according to people familiar with that restaurant,

  • he was fired within two months for arriving reeking of alcohol, among other things.
  • This is around when Sharif started acquiring a criminal record, say people familiar with his life.

This past weekend, capturing this period of Sharif's life, the Daily News ran a headline, "Park51 developer Sharif El-Gamal has a history of run-ins with the law,"

  • including pleading guilty in 1994, 1998, and 1999 to disorderly conduct in Manhattan, as well as
  • pleading guilty to disorderly conduct in 1990, a DWI in 1992, and attempted petit larceny in 1993 in Nassau County, N.Y.

According to Broward County court records, on March 3, 1999, Hollywood, Florida, police arrested Sammy, then 25, for "theft/to deprive," a misdemeanor.

  • Later that year, Sammy pleaded guilty, and Judge Sharon Zeller fined him $143 and required him to attend a "substance-abuse through education" course.

Just two years ago, during the summer of 2008, the court filed

  • "financial obligation suspension" papers for Sammy's failure to pay his fine.
  • Neither Sammy nor Sharif responded to a request seeking comment....

Career-wise, Sharif was heading into real estate, collecting commissions off rental leases. He was no big shot, and really never has been, building just a small portfolio of property. In late 2003, he created a website, sohoproperties.com. The three partners were Sharif, Sammy, and Nour Mousa, the young nephew of Amr Mousa, secretary general of the Arab League, a relationship that would later become a lightning rod for critics of the mosque.

  • On September 10, 2005, New York police arrested Sharif for alleged assault on a Manhattan renter, Mark Vassilieve, when Sammy tried to convince Vassilieve to pay his rent.
  • The charges were dropped when Vassilieve filed a civil suit, which Sharif settled.

On January 24, 2006, according to court records, Nino and Nicola Gaudio won a judgment of $3,300 against Sammy, as well as permission to evict him from property they owned.

  • On February 1, 2006, they won another $3,300 judgment, and on
  • April 6, 2006,
  • N&S Realty won a judgment allowing them to have forcible entry against Sammy.

The Gaudios couldn't be reached for comment....

The next year, on March 13, 2007, New York state issued a

  • state tax warrant against Sammy for $19,895, according to court records.

On April 30, 2007, Sharif bought apartment 6C in a building on W. 93rd Street for $1.075 million with his wife, Rebekka, an American-born convert to Islam.

  • By this time, the El-Gamal brothers knew Imam Rauf well....

On July 7, 2009, after buying the property where he wants to build the Islamic center, Sharif created two companies, 45 Park Place Partners LLC and 45 Park Place LH, LLC. The next day, he started Soho Properties General Partner LLC as a foreign limited liability corporation. On October 16, 2009, Sharif created Soho Properties Inc., naming himself chairman.

Since the controversy erupted, the media has largely portrayed the man behind the mosque effort as Imam Rauf, an Egyptian-born progressive Muslim cleric who could be Sean Connery's body-double. His wife, Khan, a Muslim community leader born in Kashmir, India, occasionally shares the spotlight. Known inside the Muslim community as unabashedly ambitious, the couple has irked Sharif and others in his camp.

Khan said, "one of our congregants, Sharif El-Gamal, took it upon himself" to find new space for the overcrowded mosque where Rauf led prayers.

  • Otherwise, there wasn't another word about the Brooklyn-born Sharif.

Khan directed folks to the website of the Cordoba Initiative, an interfaith nonprofit her husband runs, not the developer's website for the effort."...

  • from The Daily Beast, 8/30/10, "Rift imperils Ground Zero Mosque," by Asra Nomani
  • ****
8/30/10, CBS New York's Marcia Kramer interviews Sharif El-Gamal:
Kramer reports the developer’s reluctance to talk may have been related to his prior run-ins with the law.
  • His most recent arrest was in 2005 for assault on a man he met while working as a waiter at Serafina Restaurant, who sublet an apartment from his brother.
  • He reportedly punched the man, breaking his nose and cheekbone and spit on him.
El-Gamal first said he didn’t hit the man, but arrest documents obtained by CBS 2 showed he later conceded
  • “his face could have run into my hand.”
Records showed El-Gamal also had trouble coming up with the $15,000 settlement reached in 2008, and had to pay interest . El-Gamal also has a number of other arrests on his record:-
  • -In 1990, he was arrested in Nassau County and pled guilty to disorderly conduct.
  • -In 1992, he pled guilty in Nassau to DWI and paid a $350 fine.
  • -In 1993, he pled guilty in Nassau to attempted petit larceny and paid a $100 fine.
  • -In 1994, arrested for disorderly conduct in Manhattan.
  • -In 1998, there was another Manhattan disorderly conduct arrest.
  • -In 1999, yet another Manhattan disorderly conduct arrest.
A potential problem for the mosque developer is a deposition he gave in the assault case in October 2007. When asked if he was ever convicted or pled guilty to a crime, El-Gamal replied “no.”
When Pelley asked if it occurred to him that putting a project so close to Ground Zero would heighten tensions, El-Gamal replied “not at all.”
  • “I did not hold myself or my faith accountable for the tragedy,” El-Gamal said.
El-Gamal also owes over $227,000 in unpaid real estate taxes and a spokesman for the Department of Finance said interest will be added for each and every day its unpaid.
  • Another question surrounding the debate is whether the Muslim cleric of the mosque — Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf — knew about El-Gamal’s criminal background and unpaid taxes before partnering with him.
  • El-Gamal refused repeated requests from CBS 2 Monday to comment on the story."

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