En­trusted ad­vi­sor to Ira­nian Jews now fraud sus­pect

Los Angeles Times - - California - robert.fa­turechi@latimes.com stu­art.pfeifer@latimes.com

mian, who put in $40,000, were mod­est in­vestors. For them, the loss has been par­tic­u­larly painful.

“All of that money was made $10 an hour,” Hakhamian said. “$10 at a time.”

Fi­nan­cial scams within tight-knit eth­nic and re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties are com­mon. But Nam­var’s al­leged fraud shines light on a par­tic­u­larly well-to-do im­mi­grant group. Af­ter the 1979 Iran revo­lu­tion, many Ira­ni­ans­fled their coun­try for Los An­ge­les. The rel­a­tively welle­d­u­cated im­mi­grant com­mu­nity, now es­ti­mated at more than 200,000, is the largest out­side of Iran. Al­though just a tiny mi­nor­ity in Iran, Jews rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the Ira­nian com­mu­nity in Los An­ge­les. Many have be­come suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs and pro­fes­sion­als in their adopted home.

Like many fam­i­lies, the Hakhami­ans left Iran in a hurry, tak­ing lit­tle with them. Hakhamian’s fa­ther, Kaye, loaded him and his broth­ers into the fam­ily car and shifted into neu­tral, rolling qui­etly out of their Tehran garage, cau­tious not to alert the neigh­bors.

In their first years in Amer­ica, Hakhamian re­mem­bers watch­ing his fa­ther rise early, pour tea into a large ther­mos and leave their small Bev­erly Hills apart­ment daily for a lo­cal park or li­brary. A den­tist back in Iran, Kaye was cram­ming to pass the board ex­ams that would al­low him prac­tice his pro­fes­sion in the United States.

He passed that work ethic to his chil­dren. As a teenager, Hakhamian be­gan earn­ing the money he would even­tu­ally in­vest with Nam­var. Through high school and col­lege he tu­tored, trained camp coun­selors, blended smooth­ies and de­liv­ered fur coats. Through wordof mouth he launched a busi­ness writ­ing and re­vis­ing col­lege ad­mis­sions es­says for other stu­dents.

Even­tu­ally he scraped to­gether $40,000 to in­vest with Nam­var. Hakhamian planned to use those funds to pay his way through USC den­tal school so that he could join his fa­ther in a fam­ily prac­tice.

When ru­mors be­gan spread­ing in 2008 that Nam­var was re­fus­ing in­vestors ac­cess to their money, Hakhamian rushed to Nam­var’s well-ap­pointed West Los An­ge­les of­fice to ask for his in­vest­ment back. He said Nam­var re­turned just a frac­tion — and not un­til he showed bill col­lec­tion letters from his uni­ver­sity.

“No of­fense. I un­der­stand these [other] peo­ple are hurt­ing too, but when some­one has $20 mil­lion to in­vest, they prob­a­bly have a good source of in­come,” Hakhamian said.

Sit­ting in the South Gate of­fice where fa­ther and son now work as li­censed den­tists, the di­vide be­tween the older and younger gen­er­a­tion is clear. Kaye lost his life sav­ings with Nam­var. But like many older Iran-born in­vestors, he had ini­tially hoped to re­coup his money through pri­vate, in­for­mal meet­ings led by lead­ers in the com­mu­nity. He said he’s now work­ing with his daugh­ter, a teenager, to craft a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Obama, ask­ing him to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion to pro­tect in­vestors from suf­fer­ing out­comes sim­i­lar to his.

The younger Hakhamian placed his hand on his fa­ther’s knee, gen­tly hush­ing him.

“This gen­er­a­tion is why we’re not get­ting any­where. They think they’re go­ing to send a let­ter to Obama and he’s go­ing to change the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Hakhamian said. “This is the rea­son why Ezri wins.”

Hakhamian took a more com­bat­ive ap­proach. In a cul­ture that em­pha­sizes rep­u­ta­tion, the young den­tist fol­lowed Nam­var for months to court, and even syn­a­gogue, hold­ing gi­ant banners meant to shame the real es­tate mag­nate. One read “Mr. Nam­var Give Me My Tu­ition Money Back.”

His cam­paign reached a break­ing point as he was stand­ing out­side Nam­var’s West Los An­ge­les syn­a­gogue more than a year ago, his banners on full dis­play. Some con­gre­gants scolded him for mak­ing such a show on the Sab­bath. But oth­ers nod­ded in sup­port. Hagheteh, they said in Per­sian. “It’s your right.”

Sud­denly Nam­var, his wife, the rabbi and oth­ers emerged from the syn­a­gogue and con­fronted Hakhamian. To the den­tist’s shock, they asked him to join them in­side the build­ing. As a Le­vite — a mem­ber of the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 an­cient tribes of Is­rael — Hakhamian was told his pres­ence would make the ser­vices more com­plete.

He took a moment to gather him­self. As he en­tered, Hakhamian saw Nam­var sit­ting in the front row amid relatives and close friends. Hakhamian broke down in tears, over­come with hope. Fi­nally, he thought, a break­through.

He com­posed him­self, as­sisted in the ser­vice, then re­turned out­side.

Some­one had taken his signs, he said, still in dis­be­lief months af­ter the in­ci­dent.

Hakhamian has since lost faith that he, or other in­vestors, will get back much of their money. He’s re­signed to work­ing six to seven days a week, 10 or more hours a day, to pay off his stu­dent loans.

Even now, he’s con­flicted, one minute de­nounc­ing Nam­var, the next say­ing he be­lieves Nam­var is gen­uine about re­pay­ing his in­vestors. His hope is to be­come an ex­am­ple for the com­mu­nity against risky in­vest­ing.

“For me, I did it with the in­ten­tion of peo­ple know­ing the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. I want the next guy to know some­one’s go­ing to point you out.”

Al Seib

LOSSES: Arash Hakhamian in­vested $40,000 with Ezri Nam­var, who faces fed­eral fraud charges.

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