Posted by Karmel Melamed
Another member of the local Iranian community has been arrested for allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme.
Shervin Neman, also known as Shervin Davatgarzadeh, a 31-year-old Iranian man, has been accused of defrauding nearly a dozen people — most of them local Iranian Jews — of more than $3 million. He was arrested by the FBI on April 26 in his Century City home after three criminal charges were brought against him for allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme.
The three fraud charges in the indictment each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to an FBI press release.
According to the federal indictment, from June 2010 to June 2012, Neman claimed to be a hedge fund manager and lured primarily Iranian Jewish investors into giving him $7.5 million on promises of investing their money in foreclosed residential properties and stocks, including pre-initial public offering shares.
In April 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil complaint against Neman, his firm, Neman Financial Inc., and his wife, Cassandra Neman, in allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme whereby Neman took his investors’ money and used it to pay back his earlier victims or on a lavish lifestyle for himself and his wife.
The civil complaint against Neman alleges that he spent nearly $1.6 million of his victims’ money to pay for his wedding and honeymoon, his wife’s $60,000 engagement ring, luxury cars, VIP tickets to entertainment venues, jewelry, hotels and restaurants, as well as to lease and redecorate a new office in a high-end Century City office building.
The complaint alleges that in most instances Neman had his victims wire their funds to his personal bank account or to write checks to him personally, which he deposited into his personal account.
A federal court judge also issued a restraining order freezing Neman’s assets and shutting down his Ponzi scheme last year, according to an SEC press release. Yet in May 2012, Neman again allegedly solicited $2 million from another investor — with false promises that Neman could obtain pre-IPO shares in Facebook, according to the indictment — to pay for his attorneys and pay back other earlier victims of his Ponzi scheme in violation of his restraining order. In June 2012, Neman sent a later victim a check for more than $2 million that purported to be the return on the Facebook investment, but that check bounced, the criminal indictment states.
The criminal charges brought against Neman are not unique for Southern California’s tight-knit Iranian-Jewish community, which has been devastated in recent years by Ponzi schemes perpetrated by members of its community.
In March, John Farahi, a popular 56-year-old Iranian-Jewish radio talk-show host and investment adviser, was sentenced by a U.S. District Court to 10 years in federal prison for operating a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme against local Iranian-Americans. Farahi was ordered by the court to pay more than $24 million in restitution to close to 60 victims.
Prior to that, Ezri Namvar, 62, a longtime leading Iranian-Jewish businessman and philanthropist in Los Angeles, was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in federal prison for stealing $21 million from four clients. Namvar also was ordered by the court to pay back $21 million in restitution to his victims, yet he is believed to have allegedly bilked investors — who put money into his $2.5 billion real estate portfolio before the 2008 market crash — out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Iranian-Jewish community leaders and victims have kept quiet about Farahi and other Iranian-Jewish investors charged in recent years with running Ponzi schemes, in keeping with a long-standing community taboo against publicly discussing potentially embarrassing incidents. Iranian-Jewish community leaders at the Beverly Hills-based Nessah Synagogue and West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation did not return calls seeking comment.
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April 1, 2013 | 6:26 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Last year when the Bravo network debuted their new reality television program “Shahs of Sunset” which was depicted the lives of young Iranian Americans living in Los Angeles, I watched a few episodes of this show and was disgusted. I am not a fan of reality television in general but found this program, which was produced by television personality Ryan Seacrest, to be an utter waste of time because of its highly inaccurate portrayal of Iranian Americans living in Los Angeles. In her excellent piece last year in the L.A. Jewish Journal, Iranian Jewish author, Gina Nahai perhaps gave the best response from our community to this simply revolting television program that portrays Iranian Americans in the worst possible light; as selfish, self-absorbed, materialistic, shallow, money-hungry, sex-addicted, unattractive and uneducated buffoons living their supposed “lavish” lifestyles in L.A. At the time the program came out I made a decision as an Iranian American journalist not to give any additional exposure to this garbage excuse for television programming that would financially benefit Seacrest, Bravo or the others related to this show. Yet with the passage of time and the tremendous amount of recent positive events surrounding L.A.’s Iranian Americans, I believe the time has now come for me to break my silence about Seacrest’s stupidity and his vile television program.
As a journalist who reads about the daily repression of free expression and free speech in Iran today, I am perhaps one of the biggest supporters of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. I realize reality television is one person’s form of expression and supposed entertainment which is created to generate revenue. I also realized that most television programming today is not meant for any other purpose than a mind-numbing passage of time. Yet when television producers like Seacrest go out of their way to pick the most extreme and most backwards people within a community as examples of all Iranian Americans just for the purpose of making money, he is being reckless in destroying their image or reputation in this society. I also understand that there are foolish people everywhere willing to make complete asses of themselves on national television in order to make money or become “famous”. Yet at the same time shinning the spotlight on the fools shown on the Shahs of Sunset directly or indirectly sends a very negative message about Iranian Americans living in this country. Seacrest not only does a disservice to Iranian Americans with his idiotic programming, but he does a disservice to all individuals watching television, by showing what is wrong within our society instead of what is right about our society.
The irony of the Shahs of Sunset program is that it does not reflect the true reality of Southern California’s Iranian American community. Yes, there is a small segment of our community which lives in Beverly Hills and is affluent, but the majority of us are not ridiculously wealthy. We also live elsewhere in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties and have average incomes. For the most part, Iranian Americans are perhaps one of the most educated and entrepreneurial immigrant groups living in Los Angeles and one of the driving forces in the state’s economy through their vibrant businesses. Likewise, we as Iranian Americans are also among the most philanthropic communities living in this state and the country. We are not only donating our money and time to many non-profits, but we are also active in raising millions of dollars for countless worthy causes. For example, earlier this month I reported on a story about close to 120 young Iranian-American Angelenos who volunteered to feed nearly 1,200 homeless at the Midnight Mission, which is centered in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles. Where was Seacrest and local television news cameras when these very unselfish Iranian Americans were giving back to the most needy in our city? Who at the Bravo network or any other television network was on hand to shed light on this very good deed that our community undertook in honor of the Persian New year? The volunteer work done at Skid Row by Iranian Americans is just one of the numerous ways Iranian Americans show their generous and loving nature, something that you would never believe if all you knew about the community was from Seacrest’s vile television program. Another example of Iranian Americans generous nature came in January 2012 when Iranian American Jewish volunteer sheriff’s deputy, Shervin Lalezary, caught the infamous serial arsonist that was terrorizing the city of Los Angeles. Lalezary, who is an educated attorney, volunteers his free time to help local enforcement for the benefit of all of us. Why are Iranian Americans like this outstanding young man not shown on reality television as prime examples of what is good about our community? Why hasn’t Seacrest taken his cameras to downtown L.A. to show all of the business districts that were once blighted, but are now revitalized and thriving because of Iranian American businessmen? Why aren’t Seacrest and his cameras not going into UCLA Medical Center or Cedar-Sinai Medical Center and other major hospitals in the area to see the hundreds of highly educated Iranian American physicians or researchers saving thousands of lives daily? The list of Iranian Americans that have benefited our lives in Southern California and the U.S. is endless. Another remarkable example is Dr. Firouz Naderi, an Iranian American engineer who headed NASA’s successful “Mars Rover” missions. Or better yet, Goli Ameri, the successful Iranian American who was the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs and also once headed the International Red Cross. Why hasn’t Seacrest shown any of these successful Iranian Americans on his television program? If anyone should be portrayed as selfish and brainless it should be Seacrest who decided to make money by showing a group of fools and claiming that they represented the Iranian American community in L.A.
Countless Americans and members of Iranian American community will continue to ignore and disregard the garbage shown of Seacrest’s program. They, like I know it is purely stupid entertainment. Yet at the same time we as journalists and responsible members of the media need to make a concerted effort to shine the limelight on all the positive things Iranian Americans continue to do in this city and the country. It is bad enough many Americans often see immigrants of Iranian origin in a bad light because of morons who run Iran’s current regime and who threaten other countries with annihilation. Therefore we do not need Seacrest to continue trashing the image of what I believe is a remarkable immigrant group contributing greatly to life in America. If Seacrest or the equally brainless executives at the Bravo network do not want the labels of “idiots”, then they should make an effort to show all that is right about Iranian Americans living in Southern California. I’m certain that television programs that would spotlight the successes of Iranian Americans or any other immigrant group which is succeeding in the U.S., would garner higher ratings, greater popularity and generate greater advertising revenue than the type of pure trash shown on the Shahs of Sunset program.