Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'What I Can Say About Sharif is Nothing Good'

While much of the recent focus of the Ground Zero mosque story revolves around the oily Imam Rauf and his unctuous wife Daisy Khan, little has been mentioned about the actual developer of the site. And probably for good reason since he seems awfully suspicious and not very forthcoming as to where he got his money considering just a few years ago the guy was a waiter.
El-Gamal left Serafina in 2002 and started selling real estate. But in just a year, he went from broker to business owner and launched his own real estate company, Soho Properties, in 2003. Records show he is the president and chief executive officer.

A long-time associate of his says el-Gamal isn't quite who he seems to be. The associate asked Fox 5 to protect his identity because he fears retribution.

"I was pretty much in shock when I saw him on the news as the developer," the associate said. "What I can say about Sharif is nothing good.

He said el-Gamal liked living in the fast lane, meeting celebrities in the restaurants were he worked, and partying with them at nightclubs.

"Very persuasive, master manipulator," he said of el-Gamal.

Today, el-Gamal's holdings included at least four buildings in Manhattan, including the site near Ground Zero, one in Chelsea, and two residential buildings in Washington Heights, where tenants seem to like him.

Records show el-Gamal bought the Washington Heights properties in 2007 for a little less than $3 million each.

Ken Brandman, president of N.Y. Commercial Real Estate Services, knows el-Gamal well. He, too, was a bit surprised to hear el-Gamal is the developer in the mosque near Ground Zero.

"I don't think he has a lot of money," Brandman said. "I'm sure he didn't buy it with his own money."

Soho Properties bought the site for the mosque for $4.8 million in cash. Just four months later, with Manhattan's real estate market collapsed, el-Gamal made an even bigger deal.

With credit super tight, and prices plummeting, he paid $45 million for a 12-story commercial building in Chelsea that sold three years earlier for $31 million.

"It seems like a lot of pay in a downturn, considering it went for considerably less during the boom," said Stuart Elliott, the editor of Real Deal magazine.

El-Gamal, the waiter turned mogul, plunked down another $5 million as down payment on the Chelsea building.

"Something's up with that deal,"
Elliott said. "Unless someone gave him a lot of money, or he won the lottery, than somebody else put up the money."
Enter a new character, a name I hadn't seen before.
Fox 5 News has learned that el-Gamal did have help from a man named Hisham Elzanaty. Mortgage documents show that Elzanaty is the guarantor on the $39 million loan el-Gamal's company secured to buy the building.
Now we assume Elzanaty is local and can find very little information on anyone with that name. But it appears to be this guy.

Interesting who this Hisham Elzanaty has donated money to in recent years: Barack Obama, Kirsten Gillibrand, Lyndon LaRouche and Cynthia McKinney. In fact he's donated to Gillibran, a mosque supporter, just two weeks ago. He's listed as a doctor here, which matches the address on his donation. He's also been listed as living in Searingtown, NY, and in an interesting twist lost his parents in this air disaster.

He's also listed as a co-defendant in a 2007 federal RICO suit here, although it's unclear how that case was resolved.

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