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Ezri Namvar Is the New Bernie Madoff and the Most Reviled Man in Town 

(And he speaks for the first time)

Thursday, Jul 21 2011
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In the quiet of a Beverly Hills synagogue, a man shouts in Farsi. Something about a bankruptcy that never should have happened.

As a security guard escorts him out, he switches to English: "I have not done anything," he says, suddenly calm. "This is a free country. Tell the rabbi to come."

From the pulpit, a group of attorneys has been trying for an hour to placate a crowd of people angry over the bankruptcy. Each person in the pews has lost a lot of money — perhaps everything they have — and many are beyond calming.

click to flip through (5) Ezri Namvar under house arrest at his Brentwood home
  • Ezri Namvar under house arrest at his Brentwood home
 

"When I came to this country, I had a lot of respect for the government," a man shouts. "My respect is zero now. It is no different than Iran or Iraq!"

A woman cries out: "Nobody can take their money back from the gangster!"

The gangster in question is Ezri Namvar — better known as the "Bernie Madoff of Beverly Hills." When he was forced into bankruptcy three years ago, he left a trail of ruin and more than $1 billion in claims.

Namvar had built his business on the tight-knit relationships within the Persian Jewish community, and his collapse shattered that trust. With Namvar's affairs in shambles, his creditors have turned on each other — and even on their rabbis. By failing to condemn Namvar in the strongest terms, many say the rabbis have been complicit.

Until Namvar was forced out in disgrace, he served on the board of directors of the Nessah Synagogue. Outside the sanctuary, there is a plaque on the wall: "The dedication of the Hakham Yedidia Shofet Sanctuary was possible by the donation of [the] Namvar Family."

The recent meeting at the synagogue was intended to update creditors on the progress of the unwinding of the Namvar estate. There has been little progress. They want to know why.

One of the attorneys, Skip Koenig, tried to answer: "People have asked, 'GM got resolved in 30 days. Why is this taking two years?'

"The answer is: It's a lot more complicated than GM."

A few miles to the west, in the hills of Brentwood, Namvar is under house arrest. He's living in an $8 million mansion while he awaits sentencing for wire fraud. The mansion has been foreclosed and the bank is trying to evict him. There is a dispute over the water bill, and the lawn has turned to weeds.

Namvar is allowed to attend Saturday services at a Chabad temple near his house. He also can go to his lawyer's office, as well as see his doctor and his therapist. Otherwise, he must stay at home.

Speaking publicly for the first time, he gave his side of the story to L.A. Weekly:

"We got into trouble like everybody else — Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, everybody," Namvar says. "We would have paid everybody off if it wasn't for the bankruptcy."

He says his credit cards have been cut off. His situation is so dire that he relies on his brothers to buy him groceries. He used to have a $230,000 Mercedes. Now he drives his mother's Prius.

Standing on the front doorstep, he pulls up his pant leg to reveal his ankle monitor. It's made of hard, black plastic. He sleeps with it. He showers with it. The only thing he can't do is go into the pool.

The Namvar bankruptcy is a tangled mess of competing factions, with hidden agendas and allegations of secret payoffs. But it is also quite simple, says Dan Schechter, a professor of bankruptcy at Loyola Law School.

"At bottom, it's just a busted Ponzi scheme," Schechter says. "The pieces are all over the floor and the victims are scrambling around trying to get something."

Try as Namvar might to shed the Madoff label, it has stuck. It serves a useful parallel, up to a point. Like Madoff, Namvar's clients were largely drawn from the local Jewish community. Like Madoff, he built an unquestioned reputation for financial acumen over 30 years, which prompted many to trust him with their life savings. And like Madoff, the collapse of his financial empire has sown sorrow and destruction.

But there are many differences. For one thing, Namvar still has defenders. Surprisingly, many of them are his creditors.

They continue to believe, not because they are necessarily so fond of Namvar but because the consequences of losing faith in him are so severe. It would mean giving up hope that somehow, someday, he will pay them back.

"Let it go," Schechter advises. "That ship has sailed. He's a crook."

Also unlike Madoff, Namvar himself remains defiant. In May, he was convicted of four federal wire fraud charges for taking $21 million from depositors in his financial exchange. Yet he continues to maintain his innocence.

"This is not a Madoff," says Namvar's brother Mousa Namvar, also speaking to the press for the first time. "This is not a con man. This is not a fraud. This is a guy who got caught in a big storm. He was trying to save the ship and everyone in the ship. And a couple of people were drilling holes."

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