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FTR #796 Sterling Example: Another Visit with Daniel Hopsicker

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. [1] (The flash dri­ve includes the anti-fas­cist books avail­able on this site.)

Lis­ten: MP3

Side 1 [2]  Side 2 [3]

[4] [5]Intro­duc­tion: In anoth­er return vis­it with hero­ic inves­tiga­tive reporter Daniel Hop­sick­er (edi­tor-in-chief of The Mad Cow Morn­ing News [6]–“The Herd Shot ‘Round the World”), we take a look at aspects of Don­ald Ster­ling’s career [7] that the recent glare of media pub­lic­i­ty have failed to illu­mi­nate.

Recent­ly, soon-to-be-for­mer Los Ange­les Clip­pers own­er Don­ald Ster­ling has gar­nered much media atten­tion for his “off the rails” com­ments about African-Amer­i­cans and for­mer NBA great Mag­ic John­son, in par­tic­u­lar.

What has NOT gar­nered much atten­tion at all is his back­ground. An asso­ciate of mob straw man Allen Glick and his bud­dy, the late Al Davis of Oak­land Raiders fame, Sterling’s rise in the real estate busi­ness sug­gests that there is more to the sto­ry than meets the eye.

Ster­ling’s “remark­able suc­cess” in the real estate busi­ness has involved “cash only” slum­lord­ing deals, sus­pi­cious “buy low, sell high” invest­ments and oth­er “inter­est­ing” involve­ments.

Ster­ling has also run “escort” oper­a­tions, occa­sion­al­ly over­lap­ping some of his oth­er under­tak­ings.

[8]One of the aspects of Sterling’s career that has received lit­tle scruti­ny is his curi­ous behav­ior with regard to a non-exis­tent project for the home­less and the appar­ent­ly non-exis­tent “assis­tance” to that project pro­vid­ed by Ramy El-Batrawi.

Batrawi was a long-time asso­ciate of arms deal­er and mon­ey-man Adnan Khashog­gi [9], a major play­er in the shad­owy world of intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty covert oper­a­tions, gun-run­ning and dope traf­fick­ing.

Khashog­gi (with the assis­tance of Batrawi) was a major play­er in the Iran-Con­tra scandal–shipping TOW mis­siles to Iran.

One of the aspects of the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal that is long-for­got­ten, but well doc­u­ment­ed, con­cerns the fact that the send­ing of weapons to “Con­tra” gueril­las in Nicaragua also over­lapped the ship­ping of cocaine into U.S.

Many of Daniel’s inves­ti­ga­tions in South Flori­da over­lap the trib­u­taries lead­ing into, and/or out of, the Iran-Con­tra affair: the sto­ry of Iran-Con­tra drug traf­fick­er Bar­ry Seal (a pos­si­ble par­tic­i­pant in the JFK assas­si­na­tion); the tan­gle of sus­pi­cious air­lines and flight schools revolv­ing around Huff­man Avi­a­tion, at which Mohamed Atta and com­pa­ny trained and appar­ent­ly infil­trat­ed the Unit­ed States; the sto­ry of “Cocaine One”–a DC9 that crash land­ed in Mex­i­co laden with tons of Cocaine.

Ramy El-Batrawi [10] was involved with oth­er Iran-Con­tra-relat­ed  oper­a­tions as well, again, in con­junc­tion with Khashog­gi.

Both El-Batrawi and Khashog­gi have par­tic­i­pat­ed in mas­sive secu­ri­ties and real-estate scan­dals, gar­ner­ing fed­er­al atten­tion.

All of this rais­es the inter­est­ing ques­tion: WHY did Don­ald Ster­ling announce a “Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year Award” for El-Batrawi, who had done no vis­i­ble work for the home­less.

Don­ald Sterling’s sup­posed “Home­less and Med­ical Cen­ter” was non-exis­tent, as well.

WHAT was that all about?

Pro­gram High­lights Include: Ramy El-Batraw­i’s involve­ment with Fino­va, the finan­cial par­ent of South­ern Air Trans­port (a long-time CIA air pro­pri­etary impli­cat­ed in Iran-Con­tra drug traf­fick­ing); El-Brataw­i’s involve­ment with Sky­Way, anoth­er shad­owy air­line impli­cat­ed in drug traf­fick­ing; the over­lap between El-Batraw­i’s activ­i­ties and an appar­ent intel­li­gence-com­mu­ni­ty drug-traf­fick­ing oper­a­tion using ICE as a cov­er.

“Don­ald Ster­ling’s Secret His­to­ry” by Daniel Hop­sick­er; Mad Cow Morn­ing News; 5/30/2014. [7]

Since his high­ly inju­di­cious com­ments about Asian girl­friends, Mag­ic John­son and race almost a month ago, the name Don­ald T. Ster­ling, casu­al racist, par­a­sitic land­lord, and thor­ough­ly-dis­graced own­er of the NBA’s L. A. Clip­pers, has been much in the news.

The more sala­cious ele­ments are on the record. He ran news­pa­per ads for “host­esses” inter­est­ed in meet­ing “celebri­ties and sports stars.” He hired a for­mer mod­el to be an assis­tant GM for the Clip­pers.

Yet only now are more seri­ous ques­tions begin­ning to be asked about some of the more improb­a­ble aspects of what might be called “The Don­ald Ster­ling Sto­ry.”

He’s the son of immi­grant Jews from Rus­sia, born in the same West-Side Chica­go neigh­bor­hood that a gen­er­a­tion ear­li­er spawned Jacob Rubin­stein, AKA Jack Ruby. He grew up in South­ern California’s Boyle Heights in the 1940s,  attend­ing grade school, mid­dle school, and high school in the same town lived in and con­trolled by noto­ri­ous mob­ster Mick­ey Cohen. [11]

His broth­er-in-law, a Bev­er­ly Hills attor­ney, [11] was once involved in a heat­ed Mob vs. Mob-type war over who “owned” a famous prize fight­er. with box­ing pro­mot­er (and con­vict­ed felon) Don King.

He’s a for­mer “per­son­al injury” attorney—often called “ambu­lance chasers”—who some­how parleyed a life­time of “slip and falls” into a real estate empire worth an esti­mat­ed $1.9 bil­lion dol­lars.

Get­ting Rich in the Dark?

But he’s a fun­ny kind of real estate mogul. His sis­ter demands ten­ants [12]pay their rent in untrace­able cash. Some of his prop­er­ties are still today reg­is­tered in the name of a woman— his grandmother—who’s been dead for more than 30 years. [11]

And despite being filthy rich, Ster­ling  is nobody’s idea of a finan­cial genius. When Sports Illus­trat­ed pro­filed him in 2000, [13]they labeled him “a dis­mal fail­ure” as a team own­er. The low-bud­get Clip­pers reg­u­lar­ly fin­ished near the bot­tom of the league.

Per­haps more impor­tant­ly, the mag­a­zine even calls his real estate acu­men into ques­tion, devot­ing con­sid­er­able space to describ­ing the eerie silence inside the Louis B. May­er Build­ing, a sev­en-sto­ry, gild­ed and mar­ble-lined LA land­mark from Hollywood’s gold­en age built by the founder of MGM that Ster­ling uses as his head­quar­ters. Except for Sterling’s own offices, the build­ing was emp­ty, the mag­a­zine report­ed.

Los Ange­les mag­a­zine [14]quotes the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom: “He built his for­tune by buy­ing apart­ment  build­ings when the mar­ket was low, back in the ’60s and ear­ly ’70s, and then not sell­ing them.”

Buy low. Sell high. Make $1.9 bil­lion. Real­ly?

 Still, his enor­mous wealth remains essen­tial­ly unques­tioned.  But that may be chang­ing, how­ev­er. A head­line in USA TODAY issued a not-so-veiled threat: Go Now or Face Scruti­ny.

“Reporters across the coun­try have been comb­ing through Sterling’s life and busi­ness,” the paper report­ed. “What else might they find? And who else could be caught up in it?”

The over­whelm­ing ques­tion on every­one lips which is not yet being asked out loud— espe­cial­ly giv­en the Sterling’s high­ly-liti­gious his­to­ry [15] —is this:  If Don­ald Ster­ling isn’t a finan­cial genius, how did he get so rich?

Is it real­ly all his mon­ey? Or is Ster­ling  “fronting” for some larg­er, unnamed orga­ni­za­tion? In a nut­shell: Does Don­ald Ster­ling have ties to orga­nized crime?

It may already too late for Don­ald Ster­ling to just slink away. Because the answer is “yes.”

The evi­dence in a moment. First, a lit­tle back­ground:  As Kennedy assas­si­na­tion researchers became only too well aware, when the War­ren Com­mis­sion dis­missed Jack Ruby as a Mob “hang­er-on” and “wannabe,” it pre­vent­ed his true role as the Chica­go Outfit’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Dal­las from being wide­ly under­stood  for almost 50 years lat­er.

High Weird­ness: America’s chief export

Don­ald Sterling’s rise to rich­es is at least a lit­tle rem­i­nis­cent of the sto­ry once told about anoth­er per­son­al injury attor­ney  that proved to be a fairy tale under close scruti­ny.

Remem­ber Allen Glick?  His sto­ry was part­ly fic­tion­al­ized by Mar­tin Scors­ese in the movie Casi­no. Kevin Pol­lock played Glick, a light­ly-regard­ed front man, to Robert DeNiro’s Lefty Rosen­thal.

Back in the 1970’s, Allen Glick went from being an ambu­lance-chas­ing attor­ney in Kansas City to the grate­ful recip­i­ent of $87 mil­lion dol­lars worth of Team­ster Pen­sion Fund largesse, which he used to pur­chase four of Las Vegas’ biggest and most prof­itable casi­nos  in the blink of an eye.

His rise to promi­nence aroused extreme sus­pi­cion in fed­er­al law enforce­ment. When Glick, to no one’s real sur­prise,  was found to have been fronting for the Mob, the casi­nos real own­ers, who, adding insult to injury, were skim­ming at least $15 mil­lion off the take, Glick turned state’s evi­dence, and put some aging slabs of mar­bleized Kansas City beef in fed­er­al prison.

Today Allen Glick lives qui­et­ly in La Jol­la, Cal­i­for­nia, home of the leg­endary La Cos­ta Resort, where Mob­sters once rubbed elbows (and per­haps more?) with the FBI’s  J Edgar Hoover.  More recent­ly La Jol­la served as the head­quar­ters of Argyll Equi­ties [16] and Argyll Biotech­nol­o­gy, two recent exam­ples of the more but­toned-up Mob pump-and-dump-type enter­pris­es which have in large mea­sure sup­plant­ed the Mob’s old “run-and-shoot’ strat­e­gy.

And this is where the Don­ald Ster­ling sto­ry begins to par­take of some of the High Weird­ness that Amer­i­ca has been known for since the days when Richard Nixon walked the Earth. Because, as it hap­pens, Don­ald Ster­ling and Allen Glick have long been such good friends.

In fact, it was while in Glick’s com­pa­ny, at a birth­day par­ty in Las Vegas for their mutu­al friend Al Davis, the now-deceased own­er of the NFL’s Oak­land Raiders, that Ster­ling met Alexan­dra Cas­tro, who became Sterling’s mis­tress before the advent of the recent one,  who glee­ful­ly led him to ruin.

The N.F.L. was con­cerned about the decades-long busi­ness rela­tion­ship between Davis, the Raiders’ man­ag­ing gen­er­al part­ner, and Glick, who news­pa­pers coy­ly iden­ti­fied as “the for­mer Las Vegas casi­no own­er whom the Jus­tice Depart­ment has iden­ti­fied as a ‘a straw par­ty’’ for orga­nized crime inter­ests in Chica­go.”

Davis and Glick were part­ners in an Oak­land shop­ping cen­ter that they mort­gaged through a loan from the Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Team­sters’ Cen­tral States pen­sion fund.

Davis’ Mob ties, of course, had been the sub­ject of con­jec­ture for decades. But they were only inves­ti­gat­ed after he filed suit against the NFL to move his team from Oak­land to Los Ange­les, but the Fed­er­al judge in the anti-trust case ordered that there be no men­tion of Davis’ orga­nized crime con­nec­tions dur­ing the tri­al.

”The jury should not be asked to spec­u­late on this high­ly prej­u­di­cial mat­ter,” said Unit­ed States Dis­trict Court Judge Har­ry Pregerson.

Unusu­al­ly, the Judge blamed the NFL for this state of affairs, imply­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion was to the league’s ben­e­fit. “The evi­dence is clear that there has been a cabal among some past and present offi­cials of the Jus­tice Department’s Orga­nized Crime and Rack­e­teer­ing Sec­tion, some of its Strike Force offices, and the NFL, which, through its long-term sweet­heart rela­tion­ship with a vari­ety of law-enforce­ment agen­cies, has been a direct ben­e­fi­cia­ry of this sit­u­a­tion,” said the Judge. “This rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about pos­si­ble con­flicts of inter­est as well as activ­i­ties that bor­der on sheer polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion.”

This all hap­pened back in 1983. Judges don’t talk like that any­more.

2‑line head­line with not a sin­gle grain of truth

It was as if Madon­na were being giv­en a Life-Time Achieve­ment Award from Focus on the Fam­i­ly.

The press release began: “Don­ald T. Ster­ling and friends hon­ored Ramy El-Batrawi as the human­i­tar­i­an of the year for his sup­port of the home­less peo­ple of Los Ange­les.”

A casu­al perusal of the head­line turns up noth­ing that bears the faintest resem­blance to the truth:

“Don­ald T. Ster­ling Home­less and Med­ical Cen­ter Hon­ors Ramy El-Batrawi With Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year Award for His Sup­port of the Home­less Peo­ple of Los Ange­les.”

There was no “Don­ald T. Ster­ling Home­less and Med­ical Cen­ter,” back then, just for starters.  Nor is there one today. No insti­tu­tion. No employ­ees. No Board of Direc­tors to mull over who to choose for next year’s award.

The “Don­ald T. Ster­ling Home­less and Med­ical Cen­ter” is just a lie some­one invent­ed, and then delivered—not ver­bal­ly, where it could lat­er be denied—but in a press release, a form explic­it­ly designed for max­i­mum vis­i­bil­i­ty.

Ster­ling must have been act­ing with the sure knowl­edge that no one would ever call him on it; and with a rock-sol­id con­fi­dent expec­ta­tion that he was oper­at­ing with total impuni­ty.

Don­ald Ster­ling, Adnan Khashog­gi, and Ramy El Batrawi

Ramy El Batrawi is a Sau­di nation­al who has been Sau­di arms mer­chant and CIA fix­er Adnan Khashoggi’s chief lieu­tenant in Amer­i­ca from more than 30 years. More than once in the past decade, the two men have gone “on the lam” and become fugi­tives from jus­tice at the same time to avoid arrest.

Back in the days of Iran Con­tra, El-Batrawi front­ed for Khashog­gi and posed as the own­er and pres­i­dent of an air­line in Mia­mi, Jet­borne, that flew Oliv­er North’s TOW mis­siles to the mul­lahs in Iran. Court tes­ti­mo­ny revealed that Jet­borne was a CIA pro­pri­etary air­line, help­ing to explain how Khashog­gi and El Batrawi man­age to repeat­ed­ly com­mit finan­cial crimes with impuni­ty.

Khashog­gi and El Batrawi also have well-doc­u­ment­ed links—El Batrawi, for exam­ple, “owned” SkyWay’s sec­ond DC‑9—to the drug traf­fick­ing ring oper­at­ing in St. Peters­burg Flori­da that DEA offi­cials say was being pro­tect­ed by fed­er­al agents in the Tam­pa ICE Office.

Just as the drug traf­fick­ing oper­a­tion out of St Peters­burg got under­way, in July 2003, own­er­ship of the operation’s sec­ond DC‑9 (N12ONE) was trans­ferred to El Batrawi. [17]

The air­lin­er came via Fino­va Corp., which, as was dis­cov­ered while research­ing “Bar­ry & ‘the boys,’” is a CIA finance com­pa­ny that was the true own­er of South­ern Air Trans­port, Richard Secord’s re-sup­ply car­go air­line sup­ply­ing the Con­tras with weapons… and the U.S. with cocaine, a fact revealed only much lat­er, when no one was look­ing, dur­ing South­ern Air Transport’s bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ings.

El Batrawi and Khashog­gi were the lead actors in mas­sive finan­cial fraud which accom­pa­nied the drug traf­fick­ing. They engi­neered and ran what came to be called the Stock­walk scan­dal, [18]which cost investors and U.S. tax­pay­ers hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. It led to what was, at the time, the largest bro­ker­age fail­ure in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, a record that has been eclipsed many times since.

“Just three months after the company’s Ini­tial Pub­lic Offer­ing (IPO), the near­ly $17 mil­lion raised in the offer­ing was gone,” read one wire ser­vice sto­ry.

“The cre­ative deal­ings of defen­dant El-Batrawi part­ly explains how this mon­ey dis­ap­peared so quick­ly,” report­ed the AP.

He’s no one’s idea of a pro­to­typ­i­cal Mob­ster. He doesn’t sound like he comes from Brook­lyn. Nor does he have a col­or­ful nick­name. But, like Mob­sters of old, Ramy El Batrawi oper­ates with his boss Adnan Khashoggi’s care­ful­ly-pur­chased impuni­ty. In that, he prob­a­bly some­thing of a poster boy for transna­tion­al orga­nized crime in the 21st Cen­tu­ry.

So, why was Don­ald Ster­ling hon­or­ing him as “Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year?”

The answer was sur­pris­ing­ly sim­ple. El-Batrawi and Khashog­gi had just been charged by the SEC with mas­sive finan­cial fraud, and accused of basi­cal­ly steal­ing more than $100 mil­lion. (The fig­ure would lat­er dou­ble.)

And Don­ald Ster­ling was using his con­sid­er­able pub­lic rela­tions clout—he reg­u­lar­ly bought full-page and dou­ble-truck spreads in the Los Ange­les Times—to stem the tide of bad pub­lic­i­ty swamp­ing Khashog­gi and El Batrawi’s efforts to move on to the next scam.

Ask­ing if Ster­ling was doing it as a favor for an unnamed orga­ni­za­tion to which both he and the two Sau­di men belonged is just spec­u­la­tion.

But what isn’t spec­u­la­tion is that Ster­ling clear­ly thought no one would notice. And until his recent dif­fi­cul­ties thrust him into the harsh glare of a media spot­light, no one did.

The “Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year Award” head­line was a com­plete mis­nomer. It implied that the non-exis­tent “Home­less and Med­ical Cen­ter” has giv­en out “Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year Awards” pre­vi­ous­ly. They had not.

The Leg­endary Raw Deal

After Ster­ling announced his “home­less ini­tia­tive” in a press release in full-page news­pa­per ads in the L.A. Times, it received wide­spread and skep­ti­cal cov­er­age in the media in Los Ange­les.

At the City Plan­ning Depart­ment, no one had filed plans for the prop­er­ty. The Build­ing and Safe­ty Depart­ment said there were no demo­li­tion requests or build­ing per­mits request­ed in con­junc­tion with the project.

“Aside from these ads, no one has seen any­thing,” said Estela Lopez, the head of the Cen­tral City East Assn., a busi­ness advo­ca­cy group rep­re­sent­ing an area of down­town that includes skid row. “What’s the plan? Where’s the pro­pos­al?”

The real estate agent for the project said the Ster­ling fam­i­ly trust was in escrow on the prop­er­ty, pur­chas­ing it for a “sig­nif­i­cant dis­count” from the $12-mil­lion ask­ing price. He would not elab­o­rate.

Sterling’s strat­e­gy for real estate invest­ment was to buy prop­er­ties, hold on to them until the mar­ket moves into a hot cycle, then refi­nance and pour the equi­ty into new acqui­si­tions. Some down­town watch­ers won­dered whether he wasn’t doing the same with the skid row prop­er­ty, wait­ing out a surge in prop­er­ty prices as down­town gen­tri­fies.

Don­ald Ster­ling was exploit­ing home­less people—who do exist—to aggran­dize him­self and a select few of his cronies. The home­less got noth­ing. Not even a reach-around. It was the leg­endary raw deal.

Thoughts of the Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year

Appar­ent­ly no one was more sur­prised than Ramy El-Batrawi him­self to have been cho­sen Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year.

The Times duti­ful­ly sent out a reporter to ask some ques­tions of the new­ly-mint­ed Human­i­tar­i­an of the Year. How had he demon­strat­ed sup­port for the home­less?

El Batrawi freely admit­ted he’d made no con­tri­bu­tion of mon­ey or time to help­ing the home­less.

Anoth­er celebri­ty who seemed more than a lit­tle vague about the deal was singer Natal­ie Cole . She appeared with Ramy El Batrawi  in one of Sterling’s full-page ads, where she was iden­ti­fied as a “leader” pro­vid­ing sup­port for the home­less, and as a “spe­cial guest” at the din­ner.

The event’s pro­duc­er, Tami Ben­nett, said Cole was a big sup­port­er of Sterling’s project, in part because she her­self was once home­less. The next day, Cole’s pub­li­cist, sound­ing miffed, con­tact­ed the Times to say the singer was nev­er home­less, was only “a recent acquain­tance” of Sterling’s, and had mere­ly told him she would attend his event.

The next day, the pub­li­cist phoned the Times reporter again, say­ing the singer was on “voice rest” and would not be attend­ing the event at all.

A $270 mil­lion dol­lar blem­ish

The Times also cool­ly not­ed the cur­rent blem­ish on El-Batrawi’s record.  “El-Batrawi was sued ear­li­er this year by the Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion, which alleged that he and a part­ner, Sau­di arms deal­er Adnan Khashog­gi, orches­trat­ed a $130-mil­lion scheme to manip­u­late the stock of a Van Nuys-based com­pa­ny,” report­ed the sto­ry.

“The manip­u­la­tion, the SEC alleges, result­ed in the largest bailout in the his­to­ry of the Secu­ri­ties Investor Pro­tec­tion Corp.”

“In an inter­view with the Times, El-Batrawi said the fed­er­al charges were untrue and have noth­ing to do with his inter­est in help­ing Ster­ling launch his home­less cen­ter. The busi­ness­man said he has not donat­ed mon­ey to the cause but has intro­duced Ster­ling to oth­er poten­tial donors.”

“I’m devot­ing a lot of my time, my efforts, in being avail­able,” El Batrawi said. “I’m mak­ing intro­duc­tions … try­ing to fig­ure out the things he needs.”

It all sound­ed more than a lit­tle vague. What wasn’t vague, not at all, was the mas­sive finan­cial wreck­age caused by the swin­dling Sau­di finan­cial fraud­sters Khashog­gi and El Batrawi, as a news account announc­ing the huge set­tle­ment one of the com­pa­nies involved signed with the SEC in lieu of going to tri­al made clear.

“Deutsche Bank, the Ger­man finan­cial ser­vices giant, will pay as much as $270 mil­lion to set­tle charges stem­ming in part from the fraud-induced fail­ure of a Twin Cities bro­ker­age sub­sidiary in 2001.”

“The com­pli­cat­ed case involves a trade-clear­ing sub­sidiary of Min­neapo­lis-based Stock­walk Group, and sev­er­al oth­er bro­ker­ages that became ensnarled in one of the secu­ri­ties industry’s biggest swin­dles in his­to­ry, by a group that includ­ed fugi­tive Sau­di arms deal­er Adnan Khashog­gi.”

Pay­ing $270 mil­lion to set­tle charges is a rough indi­ca­tion of how much real pain and human suf­fer­ing the scam caused real peo­ple.

What­ev­er Ramy El Batrawi found to say in his accep­tance speech at the semi-star-stud­ded din­ner at Wolf­gang Puck’s Spa­go in West Hol­ly­wood is now lost to his­to­ry, which is some con­so­la­tion.

But there’s no con­so­la­tion at all in the dis­cov­ery of a tweet Ramy El Batrawi  sent just two weeks ago to home­grown Amer­i­can finan­cial pirate Carl Icahn,an icon of 1980’s greed as well as one of the orig­i­nal “bar­bar­ians at the gate.”