The Village Voice called Aaron Yashouafar one of New York City's “ten worst slumlords.” Tenants staged a revolt against Yashouafar in an upscale high-rise condominium he developed in Las Vegas.
In Oklahoma City, he's viewed with suspicion after city officials discovered what they believed to be fraudulently submitted check copies for reimbursement. And coast to coast, the man best known locally as the owner of First National Center has a history of bankruptcies and foreclosures.
But as Yashouafar faces sentencing on a self-admitted fraud charge over his handling of insurance proceeds for fire-damaged condominiums in Las Vegas, friends and acquaintances have submitted letters to Clark County Judge Carolyn Ellsworth asking for leniency and providing a sharply different portrayal.
In a letter by his bankruptcy attorney David Neale, Yashouafar is portrayed as a businessman honestly striving to arrange successful resolutions to bankruptcies involving Figueroa Tower in Los Angeles and First National Center in Oklahoma City.
The Oct. 30 letter by Neale suggests that despite the payoff of $12 million to Capmark Group that prevented the Oklahoma City landmark from being turned over to a receiver, the property's refinancing is still in question.
“We are trying to refinance the property located in Oklahoma City, and Yashouafar has been integral to those efforts,” Neale wrote. “There are other owners of that project whose financial interests will be placed at risk if Yashouafar is unable to arrange the refinancing necessary for that property.”
Almost all of the character references were written by individuals who are working with or once worked for Yashouafar.
Bea Goodwin Aikens, who once worked as a sales agent at the 45-story Sky Condominiums where Yashouafar faced a tenant protest, wrote that Yashouafar is “a man of integrity and a man of his word.”
“The claims are not reflective of Mr. Yashouafar's moral beliefs and his conduct in this case are not reflective of the kind and ethical man I have come to know over the past eight years,” Aikens wrote.
Another letter, by Yashouafar's attorney H. Joseph Nourmand, speaks of the 20 years they both attended the same synagogue. Nourmand described Yashouafar as “an honest, selfless, caring, generous, humble and kind soul.”
Holly Fathi, controller of Yashouafar's company, Milbank Realty Group, wrote pleading that incarceration will jeopardize his ongoing contributions to charitable organizations and the livelihood of his employees.
“At this time, there are a number of ongoing matters which demands daily and constant involvement of Mr. Yashouafar,” Fathi wrote. “These matters, if not handled properly, will have a devastating effect on many of the investors who have their life savings invested with Mr. Yashouafar.”
Bill O'Donnell is hoping Judge Ellsworth will ignore the character references.
As a resident of the Paradise Spa condominiums in Las Vegas, O'Donnell witnessed a series of fires that left residents homeless. The Nevada attorney general accused Yashouafar of diverting about $1 million of insurance proceeds, which led Yashouafar to enter a guilty plea for embezzlement.
In the latest court filings asking for leniency, Yashouafar's rabbi, David Shofet, noted Yashouafar is in mourning over the recent loss of his mother and is observing twice daily religious services in accordance with the Jewish faith.
O'Donnell wants Ellsworth to ponder what role Yashouafar's faith and integrity played in leaving an 84-year-old Paradise Spa resident, Iris Hokanson, without her home while he diverted the insurance proceeds for her condominium.
“I find it hypocritical he would be praying for his mother at the same time he's putting somebody else's mother out on the streets,” O'Donnell said. “Iris Hokanson to this day has not received any money.”
O'Donnell argues Yashouafar still owes more than $1 million in dues and insurance costs after recently paying $1.2 million in retribution, which has been paid to the condominium complex's receiver but has yet to be distributed to the residents.
Yashouafar did not return calls for comment about O'Donnell's complaints. O'Donnell, meanwhile, questions whether Yashouafar was sincere in his guilty plea.
“They're (friends and acquaintances) portraying this as Mr. Yashouafar being accused of this, and he admitted to it,” O'Donnell said. “It's as if they're trying to dismiss it as he's really not guilty, that he just pled so he wouldn't have this go to trial.”