Ground Zero Mosque Developer Has History of Run-Ins With the Law

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sharif-el-gamalYears before his latest real-estate project ignited an uproar, Sharif El-Gamal racked up at least seven run-ins with the law. “I regret many things that I did in my youth. I have not always led a perfect life,” El-Gamal, 37, said in a statement to the Daily News.

His most recent arrest was for a Sept. 10, 2005, assault on a barber who sublet a Manhattan apartment from El-Gamal’s brother, Sammy.

The brothers and another man went to the apartment that afternoon to retrieve back rent from Mark Vassiliev, criminal and civil court records show.

El-Gamal allegedly cursed at Vassiliev, called him the Arabic profane word “sharmouta” and punched him in the face, breaking his nose and cheekbones.

When he was arrested, El-Gamal denied he socked Vassiliev, but conceded, “[Vassiliev’s] face could have run into my hand,” court papers say.

“I am in real estate. I’m rich. Why would I do this? Why would I jeopardize my career? I’m not a thug,” he told cops.

He was charged with misdemeanor assault and harassment. Charges were dropped in 2007 after Vassiliev sued.

El-Gamal eventually settled the civil case for $15,000 – and the 2008 negotiations provided a glimpse into his finances.

Vassiliev’s lawyer, Erik L. Gray, said there was no indication El-Gamal had assets beyond a $1.1 million upper West Side pad he owned with his wife.

Even after El-Gamal inked the deal, he was slow to pay and the matter ended up in mediation – where his lawyer, Marshall Isaacs, told Gray there were money problems.

“He had told me [El-Gamal] was struggling financially and was having trouble coming up with the payment,” Gray said. “It was based on the fact that he was in real estate and the real estate market was depressed.”

El-Gamal agreed to fork over $1,360 in interest and fees but paid up in installments, Gray said.

If his 2008 cries of poverty were genuine, El-Gamal experienced a dramatic reversal of fortune a year later, scoring a $39 million mortgage to buy a W. 27th St. commercial building.

He had a partner, Egyptian-born businessman Hisham Elzanaty, who co-signed the loan. Elzanaty denied to discuss his dealings with El-Gamal.

In a deposition for the Vassiliev suit, El-Gamal testified he worked as a waiter from 1997 to 2001 when he “moved onto greener pastures.”

In 2002, he became a commercial real estate broker and started his own company, Soho Properties, a year later.

El-Gamal began amassing a property portfolio in 2007, snatching up and managing apartment buildings in Harlem and Washington Heights.

He bought the property where he plans to build a $100 million Islamic cultural center, two blocks from Ground Zero, for nearly $5 million in July 2009.

The son of a bank executive, El-Gamal has said he turned to Islam after 9/11 and that his religious awakening followed a troubled youth.

He pleaded guilty in 1994, 1998 and 1999 to disorderly conduct in Manhattan.

He also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 1990, DWI in 1992 and attempted petit larceny in 1993, Nassau County prosecutors said.

Details were unavailable, but a source confirmed a 1994 arrest for patronizing a prostitute.

El-Gamal says he’s a different man now.

“My faith teaches me every day about humility. I have been humbled by my imperfections. But my faith also teaches me about forgiveness,” he said in the statement.

“While I might not be proud of some of my actions in the past, I am extremely proud of the Park51 project and what it will mean to thousands of New Yorkers of all faiths and denominations who live in Lower Manhattan.”

{NY Daily News/ Newscenter}


  1. Pretty shocking how many more secrets are involved with this mosque building, this guy claims islam to be a faith of forgiveness, wow I asked would love to know one muslim that listens to this princible, they are a nation of liars and have no hakuras hatov or sensitive feelings for other people, they wouldnt even negotiate another site because it might mean being sensitive to 3000 innocent people who lost their lives on that day by people who happen to persue their same religion

  2. Now that it is the high holiday season, it behooves us as jews to forgive and to coexist with members of other faiths. We must take Mr. El-Gamal’s word when he says he repented, because we are all imperfect, we all sin, and seek repentance. Treat him the way you would want to be treated. In addtion, as jews we shoud be sypathetic to his cause as we know that sometimes synogoges are blocked by local goverments. . . .

  3. So it’s okay to go on and on about how Yoseph Robinson got past his troubled youth, but this guy isn’t allowed to? Oh, so if one isn’t Jewish, they can’t change.

  4. Where is the NY Times and media discussing the troubled background of these individuals? Nu? They only investigate Yidden. Disgusting.

  5. This is NOT about peoples ability to change.

    AND this is NOT about sympathy to other religions.

    Muslims have plenty of religious freedom in the U.S., mosques are not “blocked”.
    There are MANY more mosques in the U.S. than shuls.

    This is about shoving it in YOUR FACE. This is about SENSITIVITY to the families of those murdered.

  6. Terrible how some here compare goyim to yidden!! surely ANYONE can change, but yidden have a ‘chezkas kashrus’ , and goyim don’t.

    There is a difference between someone changing his wasy, and between his TRUE COLORS being revealed.

    An evil thing is being done by trying to put the mosque in that location, so if we uncover another bad aspect to it, it fits – there is no reason to be ‘melamed zechus’

  7. thata good article for matzav to publish if they want to publish trite articles. I’m serious, if they are going to publish these sorts of articles at least keep them truthful and not misleading or disingenuous. This article doesnt contain exaggeration which is a good thing.

  8. OK. Let’s do the Math. 7 Run ins with the law
    In police lingo you multiply by 10 because he was caught 7 times he did it 70 times


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