FEDERAL COURTS

Miami Heat players fleeced by bejeweled scammer, court told

 

ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

A South Beach bling king indicted on fraud charges in Ohio was accused in a federal court of scamming several Miami Heat players and other South Florida residents out of $8 million.

Haider Zafar, 35, took money from former Heat forward Mike Miller and unnamed teammates, promising investment returns that he never delivered, according to J. Andrew Fine, a Florida lawyer who testified Thursday on behalf of some of those investors.

An attorney for the Heat confirmed that some of the organization’s current and former players and personnel got tangled up in an investment scheme, but he declined to discuss the matter further, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We were distressed to learn that the Heat and members of the Heat family were victimized by an elaborate fraud,” Heat attorney Alan H. Fein said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “We remain in constant contact with the appropriate federal authorities investigating this fraud and its perpetrators.”

Zafar is “fantastically good at separating people from their money,” Fine said to The Dispatch after Zafar’s hearing this week in Columbus, Ohio. Attempts to reach Fine by phone and email were unsuccessful Friday.

Zafar’s attorney, Samuel Shamansky, said he would not speculate on whether Fine or others are planning legal action against Zafar in South Florida.

“I would be the village idiot if I commented on that,” Shamansky said.

Fine’s accusations came during a detention hearing for Zafar on federal charges unrelated to the Heat.

A grand jury indicted Zafar in June on 135 counts of fraud and money-laundering stemming from an alleged $10 million real-estate scheme that Zafar purportedly carried out on a Washington, D.C., businessman. Zafar pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus determined Zafar to be a flight risk and ordered him jailed without bond while he awaits trial in November.

Prosecutors called Fine to the witness stand to help persuade Sargus not to allow Zafar free on bond. Fine testified that when he questioned Zafar about what happened to the money Zafar received from Miller and other Heat and South Florida investors, Zafar told him, “They can’t touch me in Pakistan,” The Dispatch reported.

When Internal Revenue Service agents arrested Zafar in May in Ohio, they found him with an expired Pakistani passport, a handgun, 40 bullets, and a Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with more than $10,000. Zafar is a native of Pakistan who is a legal U.S. resident but not a naturalized citizen.

To counter Fine’s testimony against Zafar on Thursday, Shamansky called a character witness from Broward, Alex LeCount, described by Shamansky as a friend and business associate of Zafar’s.

“He testified persuasively that, based on his previous interactions with my client in South Florida, he found him to be an upstanding, model citizen,” Shamansky said.

LeCount told the court that he was in the entertainment industry and knew Zafar from “clubs,” and said he’d be willing to put up his home as collateral to help with Zafar’s bond, if granted. LeCount previously ran Miami hip-hop music label Xela Entertainment with friend and business partner Alex Harris, who was gunned down in 2003 in front of a Morningside barbershop co-owned by former Heat player Alonzo Mourning.

The scheme for which Zafar is charged ran from 2008 through 2010, but investigators say Zafar spent most of his time in recent years in South Florida. Flush with cash, he traded his sleepy life in suburban Columbus for one of fast cars, throbbing clubs and hip-hop allure in South Beach.

“These [people] would refer to Zafar as the ‘Prince of Dubai,’ as Zafar was always throwing money around down in South Beach,” an IRS agent wrote in a criminal complaint against Zafar.

Investigators say Zafar swindled $10 million from Washington businessman Patwinder Sidhu by convincing him that Zafar had an informant inside the Pakistani government. Zafar said his uncle was the country’s defense minister, responsible for buying land for the government. The plan, Zafar allegedly told Sidhu, was for Zafar’s uncle to tip him off on what properties to buy, then Zafar and Sidhu would sell the land to the Pakistan government for a profit.

Sidhu never saw a dime of his investment, even though Zafar told him they made $182 million and the money would be coming soon.

Instead, investigators say, Zafar dropped the money on a Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and other exotic cars, and he bought 26 pieces of jewelry, including a $42,000 watch and a $35,000 diamond, all while neglecting to file tax returns.

Zafar also left a considerable name for himself in South Florida.

He rented (and still owes money for) a Cadillac Escalade that was lit up in a 2008 drive-by shooting outside a North Miami-Dade strip club that killed a budding Opa-locka rapper.

He traveled with an armed bodyguard who shot two people during a confrontation involving Zafar outside the posh Bal Harbour Shops in 2011.

And he racked up a $180,000 unpaid tab at the Fontainebleau and its LIV nightclub that resulted in fraud charges in 2011 and an out-of-court settlement.

Zafar, who went by the name Chip Haider in some South Beach club circles, faced misdemeanor charges of battery and resisting arrest stemming from an August 2011 traffic stop in Miami Beach; the charges were dropped. He was cited the next month for boating in a restricted area, leading to a fine and a mandatory boating class. He faces a traffic citation in Broward related to a March red-light violation.

In June, a Miami-Dade County judge ruled against Zafar in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by 4 Star Group, the parent company of a Miami Beach hip-hop studio. Zafar must pay 4 Star $286,285.39.

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