Flush with cash from his alleged multimillion-dollar real estate scheme, Pakistan native Haider Zafar ditched his sleepy life in suburban Ohio for one of fast cars, throbbing clubs and hip-hop allure in South Florida.
He liked to rent fancy rides, including one he still owes money for: a Cadillac Escalade that got lit up in a 2008 drive-by shooting that killed a budding Opa-locka rapper.
He liked to travel with security, keeping an armed guard by his side at all times. Zafar’s bodyguard shot two people during a confrontation with Zafar at the posh Carpaccio restaurant in the Bal Harbour Shops in 2011.
And he liked to party in style, racking up a $180,000 unpaid tab at the Fontainebleau hotel and its LIV nightclub that resulted in fraud charges for Zafar in 2011 and an out-of-court settlement.
Zafar again is facing fraud charges, but this time for much more money than the cost of a hotel suite and bottle service. Federal investigators say Zafar bilked a Washington, D.C.-area, businessman out of about $10 million over the course of two years.
Zafar, who is a legal U.S. resident but not a naturalized citizen, spent the money on luxury cars, diamond jewelry and South Beach excesses, according to a criminal complaint filed late last month.
“These [people] would refer to Zafar as the ‘Prince of Dubai,’ as Zafar was always throwing money around down in South Beach,” an Internal Revenue Service special agent wrote in the complaint.
Zafar, 35, remains locked up without bond in Ohio as a federal grand jury awaits to hear the charges against him, which include wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Zafar and his estranged wife are residents of Dublin, an upscale suburb of Columbus, even though investigators said Zafar spends most of his time in South Florida.
According to the criminal complaint against Zafar:
The alleged real estate scam began in 2008, when a wealthy, highly educated Washington businessman went looking for overseas investments.
Patwinder Sidhu, 47, who made his fortune by founding and selling a successful IT consulting firm with government contracts, heard about Zafar through Sidhu’s investment banker. The banker told Sidhu that Zafar was worth more than $100 million.
Zafar convinced Sidhu that he 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 told Sidhu, was for Zafar’s uncle to tip him off on what properties to purchase, then Zafar and Sidhu would sell the land to the Pakistan government for a profit.
It sounded a little like a twist on the “Nigerian letter scam,” a common email-based flimflam, but Sidhu was on board. He wired money to Zafar 178 times in 2008 and 2009, for a total of $9.5 million. Attempts to reach Sidhu for comment were unsuccessful.
Zafar emailed Sidhu to report on the prosperity of their investments, which he claimed made them $182 million. When Sidhu started asking for his cut of the earnings, Zafar stalled with bogus letters purporting to be from the Pakistani defense minister’s office.
What Zafar didn’t mention: His uncle wasn’t a cabinet member, and Sidhu’s money went toward exotic cars and blinged-out jewelry — not foreign investment properties.
Investigators say Zafar spent the money on a black Lamborghini and other high-end autos from Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Lexus and Cadillac. He bought 26 pieces of jewelry from a shop called Diamond Cellar, including a $42,000 watch and a $35,000 diamond.
Throughout the spending spree, Zafar neglected to file taxes in 2008 or 2009, and he reported his income as $0 in 2006 and 2007. The excessive spending may have led to Zafar’s downfall: His big-ticket purchases raised red flags for an Ohio car dealer, who suspected Zafar “was either a drug dealer or had access to non-legitimate income” and rejected his credit, the complaint noted.
Federal agents launched an investigation, digging through Zafar’s bank records, emails and trash. For much of that time up through his arrest last month, Zafar led a second life in South Florida, where he did everything but stay under the radar.
The earliest paper trail Zafar registered in South Florida was in 2006, when he entered into a partnership with a Miami Gardens minister and real estate broker named Garry Souffrant.
They dissolved their Souffrant Landings LLC in 2007, two years before Souffrant was convicted of masterminding a $6 million mortgage-fraud and money-laundering ring.
Souffrant acted as a front man for drug traffickers from 2002 through 2008, using drug money to buy homes and expensive cars for the dealers in his name. A federal judge in 2010 sentenced Souffrant to 20 years in prison.
Although Souffrant Landings was not accused of wrongdoing, Zafar was its only entity who emerged from the Souffrant scandal untarnished. The company’s registered agent, real estate lawyer Tricia-Ann Blair, pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud in connection with Souffrant’s case; she was disbarred and sentenced to prison.
Zafar ingrained himself among South Florida’s hip-hop community.
A biographical (autobiographical?) profile of Zafar that appears on several websites goes into detail about his passion for hip-hop, mentioning that he hoped to “form a record label influenced by the streets of Miami.”
The article also notes his friendship and work with Haitian-born rapper Ali “Zoe” Adam. Zafar helped Zoe record and promote an album before Zafar “found out a very shocking truth about his best friend, Ali Adam aka Zoe.”
The truth: Zoe helped run a cocaine organization out of Northwest Miami-Dade County that was linked to Garry Souffrant’s money-laundering fraud. Zoe said at trial that he gave Souffrant drug money to buy 12 houses in South Florida.
Zafar testified for the government at Zoe’s trial, which resulted in a drug-trafficking conviction and 30-year sentence.
“In August 2008 … agents met with Zafar for a proffer session on a Haitian drug case. Zafar was known to run around with this type of crowd in South Beach,” according to the criminal complaint against Zafar. “In October 2008, DEA agents observed Zafar in the South Beach area, driving expensive cars and spending lavish amounts of money.”
Renting fancy wheels
Zafar also spent time with upcoming Opa-locka rapper Derek “Toro” Johnson.
Toro, 33, whose claim to fame had been collaborating on a track with Miami hip-hop star Rick Ross, had been driving from club to club on Oct. 18, 2008, giving copies of his newest track to DJs.
Toro was in a rented 2007 Cadillac Escalade outside Coco’s, a North Miami-Dade strip club, at 4 a.m. when a silver sedan rolled past, unloading bullets into the SUV. With Toro slumped over in the driver’s seat, the Cadillac lunged forward into a nearby home.
Toro died from the gunshots; a passenger escaped with minor injuries. The investigation continues.
“He had a promising career, but was fatally shot,” the Zafar profile says of Toro. “Zafar thought very highly of him and even paid for the funeral.”
Zafar may have paid for the funeral, but he still owes for the car.
The Escalade that Toro was shot in had been rented in Zafar’s name from South Beach’s Carefree Lifestyle. The rental company’s insurer has been trying to recover money from Zafar for the car’s damages. An active suit in Delaware County, Ohio, seeks $35,158 plus 6 percent yearly interest from Zafar.
Zafar’s taste for fancy cars — “he has owned every high-end brand of car on the planet,” his Internet profile brags — extended right up to his arrest. Agents tracked Zafar last month to a Holiday Inn Express in Columbus, where one particular ride in the parking lot stood: a black Bentley convertible with Florida tags.
at Bal Harbour
Zafar and his husky bodyguard rumbled toward the al fresco dining area of Carpaccio restaurant at Bal Harbour Shops on a Tuesday evening in March 2011.
Zafar and his security man approached Kris Bortnovsky, who was eating. Some words were barked, a scuffle ensued, and a gunshot was fired, striking Bortnovsky and a nearby bystander. Zafar and his man ran.
Police misidentified the shooter as Ryan Hubbard, Zafar’s regular bodyguard. But Hubbard was in Ohio during the shooting, and the attempted-murder charges against him were dropped.
The actual shooter was a fill-in bodyguard for Zafar named Akeem Simpson. Investigators realized this just in time to find out that Simpson had been killed in a one-car crash in December 2011. They declined to pursue criminal charges in the case.
Bortnovsky has an active civil suit against Bal Harbour Shops, claiming security negligence; his attorney said they have added Zafar as a defendant.
Police took Zafar in for questioning after the shooting, calling him a “person of interest” when they thought that Hubbard was the shooter and Zafar paid for him to flee South Florida.
But investigators soon filed charges on Zafar in an unrelated matter: The Fontainebleau claimed he owed $180,000, the result of at least three nights of partying at LIV and staying in a prime room.
A felony charge of organized fraud of more than $50,000 and three counts of grand theft were dropped in August 2011 as part of an out-of-court settlement.
David Grutman, whose Miami Marketing Group operates the Fontainebleau’s LIV and other South Beach clubs, acknowledged his legal run-ins with Zafar but said he could not comment because of the settlement. In club circles, Zafar went by the name “Chip Haider,” Grutman said.
Zafar has continued to keep his legal team busy with minor blips.
He 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 in September 2011 for boating in a restricted area, leading to pay a fine and attendance in a boating class. He faces a traffic citation in Broward related to a March red-light violation.
Zafar also is the defendant in a breach-of-contract suit filed in March in Miami-Dade County Court by 4 Star Group. 4 Star is the parent of 4 Star Studios, the Miami Beach recording studio for Slip-n-Slide Records, a label that helped launch the careers of hip-hop stars like Trick Daddy, Trina and Rick Ross.
A label representative reached by the Miami Herald said he was unfamiliar with Zafar or the details of the lawsuit.
In Ohio, Zafar mostly stayed out of legal trouble before the feds slapped him with wire-fraud charges. He faced a criminal charge of illegal processing of drug documents in 2004, but he enrolled in a court-ordered program to avoid conviction.
Zafar was represented in that case by Samuel Shamansky, the same attorney who is defending him on the fraud charges. Shamansky did not return calls for comment.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.