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Paging-Firm Head Used to Enjoy the Spotlight : Securities: Now Ahmad Bayaa, president of Southland Communications Inc., is getting media attention, but not for happy reasons.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ahmad N. Bayaa was relishing the spotlight in August, 1988.

In a high-profile ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, the then-35-year-old Palestinian businessman was wed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to a Jewish woman from Yorba Linda.

Before 400 guests, Jackson praised the couple for transcending ethnic prejudice, saying, “This marriage is America at its best” because it “represents joy in Laguna, hope in the world.”

The ceremony, a $50,000 affair that Bayaa said was something special he wanted to do for his fiancee, was a highly visible symbol of Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign theme of a Rainbow Coalition.

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Now Bayaa, a Long Beach resident who is president of Southland Communications Inc., a Santa Ana provider of paging services, is in the media spotlight again. This time, the ceremony of the day isn’t drawing praise.

On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit against Bayaa and securities broker Shaw Tehrani in Atlanta. The suit accused the men of conspiring, along with several of Bayaa’s friends, to manipulate the stock price of Southland Communications, also known as National Paging.

The SEC charges in the suit that Bayaa, Tehrani and other friends of Bayaa bought up large amounts of the thinly traded stock to derail “short sellers” who were attempting to profit from an expected drop in the stock’s price. They hoped to keep the stock price up long enough for a private placement of additional stock and an acquisition of another paging company to be completed, the suit further contends.

Through his lawyer, Bayaa declined to comment on the action.

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The lawsuit comes a little more than a month after the SEC halted trading in the firm’s stock. The trading suspension came after the company’s stock doubled in price in a short period, despite the fact that it said in its first-quarter report that it might not be able to remain a viable business.

Bayaa, who sports a broad smile and thin mustache that makes him resemble the popular rock star Prince, is described by associates as a shrewd businessman. Despite a modest $40,000 salary, he had expensive habits: wearing flashy $2,000 suits and driving a Bentley luxury car.

When co-workers asked about the suits and fancy car, Bayaa responded that the trappings were part of a strategy for trying to make sales to big companies or courting rich Middle Eastern investors.

Despite Southland’s troubled status, Bayaa appeared comfortable about keeping the publicly held company under family management.

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