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Campaign donor’s cash arrived with baggage

Times Staff Writers

On a sun-dappled October afternoon, Ray Jinnah stood beside his Bel-Air swimming pool to address 60 guests gathered for his latest fundraiser, a 2004 affair for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn was there, along with then-City Council President Alex Padilla. Both had received backing from Jinnah, a Pakistani businessman positioning himself as a player in Democratic fundraising and an organizer of support for Pakistan on Capitol Hill.

As captured on a DVD he distributed to guests, Jinnah introduced Clinton, whose political action committee would take in $45,000 through his efforts.

“I’m just recalling how close I’ve been with the Clinton family and those nights, movies, dinners, lunches in the White House,” he said in unsteady English.

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Clinton, beaming, warmly thanked Jinnah and noted that he had been among the first well-wishers to call her husband, Bill, after his recent heart surgery.

At about the same time, the Justice Department began investigating allegations that Jinnah’s fundraising on behalf of Clinton and others was illegal. He would later be charged with violating federal law by reimbursing employees and associates for contributions made in their names to Clinton’s HillPac and the Friends of Barbara Boxer campaign. Today, having fled the country, Jinnah is on the FBI’s “featured fugitives” list.

But Jinnah’s story is more complex and colorful than his brief federal indictment conveys. It offers a window into the frenetic world of modern political fundraising, where candidates are so hungry for cash to compete that they ask few questions about those able to raise it.

Even as Jinnah built a gilded political Rolodex, he was facing corruption charges in Pakistan and accusations in the U.S. that he was a tax deadbeat and had engaged in bankruptcy fraud. Business records and interviews show that he engineered grandiose deals that often hinged on money transfers from Pakistan or London, then stiffed partners and employees while pouring funds into campaigns and an ostentatious lifestyle.

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Yet in Jinnah, top Democrats thought they had a point man to tap the growing, increasingly affluent Pakistani American community. In the candidates, Jinnah found a way to cloak himself in legitimacy.

Just before his Clinton event, Jinnah co-hosted a fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry. Four days after Clinton’s visit, Jinnah welcomed Boxer for an event attended by former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Noor Muhammad Jadmani, the consul general of Pakistan to Los Angeles.

The campaigns say they knew nothing of Jinnah’s alleged wrongdoing. Told by The Times in early March of his indictment, Clinton’s PAC and Boxer’s campaign returned suspect money to the U.S. Treasury or charity.

With 2008 presidential fundraising likely to rank as the most aggressive ever, Jinnah’s fast climb and faster fall are a cautionary tale.

At home in the Valley

Born in Pakistan, Abdul Rehman Jinnah, 56, shared a last name, but no family ties, with Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He told associates he grew up in a wealthy household, so cosseted that servants put his pajamas on him inside out to prevent the button backs from chafing his skin.

He ran Pakistan’s pavilion at World Expo ’88 in Brisbane, Australia, then migrated to California, buying a house in Northridge. His business ventures ranged from prospective theme parks to frozen yogurt to cellphones. In 2003, he bought into Advanced Communication Technology, a Simi Valley phone wholesaler that did business as All American Distributing.

Jinnah appeared to be living every immigrant’s dream. He obtained a green card and saw his older son, Rizwan, now 31, graduate from Loyola Law School and become a staff attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the prestigious Los Angeles-based law firm. His younger son, Ahmed, 27, graduated from UCLA and went into business with his father.

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Yet Jinnah’s financial practices raised troubling questions, court records show. He often made big promises -- boasting of his eight-figure bank account or expansive Pakistan holdings -- then failed to deliver.

He promised to invest up to $5 million in Billy Martin’s USA Inc., a Western apparel chain, then said some of the funds were in London, Chief Executive Doug Newton said. When most of the money failed to materialize, the chain’s Sunset Boulevard store faced eviction. For Newton, the final deal-breaker came when Jinnah proposed manufacturing the shops’ signature gear -- which carried the trademark “Born & Bred in the USA” -- in Pakistan.

“I’ve had a lot of tough negotiations with [guys like] George Steinbrenner and Charley Finley,” said Newton, a former baseball agent who named his stores after his most famous client, five-time New York Yankees Manager Billy Martin. “But I had never dealt with a person who would change the deal when you were counting on him at the 11th hour.”

Many of Jinnah’s creditors discovered that he held almost no assets in his own name, thwarting debt collection, interviews and court records show.

The $3.7-million, 7,000-square-foot home where Jinnah hosted Hillary Clinton was owned by Iqbal Ashraf, a longtime business associate. The Jinnahs rented it, Ashraf said. In early 2006, Jinnah moved to a five-bedroom Chatsworth home. The previous owner said Jinnah negotiated the $2.8-million sale, then, at the last minute, substituted his son Rizwan as purchaser.

Creditors also say Jinnah used U.S. bankruptcy laws to shield his wealth. He and his wife sought bankruptcy protection seven times between 1999 and 2002. A U.S. bankruptcy judge dismissed their joint 2001 case as a “bad-faith filing,” but Jinnah then tried to use the case to have a $93,000 judgment against him set aside. A Superior Court judge refused, calling his claims “a sham.” Jinnah also put at least three of his companies into bankruptcy -- including All American Distributing, which he put into Chapter 7 after fleeing the country.

Yet even as Jinnah’s debts piled up and the IRS hounded him for payroll taxes, he and his family lived opulently, putting $130,000 down on a million-dollar villa in Dubai. He had a chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and his sons drove Bentleys and Mercedes AMGs.

Accusations of empty promises and broken contracts followed Jinnah all the way to Pakistan.

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His Karachi company, Techno World, failed to perform on a contract to manufacture and supply school furniture, Pakistani government records and media reports show. Facing corruption charges, Jinnah blamed government funding delays, but later agreed to repay 29 million Rupees (about $475,000).

A friend of the Clintons

None of his troubles impeded his entry into American politics, perhaps because modern campaigns need a bottomless store of Ray Jinnahs.

Federal laws limit donations to candidates and PACs, compelling fundraisers to tap new pools of money. These efforts can be risky, as when illegal foreign contributions to the Democrats were traced to China and elsewhere in the 1990s. But sometimes need trumps risk.

In 2000, Jinnah told friends he had become a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, though DNC officials now say they have no record of it.

When the Democratic convention came to Los Angeles that August, Jinnah hobnobbed with the party’s elite. He recruited host committee chief operating officer Cheryl Carter, a former Clinton White House aide, and Naz Nageer, the convention’s technology director, to join him in a start-up technology venture. Carter, who took a $500,000-a-year job as president, said that she met Jinnah through mutual friends and that her hiring was unrelated to her political work. Nageer refused to comment.

Both sued Jinnah for breach of contract when the start-up folded after a few months. Nageer won a judgment, but never collected, court records show. Carter dropped her suit.

Soon after the convention, Jinnah visited the White House and had his photo taken with the president, a testament to his growing influence. The same month, he held his first event for the then-first lady during her inaugural Senate campaign: Thai restaurateur Tommy Tang catered, and the candidate posed in Jinnah’s Northridge yard beside a mini-Statue of Liberty.

Jinnah used his Clinton ties as a self-marketing tool. In his office and home, he displayed numerous photos of himself with the couple. He saved voicemails from Hillary Clinton and played them back for acquaintances.

“He had a big ego,” said Newton, a Republican who declined to go to Jinnah’s events even when Jinnah implied that contributions would not have to come from his own pocket. "[It gave him] a tremendous amount of prestige and stature in his mind to rub shoulders with powerful people in government.”

By 2004, Jinnah had cemented his party ties. He and his family, who had moved to Bel-Air, personally contributed $122,000 to Democratic candidates and causes that year alone.

Jinnah also joined the Pakistani American Leadership Center formed in 2004 to build the community’s clout, chairing a committee to grow membership in a brand-new Congressional Pakistan Caucus. By 2006, it claimed 71 members of Congress.

Some center members worried about Jinnah’s partisan Democratic politics and taste for self-aggrandizement.

“I had a feeling he joined it to use it,” said Pervaiz Lodhie, a center board member and chief executive of LEDtronics Inc., a Torrance-based lamp manufacturer. “His goals were selfish goals.” Still, when the group wanted access to power, Jinnah could deliver, members said.

Jinnah belonged to Los Angeles’ small Ismaili community, a group of Shia Muslims whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan. Other Ismailis said he used political connections to raise his status, inviting them to his events.

“We were all mesmerized by him,” said a woman who attended several gatherings. “They would say, ‘Call Ray Jinnah, he can get them there.’ I would ask him, ‘How did you penetrate these circles?’ He said he learned how to handle politicians in Pakistan.”

On the surface, Jinnah’s fundraisers seemed standard. Receptions around his pool or canapes in his office lounge. Smiles, handshakes and quick stump speeches. Candidates left with tens of thousands of dollars.

But in several cases, most of the guests -- an eclectic mix of Pakistani diplomats, business associates and Jinnah’s personal physicians and real estate agents -- did not make donations, records show.

And some of those who did were reimbursed with funds from Jinnah’s All American Distributing, prosecutors say.

All American nightmare

Initially, Jinnah had been basically a silent partner in All American, said Lawrence Jackowski, hired to develop the business. But in early 2004, Jinnah and his family became more involved.

Jinnah became known equally for his explosive temper -- once beaning an underling with a gavel he kept on his desk -- and his questionable business acumen, former employees said.

Convinced the company should have retail outlets, Jinnah’s wife and son Ahmed opened a cellphone store in the Beverly Center. It bled money and closed within six months, Jackowski said. Jinnah then acquired a chain of about 20 phone shops, but took months to get the venture going. “It was comedy,” Jackowski said.

Still, the foundering business proved a valuable vehicle for Jinnah’s political interests. He held events for candidates at the office and asked his executives to make contributions. In May 2004, seven All American employees made $1,000 contributions to Hahn, campaign finance records show. The following month, seven donated $2,000 apiece to Boxer and $500 each to Padilla.

Prosecutors later alleged that Jinnah reimbursed the Boxer donors with company funds. In fact, employees interviewed by authorities told The Times, Jinnah reimbursed them for donations to city officials as well, violating local election laws.

Employee Evelyn Parker said Jinnah asked her to write checks to Boxer, Hahn and Padilla, then paid her back in cash, adding an incentive.

“If the check was for $500, he would give us $525,” she said.

Hahn said the allegations against Jinnah came as a surprise. “You go somewhere and someone hands you a personal check, and there’s no way for a candidate to know if someone got reimbursed for it,” he said.

A familiar presence at Jinnah’s events was Stuart Schoenburg, a Tarzana television producer. Prosecutors later charged Schoenburg as Jinnah’s co-conspirator, saying Jinnah arranged donations to HillPac by having Schoenburg find straw donors whom Jinnah agreed to reimburse. Schoenburg has entered a guilty plea and is scheduled to be sentenced this month.

To finance the scheme, Jinnah siphoned money out of All American by writing checks to cash, bank records show. He wrote at least $60,000 worth of such checks shortly before the 2004 Clinton event, some endorsed by Schoenburg.

Employees grew furious watching All American’s money flow into Jinnah’s extravagances and political obsessions as their salaries and company bills went unpaid.

“It was a bad experience for everyone. I was pretty much broke by the end,” Jackowski said.

Disgruntled workers and creditors weren’t the only ones zeroing in on Jinnah.

The FBI raided All American’s offices in January 2005, Jinnah testified in a deposition.

The search warrant remains under seal, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said. Employees recall agents rolling up in black Chevy Suburbans and removing computers and filing cabinets.

Not long after, All American appears to have shut down.

In late 2005, Jinnah incorporated a new business, Times Square International, and negotiated to purchase the Chatsworth house. Unable to get a bank loan, Jinnah persuaded the seller to finance the purchase until he sold some land in Pakistan. Four months later, Jinnah defaulted on the monthly payments and the seller began foreclosure proceedings.

But not before Jinnah hosted one last event, an April dinner for the daughter of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in Los Angeles to raise funds for the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Jinnah had been introduced to Dalia Rabin by former Rep. Mel Levine, president of a U.S. charity that supports the Rabin Center. Levine was among the guests, as was Schoenburg. The Jinnahs were apparently still settling into their new digs -- guests arriving early said they observed a truck dropping off brand-new Versace furniture.

A grand jury indicted Jinnah on May 18, 2006. Shortly thereafter, authorities say, Jinnah fled.

He told friends he was going to Pakistan to wrap up a major land deal. When the Times story about his indictment broke, “We were all stunned,” said an Ismaili acquaintance. “Everyone started Googling him and calling each other.” Jinnah’s sons stopped attending evening prayers at the group’s center in Santa Monica, she said.

Jinnah himself appears unbowed.

Since he left the U.S., a Pakistani business publication reported that he tried unsuccessfully to buy the landmark Roosevelt Hotel in New York, which is owned by Pakistan’s national airline.

Jinnah also apparently stopped in to see the Nazim of Karachi, similar to the mayor. Jinnah said his new firm, Times Square, would invest billions in the city, local media reported. The story called his business “one of the 500 largest American companies.”

chuck.neubauer@latimes.com

robin.fields@latimes.com

Times researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.


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