Who is Omar Amanat, why was he arrested—and what did he have to do with a Hamptons bacchanal?
Tales of Wall Street excess reliably outrage—and titillate—readers. This summer’s exemplar so far: a “wild” Hamptons party earlier this month. “Awash,” as the New York Post put it, “with champagne, scores of bikini-clad women and costumed gun-toting midgets,” 1,000 boisterous attendees of a bacchanal known as “Sprayathon” allegedly “wrecked a $20 million mansion.” The mansion’s furious owner, who the Post didn’t name, was reportedly planning to file a $1 million suit.
The party generated headlines in publications ranging from Vanity Fair to Bloomberg to U.K.’s the Telegraph and resulted in the firing of a Moore Capital hedge fund trader, Brett Barna, who hosted the affair. The story had enough legs that the New York Times published an article two weeks later offering Barna’s side of the imbroglio and identifying the owner of the party house as Omar Amanat.
Amanat’s name may be familiar to readers of Fortune—and his tale is far wilder than the goings-on at a Hampton’s party mansion. When he last appeared in the publication, it was September 2014 and Amanat was embroiled in a bitter and colorful fight with Russian property mogul Vladislav Doronin over the ownership of the ultra-luxury hotel chain Aman Resorts. Within weeks of joining forces to buy the chain, the pair’s business partnership had shattered in spectacular fashion. The resulting conflict necessitated a small population of lawyers, spanning courtrooms in three countries.
Fast-forward to July 13, 2016. At 6:00 AM, federal agents arrested Amanat at the $4.75 million home he was renting in Short Hills, N.J. The following day, a federal judge unsealed a grand jury indictment. It charged Amanat with wire fraud, aiding and abetting investment adviser fraud, and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. According to the indictment, Amanat helped an investment firm hide losses, and helped inflate the value of shares of Kit Digital, a bankrupt video technology company. In a press release, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara charged that Amanat cheated investors “of millions of dollars through years of lies and deceit.”
Amanat’s arrest triggered considerable schadenfreude. “It is very satisfying to see that Omar Amanat’s chequered past is catching up with him, although I am surprised it has taken this long,” Doronin said in a statement to Fortune. Michael Kimelman, who served 15 months for insider trading, tweeted: “I could swing a cat & hit half a dozen people he owes money: Omar Amanat can’t afford to make bail #conman #karma.”
Amanat has pleaded not guilty and, after sitting in a federal correctional center for six days, he was released on $2.5 million bail. Finding there was a “significant risk of flight here,” a judge ordered Amanat to surrender his passport, restricted his travel, and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device. (Amanat’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comment or to a detailed list of questions emailed to them and to Amanat. Fortune also contacted the press representatives for Amanat in the past, but they said they no longer represent him.)
For Amanat, a Rumi-quoting entrepreneur, film producer, and investor in media, finance, and technology, his indictment was a humiliating public bludgeoning. He is accustomed to gallivanting around the globe, talking big deals, dropping the names of headline-making movers and shakers, and rubbing elbows with celebrities and supermodels (one of whom, Helena Houdova, was his second wife). Amanat was someone who boasted that at age 29, he had “already experienced a heady amount of worldly success” and touted that he had been named one of Wall Street’s “Top Ten Most Influential Technologists.” Now, a decade and a half later, he is facing possible prison time.
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The story of the party house emerged a week before Amanat’s arrest on fraud changes. As Barna describes it to Fortune, the tale began innocently. He was seeking a rental house at which to hold a charity bash. A broker introduced him to Amanat, who was offering a large property in Sag Harbor, N.Y. (which is actually near, rather than in, the Hamptons). Barna says Amanat presented himself as a hyper-connected, wealthy entrepreneur, but then expressed what Barna describes as “an extreme need for money.” He asserts that Amanat asked for $25,000 in cash to rent the house (which, according to property records, is owned by someone other than Amanat) for five days. Barna says he told Amanat that he didn’t have that sort of cash on him and planned to pay for the rental with a credit card through Airbnb. At one point in their negotiations, he asserts, Amanat responded by asking whether Barna could go to an ATM, withdraw $4,000, and pay that portion in cash.
Eventually they agreed Barna would charge his American Express card through Airbnb, he says. Amanat, he adds, later turned up at the house in a Bentley. “In hindsight, this should have been a big red flag,” Barna says.
Things went sour immediately. Barna says the house he’d spent $27,000 to rent (including a security deposit) turned out to be occupied. He ended up making an agreement with the tenants to use the backyard only for the duration of the charity event. Amanat, he alleges, then gave him a list of demands, including a cut of the charity proceeds.
Relations worsened after the party. Barna says Amanat insisted he damaged the house and threatened him if he didn’t pay up. One text Barna says he received from Amanat (which appeared to come from the same phone number that Amanat had previously provided to Fortune) stated:
“When you least expect it one night something so unspeakably bad is going to happen to you (maybe it’s karmic law maybe it’s a friend of mine who heard what you did to me) Personally I won’t do a thing to you.”
On July 6, the Post first reported on the party. The story stated that the house’s owner had accused Barna of $1 million in damages and planned to sue him. The next day Moore Capital fired Barna. Barna has since filed a police report against Amanat for harassment and has been making the rounds explaining his side of the story. Though much of Barna’s account boils down to his word against Amanat’s, one person—the former property manager for the house in question—offers a view that is consistent with Barna’s. Richard Black says he regularly had to fight to get paid by Amanat and eventually quit. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and never met anyone like him,” Black says, adding that Amanat would “swindle and shake people down.”
And now there’s the federal indictment, which blames Amanat for helping Stephen Maiden, who ran an investment advisory firm called Maiden Capital, defraud investors. According to the indictment, “between in or about February 2009 and in or about June 2012, Amanat, along with Maiden and others, devised and carried out a scheme to hide the fact that investments by Maiden Capital clients in Enable, an investment vehicle for which Amanat raised money (based, in part, on false and misleading representations), had been lost. To facilitate the scheme,” the indictment continues, “Maiden, with the knowledge and approval of Amanat, generated fictitious client account statements that failed to disclose the Enable losses. In addition, Amanat wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Maiden Capital bank account to support Maiden Capital, including to allow Maiden to repay investors whose redemption requests could not be forestalled and thus to continue to keep secret from Maiden Capital investors the Enable losses.”
On July 1, Maiden pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud; the former CFO for Kit Digital, whose stock Amanat allegedly helped inflate, also pleaded guilty. On July 14, former Kit Digital CEO Kaleil Isaza Tuzman was extradited to the U.S. from Colombia, where he’d been held since September 2015, to face market manipulation and accounting fraud charges. He has pleaded not guilty. Rima Jameel, a lawyer indicted in the case, remains a fugitive, according to prosecutors.
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Fortune’s 2014 article explored Amanat’s battle with Doronin over Aman Resorts. Amanat had lobbed the first legal grenade in London’s High Court, accusing Doronin of breach of contract. For his part, Doronin contended that Amanat had engineered an elaborate con game. Doronin claimed in legal filings that Amanat had not only misrepresented his finances, but had underhandedly used Doronin’s money to pay for Amanat’s part of the $358 million hotel deal. What’s more, Doronin alleged that Amanat had an established pattern of such behavior, calling him a “serial swindler.” Fortune’s article chronicled a long list of accusations and lawsuits against Amanat, including a multi-year legal fight with E*Trade ETFC , which acquired a business from him. (Amanat denied any wrongdoing in the Doronin and E*Trade cases—and also claimed that his life had been threatened by an adversary in both disputes.) Further, in 2008 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) permanently banned Amanat “from associating with any FINRA member firm in any capacity” because he “willfully and repeatedly” failed to disclose legal judgments and a past SEC investigation. Moreover, Amanat, who held himself out as a successful entrepreneur and dealmaker, had been in bankruptcy for the better part of the last decade.
A lot of things about Amanat didn’t add up when Fortune reported on him in 2014. Untangling the answers required interviewing dozens of people across three continents and poring over thousands of pages of documents. Even simple matters such as Amanat’s age were a puzzle. Initially, he said he was 40. Then 41. After being presented with a birth date in court documents, Amanat’s press representative agreed that he was in fact 42 at the time. Amanat’s web bio claimed that he was awarded the Albert P. Einstein Technology Award For Outstanding Corporate Citizenship. However, we could not find any evidence that such an award exists (and Einstein did not have a middle name).
Since Fortune wrote about him in 2014, Amanat’s legal entanglements have been mounting. In March he lost his battle in the London High Court over Aman. Peak Hotels & Resorts Limited, the entity used to purchase the resort, was forced into involuntary liquidation and agreed, in a settlement, to pay Doronin and a second person a total of £12 million ($15.7 million) in court costs. Four months earlier, in the same case, a High Court justice cited Amanat’s “established propensity to fraud,” and his “established record of dishonesty in the USA.”
In a bizarre turn, on March 3, less than a week before the London court made its ruling, Amanat filed a petition in New York to force Aman Resorts Group LTD. into involuntary bankruptcy. In the handwritten petition, Amanat claimed that he and two of his entities were owed $5 million in unpaid fees. Four days after that, Amanat seemed to get some moral support: His claim was amended to include Adrian Zecha, Aman’s octogenarian founder, British hedge fund manager George Robinson, and the Parisian investment firm Fonde Investment Capital, among others, alleging they were owed some $70 million in unpaid fees.
But almost before the ink dried on the new claims, a new twist occurred. Three of the new claimants, including Zecha, suddenly withdrew. Zecha’s legal papers asserted that the “amended petition was filed without his knowledge.” (Zecha did not return a request for comment.)
Then came another withdrawal. This time it was William Baldiga, an attorney representing an entity aligned with Amanat in the involuntary bankruptcy. In his petition, Baldiga cited a New York rule governing lawyers’ conduct that enables them to remove themselves from a case if their client is pursuing legal action “merely for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring any person.” (Baldiga declined to be interviewed.)
On March 28, Judge Shelley Chapman of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York dismissed Amanat’s attempts to force Aman into bankruptcy. The judge stated in a hearing that the suit “doesn’t appear to be an appropriate use of the bankruptcy process.”
Other litigation relating to Amanat and Aman Resorts predates that battle. Vinland Capital sued Amanat for allegedly breaching an exclusive agreement to have Vinland raise money for the Aman deal. (Vinland’s suit was dismissed and is on appeal.) Last year Amanat’s lawyer in that case, Ronald Minkoff, filed papers to withdraw as counsel, citing Amanat’s “deliberate failure to pay outstanding invoices,” and that despite “many demands,” Amanat had “not made adequate provision for paying past or future fees.”
And Aman is not the only recent source of litigation for Amanat. For example, in May a California judge ordered a $1.2 million default judgment against him for failing to pay former Malcolm in the Middle actor Justin Berfield and his company $900,000, under the terms of a past mediation, for “federal securities law violations, breaches of contract and failure to pay a promissory note.” Another case, involving financing for a film version of the novel Interpreter of Maladies, led to a suit against Amanat’s film company claiming that several million dollars had gone missing. According to court records, Amanat’s first wife also has several open cases against her ex-husband relating to support and custody. The list goes on.
Amanat’s recent criminal indictment also cites a role by an unnamed co-conspirator. In announcing the indictment, Bharara, who has aggressively prosecuted white-collar crime, said that, “the investigation is continuing,” which leaves open the possibility of another indictment. Numerous interested parties are waiting to see how this all plays out. When it comes to the story of Omar Amanat, the only certainty is that there will be plenty more twists and turns.