Loads of Dirty Laundry

Bounced checks, phony documents, multiple bankruptcies, countless lawsuits, burned business partners, and an army of avenging attorneys might discourage most entrepreneurs. But as far as Mohamed Ibrahim is concerned, it all just comes out in the wash.

"Mr. Ibrahim stated on the record that after a month he just throws records away," says Debi Galler. "We've been having to reconstruct records as best we can, but with rental units changing hands, people paying cash, it's not quite like other businesses where the same vendors have the same customers.... It's not clear-cut that the money disappeared. Even if money had flowed to I Have a Dream, I know it's so far underwater I wouldn't get anything."

This past July a mortgage broker named Frank Alter, on behalf of a trust he administers, bought the first mortgage on the 79th Street I Have a Dream property, which Ibrahim had purchased in June 1993.

Jill and Allen Greenwald, the holders of that $350,000 mortgage, had begun foreclosure proceedings against Ibrahim in late 1996, which set off a flood of claims against him by other investors and companies that had been hired to perform construction work on the shopping center and were now seeking payment for their services -- from concrete and lumber suppliers to electrical contractors to aluminum shutter installers.

Details

At the same time, in December 1996, Ibrahim filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for his laundromat, under the corporate name Dream Coin Laundry. (The I Have a Dream Shopping Center itself remained under foreclosure proceedings but not bankruptcy.) The next month the laundromat bankruptcy was converted to the more stringent Chapter 7.

But unbeknownst to the Greenwalds, a company called Meusfirst Building Corporation -- sellers of the property to Ibrahim's Island Pointe Associates -- had been trying for nearly three years to collect on a $40,000 mortgage it still held.

After the Greenwalds began foreclosure proceedings against Ibrahim, an attorney for Meusfirst discovered a highly suspect document in the Dade County property records. The document, known as a "satisfaction of mortgage," had been signed by one Sal Bechar, who falsely claimed to be president of Meusfirst and whose address was the actually the Island Pointe apartments. The "satisfaction of mortgage" he signed indicated that the $40,000 Meusfirst had been trying to collect had already been paid. (If the mortgage had remained "unsatisfied," the Greenwalds couldn't have obtained title insurance to protect their large investment in the mortgage.)

Meusfirst intervened in the Greenwalds' foreclosure action, asserting that the "satisfaction of mortgage" document was fraudulent. (The company's claim has yet to be resolved.) Other unsettling discoveries also began to emerge: At least two contractors found records on file with the county showing their claims had been paid even though they hadn't been. "I don't know who did it," says Wade Peterson, attorney for K and A Lumber of Homestead, "but someone filed a fraudulent release of our lien."

Now that the Greenwalds have been bought out by the anonymous trust administered by Alter, Alter has resumed the foreclosure action against Ibrahim and I Have a Dream Shopping Center, Inc., albeit less than vigorously, according to several attorneys. "There's no logical explanation why a foreclosure suit should go that slowly," says Theodore Jewell, a Miami lawyer who represents the court-appointed federal trustee in the Dream Coin Laundry bankruptcy case. "Or why, when a foreclosure is pending, the property is still being improved."

Another question puzzling Jewell is the whereabouts of thousands of dollars invested in the shopping center and unaccounted for. And the major creditor (a laundry supply company that removed its leased washers and dryers from My Dream last December after not being paid) would like to know how Ibrahim recently paid $400,000 in cash for 64 new washing machines.

Despite all his financial woes, Ibrahim this past March bought a corporation that owned a group of buildings (but not the land beneath them) on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 88th Terrace -- a strip of small shops, including a laundromat, and two apartments that used to be known as the Viking Motel. He's got big plans for his most recent acquisition, but these plans have apparently not included monthly lease payments for the land to Harry Cooper, a Kentucky resident who inherited it from his mother in 1990. Cooper has filed a lawsuit seeking to cancel Ibrahim's lease and take possession of the structures.

Last spring Ibrahim began evicting business tenants and demolishing one of the Viking Motel buildings in preparation for turning most of the area into a huge day-care center to be called Village Kidz, according to a building plan he's printed up.

Yet Ibrahim soon allowed his new acquisition to slip into foreclosure. This past September Frank Alter, on behalf of another trust he administers, bought the mortgage on those buildings, too. Then he had his attorneys renew foreclosure proceedings.

So Ibrahim now faces the prospect of losing both his I Have a Dream shopping center and the future day-care center. Does he look worried? "It'll never happen," he predicts cheerfully.

There may be good reason for his optimism. Most of the lawyers involved in litigation against Ibrahim believe the foreclosures are merely maneuvers to ensure that he keeps his properties. They suspect that Ibrahim and/or his family are the actual beneficiaries of the Alter trusts -- and they plan to prove it. If the attorneys are correct, Ibrahim would be foreclosing on himself as a way to retain possession, an act the attorneys say is illegal. Ibrahim denies there's any connection between his family and the trusts. Alter won't identify any parties to the trusts, but he too denies any connections to Ibrahim or his family.

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