View Full Version : Guy named Osama pleads guilty to bank fraud

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04-30-2010, 05:27 PM
Va. restaurant owner pleads guilty to bank fraud* - News - The Charleston Gazette - West Virginia News and Sports - (

Va. restaurant owner pleads guilty to bank fraud
By The Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A Virginia restaurateur with a penchant for sports cars who tried to evade capture by faking his death pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to a $53 million bank fraud. The case has led to criminal charges against a bank executive accused of helping him.

Osama El-Atari of Ashburn owned a small chain of steakhouses in the Washington, D.C., suburbs under the name Original Steakhouse and Sports Theater and was known for driving Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Wearing a green prison jumpsuit, he entered guilty pleas to three counts of bank fraud and one count of money laundering in court in Alexandria.

The fraud case against El-Atari is one of the largest prosecuted in Virginia in decades. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the 31-year-old defendant is expected to face between 16 and 20 years in prison at sentencing July 30 though theoretically he could receive a far longer sentence.

When investigators uncovered the scheme last year, El-Atari absconded and at one point fled the country. He was on the run for nearly eight months before the FBI arrested him in January in Texas.

Romildo Nascimento, an officer with the fraud unit of Rio de Janeiro's civil police force, said El-Atari tried to fake his demise in Brazil last year by buying a false death certificate and even arranging for a burial.

A U.S. official in Brazil -- who spoke on condition of anonymity as the official was not authorized to discuss the case -- said that an American passport and a death certificate related to the case were found in a Rio de Janeiro restaurant in December, setting off the investigation in the South American nation.

It is not clear if El-Atari was physically in Brazil.

Nascimento said three people have been arrested in the case -- a doctor authorities say had signed the fake death certificate and two funeral home employees who allegedly arranged for a fake burial.

The Brazilian investigation is ongoing and no charges are yet pending in Brazil against El-Atari. Under Brazilian law, prosecutors bring charges only after police complete an investigation.

In the U.S., now that El-Atari is cooperating with authorities as part of a plea bargain, prosecutors this week charged Sissaye Gezachew, an assistant vice president at United Bank, with conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

United Bank, with dual corporate headquarters in Charleston, W.Va. and Washington, is one of at least six banks that say they were swindled by El-Atari, who used phony documentation of a life insurance policy to take out multimillion-dollar loans. United reported a $17.6 million write-off last year for bad loans associated with the El-Atari case.

Gezachew's attorney was not in the office Thursday and did not return an e-mail seeking comment. United Chief Financial Officer Steven Wilson said the bank could not comment except to say that it cooperated with the investigation and that Gezachew is no longer employed by the bank. He said there have been no allegations that the bank itself acted inappropriately.

According to court records, El-Atari and Gezachew met in December 2007 to discuss a $5 million loan sought by El-Atari to buy additional steakhouses in Maryland. Gezachew told El-Atari his balance sheet didn't add up, and El-Atari acknowledged that his purported collateral, the life insurance policy, was false. At that point, according to the affidavit, Gezachew offered to help El-Atari "tighten up'' his documentation.

El-Atari admitted in court Thursday that he used the same bogus insurance policy to obtain loans from six different banks in Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee and Maryland, totaling roughly $53 million.