A federal jury has awarded almost $23 million to Semir Sirazi, an investor who claimed an investment group cheated him out of millions of dollars by executing a deal with corrupt Illinois campaign financier Antoin “Tony” Rezko to secretly transfer to them Rezko’s ownership interests in a large South Loop development property, helping Rezko skirt a requirement to repay Sirazi should the property be sold, while gaining access to large amounts of money as legal problems swirled about him.
On June 22, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Sirazi in his years-long legal dispute with defendants General Mediterranean Holding and billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, and Orifarm S.A. over their dealings with Rezko.
As part of that verdict, the jury awarded Sirazi $12.9 million in compensatory damages from GMH, Orifarm and Auchi, plus $10 million in punitive damages, including $5 million from GMH and Orifarm and an additional $5 million from Auchi.
The verdict represents the latest steps in a court fight dating back to at least 2010.
At that time, Sirazi first filed suit against the defendants in Cook County Circuit Court.
The matter moved to federal court in 2012, when Sirazi filed a complaint against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The case centers on a 2006 agreement reached between Sirazi and Rezko to settle about $7.7 million in debt.
According to court documents, in 2006, Rezko, who was dealing with large financial difficulties, agreed to use any “profits and proceeds generated by his interests” in the property, near the intersection of Clark Street and Roosevelt Road, to repay Sirazi.
Sirazi said in his complaint the deal was necessary because two of Rezko’s companies, identified as Rezmar Corporation and Western Phase II, had amassed large debts to Sirazi and his companies, but Rezko had just one remaining “significant, unencumbered asset” – his interest in the South Loop property.
Following Rezko’s indictment on corruption charges, Sirazi asserted GMH, Auchi and the other defendants, to whom Rezko also owed millions of dollars, moved to purchase Rezko’s interests in the Roosevelt and Clark site to “better enable them to develop the parcel.”
Sirazi alleged the defendants were aware of his settlement agreement with Rezko, so they moved intentionally to conceal the transaction from him, making it appear they had forgiven the debt, while they actually reorganized ownership of the property in stages until 2008, when Auchi allegedly announced the completion of the transfer of Rezko’s rights.
“At that point, all funds used to purchase Rezko’s shares had been disbursed and the Sirazi plaintiffs had no ability to seize them or otherwise assert their security interest in them,” Sirazi asserted in his complaint.
Sirazi had been represented in the action by attorneys William J. Ryan, Seth Yohalem and Gregory J. Scandaglia, of the firm of Scandaglia & Ryan, of Chicago.
GMH, Orifarm and Auchi were represented by attorneys Joseph D. Ryan, Scott B. Dolezal and Jonathan C Huckabay, of the Law Offices of Joseph D. Ryan, of Highland Park, and by Eugene E. Endress, William J. Dorsey and Gil M. Soffer, of the firm of Katten Muchin Rosenman, of Chicago.