Fraud Charges Cloud Entrepreneur’s Story of His Success

  • Investor described as Hollywood power broker faces prison
  • Fund inflated share price and trading volume, prosecutors say

Omar Amanat is not shy about his accomplishments. On his website, along with a smiling photograph wrapped in his trademark scarf, he details his exploits and accolades, touting being named one of the world’s most influential Muslims and “the most powerful person in Hollywood you’ve never heard of.”

Last week, prosecutors in New York gave Amanat, 43, a new moniker -- defendant -- accusing him of participating in a conspiracy to defraud investors in Kit Digital Inc.

Amanat was arrested early on July 13 at his home in Short Hills, New Jersey. Wearing jeans and a denim shirt, he pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors told the judge he owes money all over world, and that Amanat claims he has just $2,700 in the bank and a negative net worth yet pays $10,000 a month to rent his $4.75 million home. Bond was set at $2.5 million. He was released on bail Tuesday afternoon.

His arrest widens the increasingly bizarre and sprawling criminal case surrounding Kit Digital, a troubled video-software startup that became one of the largest of its kind before going bankrupt in 2013. Last September, former Chief Executive Kaleil Isaza Tuzman was jailed in Colombia at the request of U.S. prosecutors who accused him of cheating Kit investors. He complained of harsh conditions and begged to be returned to the U.S. He was granted his wish last week, appearing on Friday before a New York judge and pleading not guilty. Tuzman’s attorney declined further comment after the hearing.

Rounding off Kit’s woes, former Chief Financial Officer Robin Smyth in March pleaded guilty to fraud, admitting he conspired to mislead investors and regulators about the company’s financial health. Smyth is cooperating with prosecutors.

An attorney for Amanat didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Amanat’s arrest muddies a roller-coaster life story which, by his own account and media reports, goes from early financial success to a brush with death on Sept. 11 and repeated legal brawls.

Kit Shares

Amanat is accused of conspiring to manipulate Kit Digital shares and scheming with Stephen E. Maiden to defraud investors in Maiden’s hedge fund by hiding losses in Enable Invest Ltd., a fund for which Amanat sought investors, the government said.

Amanat allegedly introduced Maiden, of Maiden Capital, to Tuzman in the summer of 2008 as a possible investor. Maiden invested $1 million in Kit Digital, which was diverted to Enable and lost on bad trades, prosecutors said. Amanat allegedly helped Maiden hide the client losses. Officials at Enable Invest could not be located for comment.

Then, using money from Tuzman and Kit Digital, Maiden bought and sold more than $2 million in Kit Digital shares from 2008 to 2011, in effect using the company’s own capital to invest in itself, prosecutors said. Maiden was allegedly rewarded with loans and investments from Kit Digital.

Maiden, 43, previously pleaded guilty to charges that he manipulated the market in Kit Digital shares and defrauded investors in his hedge fund and Kit Digital shareholders. His lawyer, Richard S. Glaser Jr., declined to comment.

The alleged scheme reached as far as the United Arab Emirates, where attorney Rima Jameel lives, prosecutors said. The U.S. last week charged her with conspiracy, securities fraud and money laundering for allegedly setting up an escrow fund that Kit Digital used to fund fraudulent transactions. She remains a fugitive and has no known counsel, prosecutors said.

Early Entrepreneur

Amanat grew up in Queens, New York, and in New Jersey, according to a 2014 story in Fortune magazine. He married a model, Helena Houdova, and is fond of scarves and Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, according to Fortune.

Amanat began his career at Datek Online, an online brokerage, and co-founded CyberBlock, where he helped design a trading platform, according to his webpage. He launched Tradescape Corp. and sold it in 2002 to E*Trade Financial Corp. for as much as $280 million in stock, according to regulatory filings.

The sale of Tradescape to E*Trade devolved into a dispute between the parties that eventually settled. Two years after the sale, Amanat declared personal bankruptcy, according to records.

Through a holding company, Amanat was also a major investor in Summit Entertainment Corp., the studio that produced the Twilight movie franchise, according to court records. In 2011 he sued four publications in the U.K. for calling him an impostor and claiming he misrepresented his relationship to the Twilight studio. The publications retracted the articles, apologized, paid Amanat’s legal fees and made charitable donations in his name, the Fortune article said.

And in another legal fight, Amanat wound up in a court fight with a Russian-born real-estate developer over the Aman Resorts Group Ltd. luxury hotel and resort chain. While the pair started as co-investors, they wound up as rivals, battling in courts in the U.K. and U.S. for control, which Amanat lost.
 

Personal Transformation

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Amanat says he was scheduled to speak at the restaurant atop the World Trade Center. He was late, and he says his tardiness saved his life and transformed him.

“I stopped asking myself questions like what the value of my stock was and started asking more fundamental questions of life and death,” Amanat wrote on his website. His new focus is philanthropy and “strengthening moderate hands in the Muslim World.”

And fighting to clear his name.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE