A long-time friend of a former Texas used car dealer charged in a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador in the United States said Wednesday that his friend told him in August that he was making a lot of money for not very much work.
Manssor Arbabsiar, known as "Jack" to his friends, brushed away his friend's questions about the source of his good fortune when he stayed at Tom Hosseini's apartment with another college friend in the Iranian provincial capital of Sarandaj around Aug. 18-19. Hosseini said Arbabsiar had "$20,000 to $30,000 cash always in his pocket."
"I said, `What kind of business? Maybe I learn too.' He said `No, next year, a couple years down the road, then I'm going to make you a millionaire too,'" Hosseini said.
Arbabsiar, 56, was being held without bail in New York for his role in the alleged plot to kill Saudi diplomat Adel Al-Jubeir. The U.S. Justice Department contends Arbabsiar and another man working for the Iranian government tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the attack with a bomb while Al-Jubeir was at a restaurant. Arbabsiar is a U.S. citizen who also holds an Iranian passport.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New York, the plot was revealed by an informant inside the world of the Mexican drug trade.
Around Corpus Christi, where Arbabsiar had lived for more than a decade, friends expressed shock that the man they knew as a jokester who liked to make money and have a good time was somehow wrapped up in the plot.
"This guy doesn't have a brain to say no to something," Hosseini said. "Maybe somebody offered good money. ... He didn't know what was going to happen."
Before attending what was then known as Texas A & I University in Kingsville, Arbabsiar lived in Oklahoma, where he tried to learn English, Hosseini said. He said his friend never mastered the language and couldn't read it. Arbabsiar studied civil engineering in Kingsville but did not finish, he said.
Arbabsiar liked to party and go out with women, Hosseini said. On one such occasion in 1981, he and Hosseini went out to a club in Houston, where they were jumped by several guys outside, Hosseini said. Arbabsiar was stabbed repeatedly, spent six months in the hospital and still carries a prominent scar on his left cheek, Hosseini said.
Hosseini said Arbabsiar's first wife left him because he was so disorganized.
He and his second wife, Martha Guerrero, moved into a single-family home in Corpus Christi in 1989. Within the last few years, she moved to the Austin suburb of Round Rock. She told reporters overnight that Arbabsiar didn't live there with her and that he used the address only to obtain a driver's license.
Calls to the home went unanswered Wednesday. But Guerrero said in TV interviews she believes the charges against Arbabsiar are false.
"I cannot for the life of me think that he would be capable of doing that," Guerrero told KVUE in Austin. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, I'm sure of that and I know that his innocence is going to come out."
Another relative later said the FBI told the family not to talk to reporters.
Over the years, Arbabsiar owned various used car lots around town and ran a wholesale used car business. He opened a gyro and kebab restaurant in the local mall. After a while, he sold it and made some money, said Mitchel Hamauei, who met Arbabsiar through mutual friends more than a decade ago.
Hamauei last saw Arbabsiar about a year ago while he was in the area visiting his son at college. He stopped in at Hamauei's deli for a sandwich and some cigarettes.
"He was a real happy go lucky guy," Hamauei said. "He doesn't seem that he could mastermind a plan like that. He's not that spiteful or deceitful. It's way out of character for him."
"He wasn't a radical, he was just a man trying to make a dollar."
Weissert reported from Round Rock.