Friend or Foe…
In Montreal, a Family Friend Is Taken to Court
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Frank Report has undertaken an investigation into a civil lawsuit that is set for trial in December before the Superior Court of Quebec. The principal allegation is that defendant, Albert Mashaal, orchestrated the illegal removal of more than $1 million from the estate of his deceased and longtime friend, Jack Sofaer, while serving as a trustee for the estate.
What makes this case interesting is that Mashaal is one of the wealthiest men in Montreal. A bigtime developer, he is the president of family-owned Yale Properties Ltd., with real estate holdings throughout North America, titled in Yale Properties Ltd., or in subsidiaries and joint venture companies, such as First Real Properties Ltd., Second Real Properties Ltd., and Fourth Real Properties Ltd., which control millions of square feet of commercial real estate.
According to the complaint, filed by the decedent’s daughter, Rhonda Sofaer — Albert Mashall, aided and abetted by another trustee for the estate, along with professionals chosen by Mashaal to assist in its liquidation – an accountant, bookkeeper and lawyer – conspired to bilk the estate out of a million dollars.
With apparently enormous wealth, one would think that Mashaal does not need to swindle from his friend’s daughter a comparatively insignificant amount. One of the defense arguments is expected to be that there is no motive. Mashaal doesn’t need the money.
The argument is not dispositive. I recall an heiress whose family was also from Montreal. Because of my work as an investigative reporter, she was convicted of identity theft and harboring an illegal alien for financial gain. The sum involved was about $300,000, a pittance for a woman whose net worth is $200 million. Sentenced to 81 months in US federal prison, Clare Bronfman, one of the heirs of the Seagram’s liquor fortune, did not commit her crimes of conviction for financial gain. She had other motives, which was the subject of my original investigation.
In the matter of Sofaer v. Mashaal — if Mashaal, now 86, orchestrated the conversion of one million dollars from a man who was supposedly his friend — he likely had another motive, other than a need for the money.
Part of Iraqi-Jewish Community
Another interesting fact in this case is that both Mashaal and Jack Sofaer, who died eight years ago, (at age 87, in 2013) are Iraqi-Jews, who left their homeland in the 1950s and found success in Canada.
Mashaal made a fortune in real estate; Sofaer made his money in stocks.
The Late Jack Sofaer Was a Stockbroker
After leaving Iraq in or around 1952, Sofaer came to the USA, where he met and married an Iraqi-Jewish woman, Evelyn Obadiah. The couple made their home in Montreal, where their only daughter, Rhonda, was born.
Sofaer worked for decades as a stockbroker for Shearson, and Scotia McLeod. In the 1980s, he became a widower, and he also left the brokerage firms and began buying and selling stocks for himself. His net worth was at least $15 million at the time of his death.
Sofaer and Mashaal were friends for decades, but the friendship was, at its core, based on their shared identity as Iraqi-Jews, members of a community, ancient and historic, which for thousands of years lived in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, from the time of the Babylonian captivity — and who were forced to flee their homeland by Muslim persecution in Iraq. Most of the community went to Israel.
But Iraqi-Jewish communities sprung up in Montreal, Toronto and Southern Florida. Through the same will, the demand of themselves of hard work, and the belief that no one will do them any favors, that preserved them as a minority in the Middle East, from the fall of Jerusalem, and for a thousand years – the last refuge of the Jews, the “people without a land,” and then, following that, resisting Muslim conversion down another 13 long centuries; marrying among themselves, holding their tribe together, favoring one another, always working, always with the same knowledge that none were their friends save themselves, and that the outside world would never understand.
And then, for their most recent travails, after millennia in Mesopotamia, fleeing en masse, finding a home on another continent. They went from the cradle of civilization to the youngest of nations.
An affluent population soon emerged with subtle and nuanced relationships, financial and otherwise, forged by their shared identity as refugees. Though the first generation, those born in Iraq, who fled from it some 70 years ago, are dwindling fast, the community is still strong, and growing, transplanted, its old culture intact.
Was There a Feud?’…
The Questionability of Human Nature
Jack Sofaer did not name Albert Mashaal as one of the trustees of his will. It was Jack’s daughter, Rhonda, who had him appointed, about a month after her father died. It is not surprising that a grief-stricken daughter would turn to an old family friend, a man successful in his own right to oversee and handle her inheritance of her father’s wealth.
Rhonda recalled when, as a child of five, she met Mashaal. Her father and Mashaal saw each other sometimes daily for months on end. The families knew each other. Their children grew up together. They were of the same clan.
After Rhonda left home, she saw less of Mashaal, as decades passed, yet her image of him, of a man, firm, strong, aligned with her father, remained in her imagination long after the reality had ceased to exist.
A source familiar with the case and the people involved, said that Rhonda believed Mashaal was one of her father’s oldest and dearest friends. Now she believes she was mistaken.
“Albert Mashaal did not need to take money from the estate,” the source said. “He is far wealthier than Jack. Albert is one of the richest men in Montreal. This was something different. I think it was a ‘blood feud,’ dating back years. They were friends once, but something happened, something changed, at least for Albert. Jack may not have been fully aware.”
It is hard to understand.
Beneath the surface of this seemingly united Iraqi-Jewish community are allegiances, and apparent allegiances, loyalties and disloyalties, apparent or otherwise, and competition. There is also an undercurrent, whispered by some who have gained entry into a closely-guarded world, of ancient rites and secret rituals, perhaps dying off with the first generation; of vendettas secretly carried out, carried on sometimes over decades, awaiting the moment to prevail and restore some sort of justice of the “eye for an eye” variety which might date back to the escape from Iraq and the secreting of wealth from confiscation or perhaps from an earlier period.
If friendship was a bond required by their common plight or fate, betrayal came with a curse. For a people used to having naught for physical weapons, and whose apparent solidarity was essential to survival in hostile lands, there was another way of exacting retribution on enemies from within.
If it is true that Mashaal had an insult to avenge, Rhonda did not understand. She saw a man professing friendship with her late father, a leader of her community. Was he waiting for a chance to impoverish the child of his deceased enemy in the ancient way, by settling a score with the dead?
Superstitions?… or Maybe Not
For those who believe in the here and hereafter, and that our ancestors watch us from above, what more satisfying vengeance is there than to make the progeny of your enemy penniless, to deprive the fruits of his efforts of a lifetime from getting into the hands of his children, as the deceased watches from another world, or condition, powerless to help as his children suffer?
For those who believe in curses and revenge, who have faith in mystic incantations and ritualistic spells, practiced since before the dawn of Babylonia, carried out and delivering consequences from beyond the grave, this could be justice of a most satisfying kind. A man might happily go to his eternal rest believing he avenged wrongs done in this lifetime by disturbing the peace of the departed in their afterlife.
Of course, this is a mere notion, entirely unproven, not even alleged, but there are those who have brushed up against the hoodoo, the jinx, and the hex, and the evil eye, and they know that belief in these things, such as curses and blessings, of sorcery and Satanism, and black magic, are part of the beliefs of an ancient world and there may be some strange, underlying tension that may have created a fabric of pretense – to appear to be a man’s friend to his grieving daughter, while planning to sabotage all that he left behind to his child.
Then, again, while this is whispered, there is no proof whatsoever that any of this remotely touches on the present controversy. We are dealing in facts and not in weird and esoteric things. Still, a source familiar with both men, a member of their community, told me that the breach between Sofaer and Mashaal ran deep and occurred in Montreal. According to the source, Sofaer declined to participate in a certain group or society whose Iraqi-Jewish membership was secretive and who practiced certain rites.
Invitation is offered but once; rejection is final. The group has a manner of operating with outsiders in business that, to say the least, is rapacious as the core of business conduct: To present oneself as the friend of one and all, benevolent and kind, and to fleece any and all “who are not one of us,” wherever possible. This is the modus operendi.
Is it so strange and improbable? There are some who believe this kind of behavior is not unique to a community of refugees made good in Montreal but is a microcosm of the great modus operendi of the elite and fabulously wealthy all over the world.
Facts Must Be Presented, Not Mere Speculation
None of this has been substantiated but is offered only as a troubling back story, troubling because to mention it, even as an improbability, is to impugn, and to suggest it as remotely plausible, without evidence, is to risk the sober, fact-based analysis necessary to judge this civil case – with a million dollars at stake.
Yet it forms a backdrop – if the allegations are true and not the product of fabrication – that there must be a reason. Why would a man who is among the financial elite, who spent 60 years developing and managing his company, safeguarding its pristine reputation – to appear to eat as the vulture does upon his deceased, fellow refugee friend?
If the allegations are true, and in our next story we will examine them closely- they are troubling to say the least – they defy at first glance an innocent explanation. If they are true, and there is ample documentation to support the allegations, then a fraud was perpetrated by a very rich man on his deceased friend.
What was the motive?
Two sources who knew about the case told me there was a schism:
One source quoted Sofaer as saying about Mashaal and his allies, “What they were doing is not right.” The source added, “Jack broke off connection with Mashaal, or Mashaal broke off with him because of Jack’s refusal to participate in something which Jack did not feel was morally right.”
Whether this double hearsay is truth or fiction is hard to determine. Even if true, it may be impossible to prove and is likely never to be evidence admissible in court.
Mashaal Calls Lawsuit ‘Frivolous’
There is another side of this story which we must investigate: A prominent man can be besmirched even if he is innocent by allegations alone. His company’s unblemished reputation can be sullied by mere suspicion, by allegations, and innuendo. Here is a woman with inherited wealth bringing allegations against a prominent man whose reputation does not have a breath of scandal, a man who has no known history of doing this to anyone else.
Some wealthy people settle quickly for certain sums, with confidentiality agreements, out of practicality, deeming it the settlement of a nuisance. Others stick to a principle of never settling and opposing every inch of the way, forcing plaintiffs to pay their attorneys enormous sums to continue the fight. Mashaal has made no effort to settle, as far as Frank Report could ascertain. Rhonda has likely spent more in legal fees than she is likely to collect.
When Frank Report contacted Mashaal, he denied wrongdoing.
“It’s a frivolous lawsuit,” he said, adding that he was one of three trustees and everything was done jointly by all three.
[Rhonda Sofaer, who was one of the trustees, says otherwise.]
He also said Rhonda was the cause of delays that kept this case alive in the Quebec court system for eight years.
A little fact-checking revealed that the trial was scheduled for November 2020. Searching records pertaining to the suit, Frank Report discovered that, according to an email sent to Judge Sylvain Lussier, j.s.c., it was apparently Mashaal (not Rhonda) who sought postponement of the trial, just days before it was scheduled to start, because, at the last minute, he switched attorneys. The judge granted a continuance of more than a year, and the trial is now scheduled to start in December 2021.
Lawyers and Fees
Prior to the request for a continuance, Mashaal and the other defendants [two accountants, an attorney and a bookkeeper] were represented by the same attorney. Mashaal now has his own attorney, while the other defendants are represented by the original attorney in the case. This may mean nothing more than the addition of extra legal muscle. Mashaal can afford the best lawyers in Montreal.
It might also suggest a schism between the other defendants and Mashaal.
On the other hand, what about Rhonda Sofaer?
She has had two lawyers for years. She maintains that the defendants have delayed everything, causing her to spend more in legal fees than the amount of damages she seeks. It hasn’t even gone to trial where she will spend additional money in legal fees.
Why would anyone spend more on a lawsuit than the amount they allege was swindled?
When asked, Rhonda said the case is more than recouping money improperly taken. She is pursuing the lawsuit for additional reasons:
- To expose the betrayal of the high-profile trustee, Mashaal, who claimed to be her father’s friend
- To expose his professional team who violated the ethical duties of their profession.
- To bring attention to the fact that there are not enough safeguards in the estate system of law, especially if there are trusts involved.
She told Frank Report that this is a textbook case of how people get taken advantage of, either illegally or through loopholes in the law.
The Defendants Might Have Had Differing Intentions
If the allegations are true, perhaps it was not Mashaal, but the codefendants, professionals who were chosen by Mashaal to work for the estate, that did the swindling. Each of the codefendants had a role in the movement of money from the estate to their bank accounts, paid to them in blank checks.
Mashaal said he had nothing but the best intentions, motivated solely by the desire to serve as trustee without compensation to help the daughter of his friend.
All but one of the codefendants worked for Mashaal in the past. Most of the alleged misappropriated or illegally withdrawn money went into their bank accounts. Was Mashaal trying to help his friends? Did he know they were overcharging or charging for work they did not do?
When one looks at payments they received, and the way they were paid, it looks suspicious. Did Mashaal look away, not caring? Did he understand their duplicity, which he facilitated, by, for example, providing them payments through secretly drawn blank checks?
Defendants May Be Blameless
We must not be hasty to infer the defendants committed wrongdoing. The defendants assert that they did proper professional work and were paid fairly for their services, even if paid by blank checks and provided the ability to write their own payments without the need to submit a bill in advance.
The documents and the way they procured payment will lead to some inferences, which lacking refutation and exculpatory evidence, on the surface do not look good.
Case Should Attract Attention as It Nears Trial
We have hardly scratched the surface. If the case looks bad for the codefendants, the defense has not been heard.
As it nears trial, because the lawsuit is against the president of Yale Properties, which owns prominent buildings in major cities, especially in Montreal, the city where the trial will be held, this is sure to get publicity.
Since Mashaal is partnered in joint ventures in mega real estate investments with high-profile life insurance companies, such as Manulife and the Standard Life Assurance Company of Canada, whose reputations are essential to preserving trust with the public, the case may attract additional national publicity despite the fact that it has avoided notice until now.
Frank Report is pleased, once again, to be the first to report and investigate what might be a fascinating and burgeoning story.
In Part #2, Frank Report will look deeper into the allegations of how the alleged theft of $1 million dollars, by a very wealthy Canadian, with his team of professionals, occurred – the nuts and bolts of it.
In Part #2, we leave speculation, innuendo and motive behind and look at the facts, just the facts, indisputable and dispositive facts.