In what has been called the largest civil forfeiture in U.S. history, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled on June 29th that victims of terrorism linked to Iran are entitled to more than $1 billion in assets of the Alavi Foundation and 650 Fifth Avenue Company, entities controlled by the Iranian government.
The plaintiffs—victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism represented by the law firm Stroock—were seeking “attachment and turnover” of real estate to compensate them for injuries they suffered as a result of Iran’s involvement in terrorist activity. Stroock’s clients hold unsatisfied judgments against Iran and the issue in the case was whether these properties may be used to partially satisfy those judgments.
The properties include the 36-story office tower at 650 Fifth Avenue in the heart of Manhattan. It is very desirable real estate space, reported the New York Times, with Nike recently signing a 15-year lease on seven of the skyscraper's floors. Also included are properties in Queens, NY, Houston, TX, Rockville, MD, and Carmichael, CA.
James Bernard, a partner in Stroock’s Litigation Department who led the effort on behalf of a group of judgment creditors, said, “after many years of challenging and complex litigation, we are very pleased to have brought our clients one step closer to obtaining the recovery to which they are entitled. This is a landmark ruling.”
U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest issued her written decision in the bench trial simultaneously with a verdict returned by the jury in the parallel federal civil forfeiture jury trial brought by the U.S. Government against the Alavi Foundation and 650 Fifth Avenue Co. The jury in that case found that the property at issue is also subject to civil forfeiture.
Pursuant to an earlier settlement agreement with the Government, any assets recovered in the civil forfeiture jury trial trial will be transferred to Stroock’s clients.
Following the jury’s verdict, acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said that “For over a decade, hiding in plain sight, this 36-story Manhattan office tower secretly served as a front for the Iranian government and as a gateway for millions of dollars to be funneled to Iran in clear violation of U.S. sanctions laws.”
Stroock’s team consisted of litigation partner James L. Bernard, counsel Curtis C. Mechling, associates Patrick N. Petrocelli, and Pamela S. Takefman, and former associates Nate Stopper, Ben Weathers-Lowin, Monica Hanna, Jeremy Rosof, and Judy Goodwin.
Other law firms who worked on the case include Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, Salon Marrow Dyckman Newman & Broudy LLP, DLA Piper, Wiggins Child Pantazis Fisher Goldfarb PLLC, Mellon & Webster PC, Foote Mielke Chavez & O’Neil LLC, Ramey & Hailey, the Dupont Law Firm LLP, the Fleischman Law Firm, and Heideman Nudelman & Kalik PC.