Drugs, money laundering and real estate: Developer Ben Neman’s guilty plea puts spotlight on DTLA empire

Real estate investor owns the Downtown Car Wash across from L.A. Live

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATED: Jan. 2, 6:16 p.m. Downtown Los Angeles developer Morad “Ben” Neman pleaded guilty to federal charges while his Fashion District textile company admitted to laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars in purported drug money, authorities said.

Neman, 57, owner of Neman Real Estate, and his brother Hersel, 58, face up to 21 and 28 years in federal prison on tax-fraud and money-laundering charges, respectively, for using their textile company, Pacific Eurotex Corp., to launder $370,000 from an undercover agent posing as a cash courier in 2013, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Prosecutors said Pacific Eurotex laundered the money on four separate occasions over two-and-a-half months in 2013, with the Nemans knowing the cash came from illegal activities and that transactions above $10,000 cash needed to be reported. Ben Neman pleaded guilty to four separate counts, including conspiring to defraud the IRS, but not to launder money. Hersel Neman pleaded guilty to three counts, including conspiring to launder money, authorities said. The defendants also agreed to forfeit roughly $3.18 million to the government as part of the deal, officials said.

Neither of the brothers could be reached for comment. Ben Neman’s attorney, Terry Bird, could not immediately be reached for comment, though sources familiar with the plea deals say the pair bargained their sentences down to only two to three years. After TRD‘s story was published, an attorney for Neman provided the following statement.

“The big takeaway here as to Ben Neman is that the government agreed to dismiss all of the money laundering charges against him,” the attorney, Ariel Neuman, said. “He pleaded guilty to certain regulatory and tax offenses, but the government is not moving forward with any other allegations against him.”

Ben Neman was busted shortly after shelling out $22 million in May 2014 to acquire the Downtown Car Wash at 811 W. Olympic Boulevard across from L.A. Live, with hopes of building a mixed-use high-rise featuring a hotel and long-term residential units, records show. At the time of purchase, he told the Los Angeles Times he envisioned a tall structure with street-level retail spanning a combined 500,000 square feet. Planning the project was to take at least two years, during which the car wash would remain open, he noted. Four years later, the car-wash remains intact.

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At the time of the car wash purchase, Ben Neman owned more than 5 million square feet of commercial real estate in the booming DTLA neighborhood, according to the Times. He also owns three other warehouses, including a 152,460-square-foot property at 931 E. Pico Boulevard labeled an “illegal dwelling” by city officials. Other holdings include a 44,430-square-foot industrial building at 663 E. 22nd Street near the Fashion District, property records show. Real Capital Analytics identifies him as the owner of the Manufacturers Bank Building, a 39,775-square-foot office property, located at 200 S. San Pedro Street near Little Tokyo. However, deed records indicate that the property was purchased by Tokyo East LLC, headed by a Shahin Neman, in September 2016. Tokyo East’s business address on the deed is listed as 1433 Griffith Avenue — the same property where Pacific Eurotex and Neman Real Estate Investments have their corporate addresses.

Combined, Neman Real Estate Investments owns six properties with an estimated value of $81 million, according to RCA.

Ben Neman is also linked to several other LLCs, including Towne Plaza Development, Sky High Investments, Downtown Real Property Acquisitors and Yedidia Investments. It is unclear if any have significant value or own property.

In February, he listed his Wallace Neff-designed residence at 805 Linden Drive in Beverly Hills for nearly $15 million.  As of late December, he remained the owner of record of the 5,700-square-foot home.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Ben Neman pleaded guilty to conspiring to use his company to launder purported drug money. In fact, only his company and his brother pleaded guilty to those charges. Furthermore, a release from ICE stated that Pacific Eurotex Corp. received money that appeared to be splattered with blood; however, this allegation does not appear in the indictment, and TRD’s story has been updated to reflect this. This story was also updated to identify the owner listed on the deed for the Manufacturers Bank Building.