BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore restaurant owner who developed a financial relationship with a Kuwaiti royal was found guilty of defrauding the woman and is now ordered to pay her more than $8 million.
Jean Agbodjogbe was convicted Friday of concealing and misrepresenting his business dealings with Alia Salem Al-Sabah for his own gain, The Baltimore Sun reported. The verdict became available Tuesday.
Al-Sabah is a member of a wealthy royal family in Kuwait. Her father is the president of the national guard, her husband is a former minister of the interior and her uncle served as head of state. She reported her self worth at $24 million.
The royal visited the United States in June 2014 while one of her daughters was attending Johns Hopkins University. During that time, she stopped at Agbodjogbe's halal restaurant, Nailah’s Kitchen.
Al-Sabah ordered $10,000 worth of food from the restaurant to feed worshipers at a neighborhood mosque as an act of charity for the holy month of Ramadan. The agreement sparked the beginning of a partnership between the restaurant owner and the royal even after she returned to Kuwait.
Over time, Agbodjogbe convinced Al-Sabah to wire him thousands of dollars at a time, first to expand his restaurant, then to revitalize Baltimore's once-thriving Howard Street. Records show he bought several properties but also spent the money on personal expenses like sending his children to private school and buying a house for his family for over $400,000.
Agbodjogbe said during the trial that he considered the money as a gift that he could spend freely. Al-Sabah's attorneys said she sent the money as an investment for the restaurant owner to buy and redevelop properties on her behalf. The attorneys also said Agbodjogbe inflated the cost of his business dealings to get more money from Al-Sabah.
“He fell into the money trap. It was a honey hole, and he fell in," said James Sweeting III, an attorney representing Agbodjogbe told the jury.
Agbodjogbe was ordered to pay back Al-Sabah the $7.6 million she sent to him over several years. The jury also ordered him to pay $1 million in punitive damages.
“The jury delivered a clear and unmistakable message: The Defendants lied to Ms. Al-Sabah for their own financial gain. The jury found that her unfortunate reliance on Defendants’ web of deceptions and concealments was justified and reasonable,” Michael MacWilliams, an attorney for Al-Sabah, wrote in an email.