A prominent Brentwood businessman's numerous ventures have soured in recent months, imperiling perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars handed to him personally by many in L.A.'s tight-knit Persian Jewish community.

Ezri Namvar and his Los Angeles investment company, Namco Capital Group Inc., are facing at least 17 Superior Court lawsuits accusing them of failing to pay back investors. But that's not all of Namvar's troubles. Security Pacific Bank, which Namvar bought in 1997, failed last month; 11 Arizona real estate ventures tied to him recently filed for bankruptcy, and he's been unable to sell his big stake in the mammoth downtown Park Fifth condominium development, which, if built, would be the tallest such building west of Chicago.

"He's sort of in a bit of a financial freefall," said Seong Kim, a Steptoe & Johnson attorney representing an investor who's suing Namvar.

While many business chiefs are in trouble in this recession, Namvar, who's been bedeviled by the downturn in the real estate market, stands out. That's partly because his holdings are sizable and numerous but mainly because of the way he raised money. Namvar, 57, an immigrant from Iran, got a good deal of his money from fellow Persian Jews who live in and around Beverly Hills.

Said Kim: "Namvar has borrowed hundreds of millions in the Iranian community."

The lawsuits allege that Namco has been unable to pay back investors who gave him anywhere from $200,000 up to nearly $18 million each. The losses, according to attorneys representing the plaintiffs, have caused many to lose their life savings.

Investors typically got a two-page promissory note that essentially said Namco would pay them back with interest up to 8 percent. Some were personally guaranteed by Namvar. Investors have no collateral or recourse, except to sue.

The investors would not talk, at least not on the record, but several lawyers did.

Attorneys working on cases against Namvar estimate the total amount owed to the mostly Persian investors at around $400 million, although they don't know for sure. About 300 to 400 investors are owed money.

Namvar is not a large public figure in L.A.'s wider business community, but he and his investment company had amassed an impressive portfolio over the last several decades, holding many properties secretly through multiple limited liability corporations, according to A. David Youssefyeh, an attorney with Los Angeles firm ADY Law Group who is advising 10 clients who claim they are owed money by Namvar but have not sued.

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