Family Blasts Gov't, Creditors In Iran-Owned Tower Spat

By Natalie Rodriguez
(Law360, New York)

A family seeking to intervene in a suit over assets from the sale of Iran's interest in a Manhattan tower blasted the U.S. government and existing judgment creditors on Friday, alleging they wrongfully tried to get around forfeiture case rules, and asked the court to set a deadline for any further opposition.

In a response supporting their motion to intervene, Jeremy Levin, who was kidnapped in 1984 by terrorists allegedly funded by Iran, and Lucille Levin urged U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest to allow them an opportunity to take a piece of forfeited funds from the sale of 650 Fifth Ave. The family blasted creditors that have already entered into a settlement for the funds and the federal government over allegedly shirking rules regarding forfeiture cases.

“[T]hey seek to avoid those rules and procedures by a private agreement, which eliminates the participation of other victims of Iranian terrorism with identical claims, will not give notice to other victims, and will not allow all claimants to petition for a pro rata share of the forfeiture fund,” the Levins said in a motion.

The family holds a $28.8 million judgment against Iran from a 2009 Washington, D.C., case.

Further, the Levins rebuffed the settling creditors’ arguments that the court does not have jurisdiction to allow the Levins in due to an appeal. The family, however said they would join the appeal and that they do not seek to challenge the terms of the order being appealed.

Separately, the Levins also asked the judge to order any further opposition to be filed within five days. “We do not know of any other parties that will file a response, but in order to bring this to closure, we ask that the court issue a scheduling order,” the letter said.

In February, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued that the Levin’s motion to intervene should be denied for untimeliness, the potential prejudice to current plaintiffs and failure to show a legally protectable interest.

The government also blasted the Levins’ argument that it had failed to properly notify them that they were potential claimants to the suit.

It argued under the Levins’ interpretation, the government would have had to assume the outcome of a Terrorism Risk Insurance Act litigation question that did not exist when the government filed its action in the 650 Fifth Ave. case. Further, it noted that the published notice allowed vigilant parties with an interest to intervene and that more than a dozen judgment creditor claimants were able to do so.

Several others with judgments against Iran have been attempting to carve out a place in the case. In February, the judge blocked Amir Reza Oveissi, whose grandfather was an Iranian general killed during the 1979 Iranian revolution, from consolidating his Washington, DC., case — which has a $307.5 million claim against Iran — with the New York case.

Judge Forrest contended that the consolidation would be unfair to the current plaintiff-claimants who have a settlement agreement to distribute funds from the property’s sale on a pro rata basis.

The Levins are represented by Suzelle M. Smith and Don Howarth of Howarth & Smith.

The U.S. Government is represented by United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and Assistant United States Attorneys Michael D. Lockard, Martin S. Bell and Carolina A. Fornos.

The case is In re: 650 Fifth Avenue and Related Properties, case number 1:08-cv-10934-KBF, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.