A San Diego Superior Court judge ordered a prominent member of San Diego's immigrant community to return $248,000 to the business group he directs.
Mark Arabo is an activist for Middle Eastern Christians. He also runs the Neighborhood Market Association, which represents 200 stores, mini-marts and gas stations throughout the county.
Two years ago members of the trade group sued Arabo, and several members of the NMA board, over the group's finances.
On November 16, following a three-week trial, Judge Richard Strauss ordered Arabo to return a $210,000 bonus awarded him by the Association’s directors.
The judge also ordered Arabo to return $38,000 in expense payments, which one witness had referred to as “double-dipping.”
Judge Strauss also questioned the credibility of several witnesses in the case.
“This is one of the most unusual cases I’ve had in my 22 years on the bench,” Strauss told the parties last week after closing arguments in the case. “I’ve never heard so much fiction under oath. It’s really unbelievable. I don’t even know where to start.”
Strauss singled out Arabo’s testimony as “incredible.” He specifically criticized Arabo for testifying that he could not tell his own handwriting when asked to compare a his signature on a birthday card to the signature on his driver’s license.
When the plaintiff’s attorney told Arabo he would bring in a handwriting expert to examine the two handwriting samples, Arabo quickly changed his position and acknowledged that the handwriting in question was his.
“And to try and say that you can’t recognize your own handwriting is very difficult for me to believe,” Judge Strauss told Arabo. “And I don’t believe (it).”
Arkan Somo, co-founder and former president/CEO of the NMA, former executive chairmen Samir Salem and Basil Zetouna were the three who sued the NMA. They released the following statement about Judge Strauss’s ruling:
“Our only goals from the beginning were to save the NMA and to expose any misconduct. We are very pleased with this ruling. Justice was served, and the court was able to see through a significant amount of lies and deception. Mr. Arabo has no place running the NMA or any other nonprofit.”
Arabo also released a statement, noting that “I respect the decision of Judge Strauss and look forward to my continued standing with the [Neighborhood Market Association] as an operator of the organization.”
Several NMA board members who support Arabo told NBC 7 they are disappointed with the judge’s ruling and plan to appeal.
“The entire board is in disagreement over [Judge Strauss’s] final conclusion,” said Amad Attisha, the NMA’s executive chairman. “Our association looks forward to the appeal process.”