NEW YORK (CBS 2) — As the Ground Zero mosque controversy continues to simmer, questions continue about the background of the man who wants to build the $100 million Islamic cultural and religious center.
Mosque developer Sharif El-Gamal has often been reluctant to answer questions.
After he won the right to tear down the 152-year-old building blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, El-Gamal got defensive when asked about the mosque by CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer.
“It’s a community center, if you call it a community center, we would talk,” El-Gamal said.
Kramer reports the developer’s reluctance to talk may have been related to his prior run-ins with the law.
His most recent arrest was in 2005 for assault on a man he met while working as a waiter at Serafina Restaurant, who sublet an apartment from his brother. He reportedly punched the man, breaking his nose and cheekbone and spit on him.
El-Gamal first said he didn’t hit the man, but arrest documents obtained by CBS 2 showed he later conceded “his face could have run into my hand.”
Records showed El-Gamal also had trouble coming up with the $15,000 settlement reached in 2008, and had to pay interest . El-Gamal also has a number of other arrests on his record:
-In 1990, he was arrested in Nassau County and pled guilty to disorderly conduct.
-In 1992, he pled guilty in Nassau to DWI and paid a $350 fine.
-In 1993, he pled guilty in Nassau to attempted petit larceny and paid a $100 fine.
-In 1994, arrested for disorderly conduct in Manhattan.
-In 1998, there was another Manhattan disorderly conduct arrest.
-In 1999, yet another Manhattan disorderly conduct arrest.
A potential problem for the mosque developer is a deposition he gave in the assault case in October 2007. When asked if he was ever convicted or pled guilty to a crime, El-Gamal replied “no.”
Lately, he has been trying to resurrect his image, sitting down for a lengthy 60 Minutes interview with Scott Pelley.
When Pelley asked if it occurred to him that putting a project so close to Ground Zero would heighten tensions, El-Gamal replied “not at all.”
“I did not hold myself or my faith accountable for the tragedy,” El-Gamal said.
El-Gamal also owes over $227,000 in unpaid real estate taxes and a spokesman for the Department of Finance said interest will be added for each and every day its unpaid.
Another question surrounding the debate is whether the Muslim cleric of the mosque — Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf — knew about El-Gamal’s criminal background and unpaid taxes before partnering with him.
El-Gamal refused repeated requests from CBS 2 Monday to comment on the story.
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