CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. — When Mansour Arbabsiar visited an old friend this August in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, the accused conspirator in the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was a picture of optimism.
“I’m going to make good money,” Arbabsiar told Tom Hosseini, a store owner in Corpus Christi who has known Arbabsiar since the late 1970s, when both came to the United States as students. Arbabsiar, who had fistfuls of crisp new $100 bills, asked Hosseini to clear a couple of debts for him on Hosseini’s return to the United States.
Hosseini said in an interview Wednesday that he pressed Arbabsiar about his new business a couple of times but dropped the matter when it became clear that Arbabsiar wouldn’t talk about it.
Hosseini wonders whether Arbabsiar wasn’t referring to the alleged $1.5 million plot to hire Mexican gangsters to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. And he wonders how anyone — but most especially an elite military organization such as Iran’s Quds force — would get involved with Arbabsiar in the first place.
“It’s a puzzle,” Hosseini said. “Maybe somebody offered him some money. He doesn’t have the brain to say no.”
Within the small Iranian American community in this Gulf Coast city, Arbabsiar, 56, was well known and well liked. But he was also renowned for being almost comically absent-minded, perpetually losing keys, cellphones, briefcases, anything that wasn’t tied down. He failed at a succession of ventures from used cars to kebabs.
“He was just not organized,” said David Tomscha, who once owned a car lot with Arbabsiar. “He would lose the titles to cars. Or he’d say it was a 1989 Grand Marquis when it was an ’82. And when you’d call him on it, he’d say, ‘What’s the difference?’ Eventually, I bought him out.”
There is a certain bewilderment in Corpus Christi that anyone as apparently hapless as Arbabsiar could get involved in an international conspiracy.
“A goofy guy who always had a smile on his face,” said Mitchel Hamauei, also a store owner. “Let me put it this way: He’s no mastermind.”
Arbabsiar is originally from the city of Kermanshah, near the Iranian border with Iraq. He continued to have substantial property holdings in Kermanshah, which Hosseini said were worth about $2 million and which provided Arbabsiar with a steady income. He also has a brother and sister in Iran.
One Iranian American businessman said he had long believed that Arbabsiar’s persistent forgetfulness was related to an attack he survived relatively shortly after he arrived in the United States. He was stabbed repeatedly and nearly died when attacked in Houston in 1983. The businessman declined to be identified because he said he feared for the safety of his relatives in Iran.
Hosseini said that Arbabsiar was left with a scar on his face and scars on his chest and back.
Hosseini said that Arbabsiar attended, off and on, what was then Texas A&I University between 1979 and 1983 but flunked out and that he eventually graduated from Southern College in Louisiana.
By 1987, Arbabsiar had divorced his first wife, Esperanza, whom he had met at Texas A&I. Public records show that in the course of the divorce proceedings, she filed a protective order against him.
Shortly after his arrival in the United States, friends started to call Arbabsiar “Jack” because of his taste for Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Hosseini said. And as recently as last year, Arbabsiar was arrested for felony possession of a narcotic.
In 1991, Arbabsiar married Marta Guerrero, and they have a son who is a college sophomore studying biology.
Arbabsiar opened his first business, B&M Autosales, in Corpus Christi in 1988, according to public records. He opened another car lot in 1992 and then closed it when he incorporated Johnny’s Loan Co. in 1996. He started another financial venture called Tat Finance Co., and in April 2000, he tried the restaurant business when he founded Gyros and Kabob. The restaurant closed in 2003.
He and and his wife moved several years ago to Austin, where Arbabsiar opened a wholesale car sales business.
In January 2010, a home owned by Arbabsiar in Corpus Christi went into foreclosure, and it was auctioned off later that year. He and his wife separated.
About the same time, Arbabsiar decided that his life in the United States was over, and he told friends that he was moving back to Iran permanently.
“He didn’t have any business at the end,” Hosseini said, “and his wife had rejected him.”
Tate reported from Washington.