Munr Kazmir’s story appeared to be a remarkable tale of immigrant success.
He came to the U.S. in 1984 from Pakistan, where he trained to become a doctor. He gained wealth launching a string of health care companies in Bergen County and prominence as a Republican campaign donor and fundraiser at the highest levels, notably for former President George W. Bush and Governor Christie, who named him to government boards.
Along the way the Closter businessman realized a dream, opening a school promoting American ideals in his native Pakistan.
But the school struggled early, draining Kazmir’s finances, forcing him to default on a $2.5 million government loan he used to help build the school and leading him to file for bankruptcy reorganization.
The issues surrounding Kazmir’s financial plight are now being played out in Bankruptcy Court, where a federal lending agency is opposing his bid for court protection. It has accused him in court papers of making “false representations” about his finances in the information he submitted to secure the loan for the company he formed to build the school. With a hearing scheduled for mid-December in Newark, the judge in the case has expressed skepticism that Kazmir will be able to successfully emerge from his growing pile of debts, which include mortgages on extensive real estate holdings.
Kazmir’s predicament has raised questions about his ability to raise money for causes and politicians he has helped in the past, most of whom declined to comment on him or his situation. It has also placed a cloud over an otherwise impressive résumé.
Kazmir, who filed for bankruptcy reorganization in May claiming $16 million in debts, contends that the lending agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., is being unnecessarily tough on him, suggesting in an interview that it is a case of “political victimization” by a Democratic administration because he is a noted Republican fundraiser.
OPIC, which lends capital to overseas projects that promote America’s values, says it is just trying to get repayment on a 7-year-old, still unpaid loan.
“Dr. Kazmir personally guaranteed the loan,” said Charlie Stadtlander, a spokesman for the agency.
This is not the first time Kazmir has been in a dispute with the government and accused its agencies of retribution.
In the 1990s, he was investigated by the state Division of Consumer Affairs for allegedly helping therapists working for one of his health care companies cheat on the national licensing examination. He accused the outgoing Democratic administration of trying to punish him because he was a Republican. In 1998, he signed a consent agreement in which he admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay $26,000 in fines and costs — including $1,000 for each of the 22 times an employee of his company, Quality Health Care, “worked as an unlicensed respiratory health care therapist,” according to the agreement.
Born to an Israeli mother and Pakistani father in 1957 in Pakistan, Kazmir came to the U.S. in his late 20s, and would gain attention as a devout Jew committed to promoting American values in a staunchly Muslim country. Although he never qualified to become a doctor in the U.S., his training led him to found a number of health care companies, mostly based in Leonia, including Direct Meds Inc., licensed to provide prescription medicines throughout the U.S.
As his business interests swelled, so did his political and civic activities. He has strongly supported Jewish causes as well as law enforcement agencies, and since 1999 he has donated more than $590,000 to Washington politicians from both parties, though mostly to Republicans, according to the InfluenceExplorer.com website database.
In 2004, Kazmir became one of Bush’s Rangers — fundraisers who collected more than $200,000 for the president’s campaign.
“Munr always had the reputation as a strong fundraiser,” said a Republican fundraiser who declined to be identified. “Certainly, all New Jersey statewide candidates would call on him.”
Kazmir’s extensive contacts led to several non-salaried government appointments. In 2001, three years after his consent agreement with consumer affairs, outgoing Gov. Christie Whitman made him chairman of the New Jersey Lottery Commission. Bush appointed Kazmir to the U.S. Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee in 2003. And in 2011, Christie put Kazmir on the board of the state Health Care Facilities Financing Authority.
Evidence of Kazmir’s status as a political insider lines the walls of his modest office in Leonia. There are mementos and numerous photographs of him with politicians, including seven with Christie, one with Christie’s wife, and many with Bush. There are also a dozen framed personal notes from the former president, including one from 2009, wishing Kazmir a happy birthday.
Political insiders say Kazmir has often thrown open his million-dollar Closter home for parties to support Jewish causes and for political fundraisers, including a $500-a-head fundraising lunch for Christie in 2009.
“I think, like many people, he wants to be part of the process,” said state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, whose 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate Kazmir supported. “I think he was grateful to the country that has absorbed him and has allowed him to succeed.”
Kazmir said he came up with the idea for a school in Pakistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks highlighted the anger of radical Muslims toward the U.S. He created the American International School System, now known as the Premier American School, with a former FBI agent who worked on terrorism cases. The school aims to teach Muslim children “equality, individualism and competitiveness,” according to an article Kazmir wrote for the Huffington Post website.
Set on an 11-acre campus in densely populated Lahore, the school has a swimming pool, an amphitheater and a high-tech auditorium — a long way from the poverty that mires much of the country.
Kazmir said he expected the school to be profitable enough to use tuition to pay off the $2.5 million loan from OPIC. But when it opened in 2007, only 12 students had registered — well below the 400 he had expected and the 1,000 that the school was built to hold, Kazmir said. The next few years were tough, too, as political turmoil and the threat of violence from anti-American extremists dissuaded some parents from sending their children to the school, Kazmir said. That also pushed up expenses, as the school had to increase security to protect students and teachers — many of whom were from the U.S., Europe and other developed countries, he said.
As a result, he said, he has had to put up his own money — including loans from his Leonia businesses — to cover the school’s operating costs. He said he has now lent $7.5 million to the school.
To date, Kazmir has repaid little of the 2007 OPIC loan in contentious negotiations that have included two defaults, a restructuring and a bounced check. Since the second default, in August 2012, he has paid just $45,000. The matter was seemingly settled in June 2013 with Kazmir’s agreeing to pay a $2.8 million judgment — but no payments followed.
Kazmir claimed that after the restructuring, he didn’t make the payments because he and the school were being audited by the IRS, during which his bank accounts were frozen for nine months at the end of 2012. By the time the accounts were unfrozen, OPIC had filed suit seeking the judgment, and later — after the two sides settled — the agency refused to agree to a payment schedule sought by Kazmir, he said.
In May of this year, a week after filing for bankruptcy reorganization, Kazmir sent a letter to the inspector general for the U.S. Agency for International Development, accusing OPIC of mounting an “illegal, abusive and harassing campaign” to get the loan repaid. Among the actions he cited was OPIC’s enlisting help from the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office to get information on Kazmir’s businesses and bank accounts.
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Immigrant dream runs into detour as GOP backer from Closter wages bankruptcy battle
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