One of the most prominent businessmen in Montreal, Albert Mashaal, is a defendant in a lawsuit where it is alleged he stole about a million dollars from the estate of his friend, Jack Sofaer.
We have published three stories to date on this lawsuit.
If the Allegations Are True
The lawsuit alleges that Mashaal, his attorney Nicole Benchimol, and three others under their direction, conspired to steal from Sofaer’s estate. Sofaer and Mashaal both fled Iraq in their youth, in the early 1950s, to escape Muslim persecution.
Both men came to the Americas and wound up settling in Montreal and became self-made millionaires.
Mashaal built a real estate empire. His company, Yale Properties Ltd., has vast real estate holdings in Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto and the USA.
Sofaer became a stockbroker, then a trader. When he died in 2013, he left most of his estate to his daughter, Rhonda.
The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in December. It has been lingering in the Quebec court system for almost eight years.
Based on the complaint, and depositions, it is hard to determine who led the alleged swindling – Mashaal or his attorney, Benchimol.
She appears to have profited most and, should the case be proven, may suffer the more serious consequences, including being disbarred and if the authorities find it is within the statute of limitations, criminal prosecution.
Her ethical violations as an attorney, if proven, are not time barred.
Among bad acts and misconduct allegations against Benchimol are:
- She did not prepare a proper retainer agreement as per requirements of the Quebec bar association, since it lacked any detail as to how she would bill the estate.
- She managed to pay herself without billing or describing the scope of her work.
- She provided little or no work product.
- She averaged $100,000 per month in legal fees, paid from the estate, without a bill and without informing the client, Rhonda, the daughter, principle heir and trustee of the estate.
- She provided invoices for her alleged work for the estate only after she was sued.
- Her payments were approved by Mashaal, despite Rhonda being the main heir and a trustee.
- Her post facto records of hours spent, as seen on her invoices, were inflated and, in some instances, fabricated.
- She was paid more than $700,000, all from blank checks drawn against the estate, a whopping figure and all out of proportion to work that was performed.
- She arranged to transfer a condominium in Florida owned by the estate into her name, taking money from the estate to pay one of the other heirs illegally, in order to get ownership of the condominium.
- She arranged to illegally pay $100,000 to a senile man who lived in a nursing home, who had no legal claim to the estate. His daughter cashed the check. She also had no claim to the estate.
Benchimol declined to return a call for an interview.
Frank Report would have posted a photograph of Benchimol, but none are available online. Her Linked-in account does not have a photograph. She does not appear to have any social media accounts.
Her law practice appears to be focused entirely on one client, Mashaal, and his Yale Properties Ltd. Her office is located at Yale Properties Ltd. headquarters at 2015 Rue Peel, Montréal, Quebec.
How Mashaal Became Trustee
Because he was a longtime friend of the late Sofaer, Mashaal was asked to be a trustee by Rhonda Sofaer.
Rhonda had known Mashaal since she was a child. Mashaal consented to serve as trustee, saying that he would not accept compensation, but requiring that his choice of attorney, Benchimol, be engaged as attorney for the estate.
Although Mashall said he would not accept money for his role as trustee, he wrote himself a check for $180,000. After the lawsuit commenced, he was required to pay it back, since it was taken illegally.
The method Mashaal and Benchimol allegedly used to swindle the estate was clearly aided by Rhonda’s sincere trust in Mashaal, who was like an uncle to her.
The two methods they allegedly employed were obfuscation – by not informing Rhonda about the whereabouts of the money they were liquidating for her father, encouraging her to trust in her father’s old friend [Mashaal] and by gaining access to the bank account.
Told by Mashaal that, for convenience, Rhonda should sign blank checks drawn against the estate’s bank accounts, she did as she was instructed. Mashaal allegedly told her he needed the blank checks signed in order for him to pay incidental expenses related to the estate like snow plowing or lawn cutting for her father’s commercial plaza.
Trusting Mashaal implicitly, Rhonda signed about 20 blank checks.
Without telling Rhonda, Mashaal and Benchimol used the blank checks to pay themselves and three others named in the lawsuit more than $1 million.
Mashaal and Benchimol allegedly would simply fill in the blank checks signed by Rhonda and pay themselves without scrutiny and without giving notice to Rhonda.
Yale Might Stand an Investigation
If the allegations of this lawsuit are proven, Yale Properties Ltd. might stand an investigation.
They manage millions of square feet of real estate in partnership with the Standard Life Assurance Company. Standard has invested millions of their clients’ money and, if Mashaal swindled an old friend’s daughter out of a million, or more, there may be serious financial improprieties connected to his management of Yale Properties Ltd.
Yale Properties Ltd. might be subject to a criminal probe by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police should this lawsuit be successful.
How Benchimol Got a Free Condo
The lawsuit alleges that Benchimol obtained title to Jack Sofaer’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida ocean condo, using the money she overpaid herself to buy it.
When Sofaer died, he left more than 90 percent of his estate to his daughter Rhonda. He left his condo and another parcel of real estate to his girlfriend, Lilliane Dallaire.
Attorney Benchimol arranged for Lilliane to get her inheritance ahead of Rhonda in direct violation of the will, then secretly arranged to buy the condo from her, for $350,000, before the estate was settled.
It is alleged that Benchimol overcharged the estate by as much as $650,000 then bought the condo for $350,000 keeping the difference and in effect getting a free condominium from the estate.
Kept in the Dark
Rhonda expected that her father’s estate was about $25 million. As much as $10 million is missing.
While at present, the estate is only suing for $1 million, which they allege is easily provable theft, there are clues that Benchimol stole millions.
At one point Benchimol reportedly told Rhonda that the estate was much, much lower than anticipated and that Rhonda would only get one million in total.
Yet Rhonda was aware of at least one stock portfolio that her father owned that was worth more than $10 million.
What happened to that? That could not have all been lost.
She also recalled that Benchimol handled another stock portfolios of her father’s – the value of which was about $5 million.
Did that disappear too? How could she be entitled to inherit only $1 million?
She asked to see records. Benchimol told her to consult with Mashaal.
She went to Mashaal. He told her to be patient, that Benchimol was handling everything competently and to consult with Benchimol again. She went back to her and again to Mashaal.
Back and forth again and again and, finally, after seven months, with no end in sight, with no idea what was happening to her money, Rhonda finally went to her own attorney.
Even then Benchimol and Mashaal would not turn over the records from the estate. Finally a judge ordered them to turn over the records and the bank accounts and there were millions in the accounts they controlled.
While Rhonda got an eight figure inheritance, [not just one million as they reportedly told her she would get] there appears to be at least $10 million missing.
What happened to the money beyond the one million she is allegedly suing Mashaal and Benchimol for overcharging and swindling from the estate?
All I can say right now is that the investigation is being intensively carried on.