On a foggy January night in 2017, several hundred of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people gathered at a black-tie, $8000-per head dinner at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. They were there to celebrate the coming of a new world order and their host for the evening was an almost 70-year-old Republican real estate billionaire known for buying and selling extravagant hotels.
No, not Donald Trump. In fact, Trump, whose inauguration was just three days away, wasn’t originally scheduled to attend this gathering; he only decided at the last minute to fly in for an appearance, thereby necessitating a rearrangement of the seating so that he could take his place beside the man who was the evening’s host, his affable, and ever-loyal friend of 30 years, the Lebanese-American, thrice-divorced, polo-playing Thomas Joseph Barrack.
Barrack, now 75, who had once been chairman of Miramax, and who was founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based private equity real estate firm Colony Capital, had been the Trump campaign’s biggest early backer, a bold move given that Trump was initially shunned by both the Republican Party and the business establishment. As a reward, Trump had gifted his longtime chum with what seemed a plum post: chairman of his inaugural. Barrack promptly raised an unprecedented $107 million, more than double what had been procured for Obama. This glittering gala at the Mellon Auditorium — Barrack’s Chairman’s Global Dinner—was the opening act of his four-day inaugural extravaganza.
“I think what you’re going to find is a president-elect who has a keen sensitivity to listening, to understanding, to drawing firm and hard lines when he needs to, and this cultural sixth sense,” Barrack proclaimed to the crowd, which included such luminaries as Las Vegas moguls Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, NFL owners Robert Kraft, Woody Johnson, and Dan Snyder, as well as Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, Warner Music Group majority owner Len Blavatnik, and supermarket investor Ron Burkle. Soon-to-be Trump cabinet officials like Steve Mnuchin, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Wilbur Ross, and Rick Perry were also there. As was Paul Manafort and Rudy Giuliani.
But, alas, no party lasts forever. Just four and a half years later—on July 20, 2021—FBI agents burst into an investor meeting Barrack was attending in the San Fernando Valley, pushed him up against a wall, and slapped him in handcuffs. Barrack was then taken to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where he found himself sharing a cell with a man with a stab wound. For a guy who was not just used to staying in five-star hotels, but used to owning them, it must have seemed a Job-like comeuppance.
It’s not difficult to find former Trump officials and allies who’ve run afoul of the law — many of the attendees at Barrack’s Chairman’s Dinner have to varying degrees found themselves tangled up in legal snafus since the end of the Trump administration. Like indicted-convicted-and-pardoned Manafort and could-be-indicted-at-any-minute Giuliani. But Barrack’s case is a little different. Because his charges have nothing to do with the usual Trumpy malfeasance, like insurrection or election interference or even inaugural excesses involving money laundering and fraud (which the Southern District of New York had been investigating for a time). Instead, along with garden variety charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI, Barrack is being accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
It’s not the same as treason or even spying for another government, but it’s in the national security ballpark. “Espionage lite,” it’s sometimes called.
Barrack, the Justice Department is arguing, is guilty of using his influence within the top echelons of the Trump administration to surreptitiously work to alter U.S. policy for the benefit of the United Arab Emirates. If he’s convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison, possibly more for additional charges.
“The evidence will be absolutely and concretely disproven,” a stubbly, worn-looking Barrack, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet underneath his blue suit, told reporters five days later, outside the Brooklyn federal courthouse. Then he stepped into a waiting SUV and sped away, temporarily free on a $250 million bail, one of the largest in U.S. history. Now his trial has just begun in Brooklyn under U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, the man who presided over the conviction of Mexican drug lord El Chapo.
Amid all the lavish praise he heaped on Donald Trump during his prime-time endorsement of him at the Republican National Convention back in 2016, Barrack—who self-deprecatingly referred to himself as the “anchovy on Ivanka’s Caesar salad,” because he was speaking just before her—also managed to work in a little endorsement of himself.
“I’m the son of the very humble Lebanese grocer from Culver City, California,” he declared, “and I’m here because of the amazing magic elixir that happened between the DNA of a thousand civilizations from the Levant, and the beauty, and the wonder, and the opportunity of America that puts all of us here in this rapture of the American dream.” But like so many of Barrack’s over-the-top statements, this one, while true, was not complete.”
“I’m here because of the amazing magic elixir that happened between the DNA of a thousand civilizations from the Levant, and the beauty, and the wonder, and the opportunity of America that puts all of us here in this rapture of the American dream.”
The grandson of Christian Arab immigrants who came to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century from Zahleh, a city in the foothills east of Beirut, Barrack has often portrayed himself as a kind of Middle Eastern-American Horatio Alger. And while Barrack was indeed the son of a secretary and a grocer and worked relentlessly hard to catapult himself up out of his modest background, it was not hard work alone that enabled his ascendance. Barrack also had great people skills, a passion for embellished storytelling, a courtier-like predilection for subservience that served him well during the Trump era but also a magnetic — and what may ultimately turn out to be tragic — attraction to celebrity, politics, and risk.
His love of celebrities was first nurtured in Culver City, where he was raised in a small stucco house in the shadow of MGM Studios. His home was tantalizingly close to the stables that served as MGM’s barn, and by the time he was in fourth grade, he had already struck his first deal. In exchange for cleaning out the stalls, he could ride horses for free. “I became very good at mucking stalls of the horses of the stars,” he once told New York magazine. This early lesson that doing favors for the rich and powerful could yield big rewards — even if you had to shovel horse manure — turned out to be seminal.
In 1972, after graduating USC, and then USD Law School, Barrack landed a job working for Herbert Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer. Kalmbach would eventually serve six months in prison for improper fundraising during the 1970 midterm elections and offering to sell a European ambassadorship in exchange for a $100,000 donation, but at the time, the attorney was at the height of his power and influence. Perhaps as impressive to young Barrack, Kalmbach was friends with rightwing icon John Wayne.
Kalmbach soon dispatched the Arabic-speaking Barrack to Saudi Arabia to work on a gas deal where he became squash partner to a “local Saudi” who just happened to be a son of the king. “I had no idea who he was,” Barrack once claimed, “but my boss said, ‘However much he wants to play, you play. We ended up playing three hours a day.” Barrack soon parlayed that friendship into another job as an American representative of this Saudi prince and his brothers, or “the boys,” as he once described them to The New York Times.
It was during this period, while on a foray in Beirut, that Barrack met and grew close to Paul Manafort, whom decades later he would recommend Trump hire to run his campaign. When in April 2017, CNN asked Barrack whether Manafort might have colluded with Russia to benefit Trump, Barrack replied, “it’s heresy, it’s impossible. . . I found his character to be bulletproof.” Of course, little more than a year later, Manafort would be convicted of tax and bank fraud, and plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and also witness tampering as part of a plea deal — a plea deal that would later be voided on account of Manafort’s lying to investigators. He would eventually be pardoned by Trump.
But back in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s, Barrack’s gig with “the boys” was so lucrative that he was soon able to purchase a ranch in Santa Ynez, which was just six miles down the road from Ronald Reagan, who was then gearing up to run for president, and in whose administration the young Barrack would end up serving. But Barrack’s tenure in Reagan’s Washington was short-lived. While he was supposed to work in the Commerce Department, which seemed a natural fit, he wound up instead as a deputy undersecretary to the Interior Secretary. After six months, he decamped back to LA.
By the late 1980s, Barrack was working for Texas oil heir Robert Bass, who happened to be the owner of New York’s Plaza Hotel. On behalf of Bass, Barrack sold the hotel to Donald Trump, who, having recently built Trump Tower, was still nonetheless desperate to prove himself as a player in the Manhattan real estate market. Barrack managed to sell Trump the Plaza for $408 million, then a record price for a hotel, possibly thanks to an assist from the press, to whom he may have leaked negotiation details in order to make it look like the bidding was more frenzied than it was. Regardless of exactly how he accomplished it, the deal cemented Barrack’s star not just in Bass’s firmament, but in that of the real estate world more generally.
For Trump, the picture was far less rosy; by 1992 his Plaza Hotel would be bankrupt. And yet, Barrack still managed to forge both an ongoing business relationship and friendship with Trump. Barrack eventually even got an apartment in Trump Parc East on Central Park South, reportedly just across the hall from Eric Trump. Over the years, Barrack would occasionally offer Trump financing for his various deals.
In 1990, with his newfound real estate fame, Barrack was able to launch Colony Capital, which invested in the heavily discounted real estate and mortgage portfolios then being auctioned by the newly established Resolution Trust Corporation. According to various news reports at the time, Barrack’s real estate investments were generating returns of 50, 60, or even 80 percent. But as recession spread around the globe, Barrack pivoted to international acquisitions, picking up properties like the historic Raffles Hotel chain in Asia, the Aga Khan’s Costa Smeralda resorts in Sardinia (which would be redecorated by the second Mrs. Barrack, designer Laurel Beebe Barrack), and the Savoy Group of five-star London Hotels, all of which he purchased at what he deemed distressed pricing. Colony’s backers, meanwhile, included a wide range of high-profile investors, including the Qatari ruling family, his former boss Bob Bass, and many of L.A.’s wealthiest figures like the late Eli Broad, Ron Tutor (who also happens to be Lebanese), and Gary Winnick.
By 2005, a Fortune magazine cover story crowned Barrack “arguably the best real estate investor on the planet today.”
Soon Barrack was even investing, quite literally, in distressed celebrities as well, structuring deals with Michael Jackson and star photographer Annie Liebovitz. “It’s so not Tom’s thing,” the actor and Barrack’s good friend (and investor) Rob Lowe told New York magazine of the request made by Lebanese-American manager Tohmé Tohmé, that Barrack meet with Jackson to help figure out how he could avoid foreclosure of his beloved Neverland ranch. “Getting roped into spending half an hour with Michael Jackson,” said Lowe, “is just not on his agenda.” But, of course, the very fact that it was Lowe who was claiming that Barrack wasn’t starstruck only seemed further proof that he was.
Rob Lowe (L) and Tom Barrack attend Boris Becker’s birthday party at Mortons on June 29, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)
Meanwhile, Barrack continued traveling the world on his Colony Capital jet, cultivating his intricate web of connections with government officials, clients, and businessmen in order to source, and fundraise for, his various deals. After all, as he would later tell his Mueller interviewers, he was “in the business of building relationships.” But it was in the Middle East, Qatar in particular, where he had his strongest ties and greatest source of backing: Qatar’s Al-Thani ruling family. To the Al-Thanis, Barrack functioned as a kind of modern-day courtier—part American fixer, part high-end concierge.
When the ruling family’s youngest son, who was living at the Beverly Wilshire with a bevy of servants, wanted to transfer from community college to USC, it was Barrack, a university trustee, who arranged a meeting between the sheikh’s mother and the USC president, after which he was accepted. In 2014, when the Al-Thanis, after purchasing eight acres above the Bel-Air country club on Chalon Road for $35 million, were ready to embark on the construction of a Peter Marino-designed 77,000 square-foot main house, plus a 10-bedroom guest house, at a cost reputed to be in the hundreds of millions, it was Barrack who filed the plans.
Then, in 2016, when Donald Trump decided it was time to give his presidential ambitions another go, Barrack’s attraction to celebrity, politics, and risk all seemed to perfectly converge. Though at first, like everyone else, Barrack had a hard time taking Trump’s bid for the presidency all that seriously. “I did this thinking that [Trump] was just renegotiating his ‘Apprentice’ contract,” Barrack would later tell Bloomberg. “At the very beginning, nobody really knew: Was he serious or not serious?”
Of course, it turned out Trump was dead serious.
BY APRIL OF 2016, it had become clear that Trump was likely going to win the Republican nomination. But all his talk of a “Muslim ban,” was sowing panic through the royal majlises of the Persian Gulf. Into this breach stepped Barrack. “My competitive advantage,” he once told C-Suite Quarterly, “is that I am still my dad’s son. I am constantly scouring the globe to find oranges that are ripe to be picked in one part of the world and sold in another part of the world that is hungry for oranges.” Now the orange in question was Donald Trump himself.
“I am happy to bring him to you for a cup of coffee if you are interested,” Barrack emailed UAE Ambassador al-Otaiba, who is one of the most powerful and well-connected figures in Washington, and also happens to be the son of the first Emirati oil minister, hoping to quell Arab fears about the Donald.
Nicknamed “Brotaiba,” due to his alleged erstwhile penchant for prostitutes and partying, Otaiba had known Barrack since 2009, when he connected him with the infamous Malaysian investor, Jho Low, who is now an international fugitive but who back then did Barrack a solid by purchasing Colony’s L’Ermitage Beverly Hills Hotel. Nonetheless, for all his swagger, the ever-shrewd Otaiba was a skeptic when it came to candidate Trump. “[C]onfusion about your friend Donald Trump is VERY high,” he wrote to Barrack, and Trump “has many people extremely worried.” To which Barrack calmly replied, “We can turn him to prudence, he needs a few really smart Arab minds to whom he can confer — u r at the top of that list!”
Also at the top of that list, apparently, was another Emirati with whom Barrack was then conferring: Rashid Al-Malik, a real estate developer with whom Barrack had once tried, and failed, to do a big project in Oakland. While Barrack’s indictment does not contain any kind of contract between him and the UAE, an April 2016 email exchange between the two men does seem to hint at an arrangement of sorts.
Al-Malik first reaches out to Barrack in order to confirm that he would, in fact, be traveling to the UAE to meet on May 1, 2016, with the man referenced in the indictment as “Emirati Official 2,” widely believed to be UAE national security advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, who is the brother of Emirati ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, who is known as MBZ, and who, at the time, was the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. That confirmed, Al-Malik emails Barrack a follow-up to let him know that the Emirati official is “[v]ery much focusing on building the right relationships to help the country and he knows ambassadors can’t do much and they are limited even if they are active.”
Barrack responds to Al-Malik almost as if laying out his credentials — that he had been “a thirty-year partner with the Candidate” and that he had “staffed the Campaign.” In response, Al-Malik writes that the official wants “a long-term relationship with [Barrack] and it will be great to speak freely and suggest strategies and to help them with contacts and relationships.”
On May 1, after meeting in the UAE with Emirati official 2, Barrack emailed Al-Malik to ask what he had made of their meeting. “Beyond expectations and excited to move forward!” Al-Malik replied. With Al-Malik as an intermediary — or, some would say, handler —there would now, it seems, be an unofficial, back-channel line of communication between Barrack and the UAE’s most senior officials, the goal of which, according to Barrack’s indictment, was to influence public opinion, as well as the foreign policy positions of the Trump campaign, and eventually, the Trump administration, for the benefit of the UAE. On May 12, for example, less than two weeks after his UAE visit, Barrack shared a draft of a speech on U.S. energy policy that candidate Trump would soon be giving at a petroleum conference in North Dakota. “What do you think of his energy message,” he texted Al-Malik. “[R]eview for me quickly. I need a few pro-Middle East aspects.”
Just one hour later, Al-Malik texted back, providing several “pro-Middle East aspects” his people wanted added to the speech, including the mentioning of the rulers of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia by name. The very next day, Barrack emailed his old friend Paul Manafort, now Trump’s campaign manager, a revised draft of the speech into which much of the essence of Al-Malik’s language had been incorporated, writing, “This is probably as close as I can get without crossing a lot of lines. Give me a call.”
In the end, the speech that Trump gave in North Dakota did not mention either Middle East ruler by name, but it did include a vow to “work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.”
“[A]mazing,” Al-Malik e-mailed Barrack after the speech, telling him that MBZ had watched and that “everybody here are happy with the results.”
Another example of Barrack/UAE collaboration was Barrack’s Fortune op–ed published in October 2016, just before the election, titled, “What the Middle East Needs Now from America.” In his editorial, Barrack praised the “brilliant young leaders” of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and argued that “American foreign policy must persuade these bold visionaries to lean West rather than East.” That argument, in and of itself, wasn’t particularly surprising — after Obama’s Iran deal, which had alienated Persian Gulf monarchies, nobody could be shocked by a hawkish Republican attempting to shift the balance of power back to its traditional center. But what almost no one knew was that Barrack had gotten significant input into his editorial, including some of its wording, from very senior Emirati officials.
“Big boss loved it,” Al-Malik texted in response to a draft of Barrack’s editorial that had been sent to him by Barrack’s right-hand man, a young Colony Capital employee from Santa Barbara named Matthew Grimes (who would also be indicted alongside Barrack). But Al-Malik had just one lingering issue with the essay: the draft referred to Middle Eastern governments as “dictatorships.” “They didn’t like Dictatorships word,” Al-Malik wrote, requesting that the word be changed to “governments or regimes.”
The wording was altered to Al-Malik’s specifications.
Congratulating Trump at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Getty images)
Once Trump was sworn into office in 2017 and Barrack’s job as chairman of the inaugural was over, he no longer had an official political title. Nonetheless, he was still deeply enmeshed in the political sphere as a presidential BFF. Or, to paraphrase Roger Stone’s Nixonian description of Barrack, he was Trump’s Bebe Rebozzo. As such, Barrack was in frequent touch with the president and was continuing to do what he had always done, favors for the well-connected.
And there were plenty of favors to do. The UAE, for instance, enlisted Barrack’s help in trying to get U.S. Representative Steve Stockman appointed ambassador to the UAE (for reasons that remain unclear). “They r very keen on the ambassador they suggested to help the relationship,” Al-Malik texted Barrack on March 15th, 2017. “Your help will go long way,” to which Barrack replied, “Yes—give me name again.”
Barrack might have succeeded with this mission, except that less than two weeks later, Stockman, a conservative, born–again politician from Texas, got arrested for mishandling charitable donations, money laundering, federal election law violations, and a slew of other counts of criminal conduct (ultimately, Stockman would be convicted on all but one count, sentenced to ten years, then pardoned by Trump).
To be clear, there is no record in Barrack’s indictment of him ever having received direct payment for any of these alleged efforts on behalf of the UAE, but the U.S. government is arguing that he was paid in other ways. For instance, in September 2017, when Colony Capital was looking for co-investment in its newly purchased One California Plaza office building in downtown L.A., it was the UAE’s sovereign wealth fund that committed $74 million to the project (the Fund’s first investment with Colony since 2008). Just five months later, the UAE made another, far bigger commitment: $300 million to invest in Colony’s digital infrastructure fund. In Colony’s investment tracker, this sum was attributed to “Barrack magic.”
As a source who knows Barrack, and who himself works in the Middle East, explains it, Barrack “doesn’t need a bribe. He’s got all these real estate funds. It’s all about capital infusions.”
Beyond such infusions, Barrack had other favors of his own to ask. For instance, he wanted Al-Malik to get “Emirati Official 1”(the man widely presumed to be MBZ) to pressure a senior U.S. official (who is unnamed) to appoint Barrack a “special envoy” to the Middle East. Al-Malik agreed to do so, and for a moment it seemed as if Barrack’s wishes might come true. On April 12, 2017, Barrack texted Al-Malik to share that President Trump had discussed with him an appointment as ambassador to the UAE or special envoy to the Middle East, noting that either appointment “would give Abu Dhabi more power!”
“This will be great for us,” Al-Malik replied. “And make you deliver more. Very effective operation.”
Barrack “doesn’t need a bribe. He’s got all these real estate funds. It’s all about capital infusions.”
In the end, though, Barrack got neither appointment. “Jared [Kushner] killed that because he wanted [it for himself],” says a source close to the Trump White House, explaining why it fell apart. “He wanted the whole Middle East to be his sandbox.”
In December 2017, Barrack met in Washington, D.C. with FBI agents and Special Counsel attorneys as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. According to the FBI’s notes of the interview, subjects discussed included such matters as the $107 million raised for the inaugural (Barrack made sure to note that Trump was “frugal”). But Barrack was also shown a particularly interesting email. It was dated July 13, 2016, just days before the Republican National Convention would nominate Trump as its candidate for president. Its sender was Barrack’s friend, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. And its subject was “Removed from Platform.”
As we know from email excerpts included in Barrack’s indictment, certain language in the Republican Party Platform — specifically, the portion that “called for the release of 28 pages of sensitive documents” gathered during the investigation into 9/11 which “allegedly contain information that asserts involvement by the Saudi Government/Royals” in the attacks — had been removed from the platform before the convention. We also know that Manafort requested that Barrack inform his “friends” that those offending passages had been scrubbed.
Barrack told the Mueller investigators that he “did not remember the specific context of the email” and that it was “not clear” to him to whom exactly Manafort had been referring when he told Barrack to pass information about the change to his “friends.” But further investigation showed that Barrack did indeed pass along Manafort’s information to at least one friend, Al-Malik. “[V]ery confidential,” he wrote, “but you can share with HH,” referring, presumably, to UAE prince MBZ, a close ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.
Barrack’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia, where he had spent so much time earlier in his career, doesn’t appear, at least on the surface, to be nearly as intimate as it was with the UAE, but in some ways, it was just as problematic. In February 2019, for instance — just four months after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in a slaying widely presumed to have been orchestrated by MBS — Barrack attended a Milken Institute summit at the St. Regis Hotel in Abu Dhabi, and in front of a full ballroom appeared to defend the murder.
“Whatever happened [with] Saudi Arabia,” declared the man who wanted to be the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, “the atrocities in America are equal, or worse. The atrocities in any autocratic country are dictated by the rule of law. So, for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there when we have a young man in a regime that’s trying to push themselves into 2030, I think is a mistake.” Then he added the coup de grace: “The corrupt hand of the West has been the primary instigator in the kingdom, and in the resource curse across the region, forever.”
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) welcomes Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the White House on May 15, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu via Getty Images)
“There was no audible gasp,” recalls an attendee of the summit, describing the relative calm in which the remarks were received in Abu Dhabi. “[Barrack] spoke his true mind. I think the way to think of it is, you are sitting there as a guest in the house of very close long-term friends where you feel very comfortable to be authentic, and your boss is the most powerful person in the world at the time, and you forget that the cameras are rolling… Why wouldn’t he have said that when he thought he didn’t have to be accountable?”
But the very next day, as news of Barrack’s comments spread online, there were gasps in the United States. In fact, the blowback was so bad Barrack not only felt compelled to release a statement apologizing for “not making it clear at the time that I consider the killing reprehensible,” but also declaring his loyalty to the US. “I love America and am myself a product of American freedom, American leadership, and the American dream,” he said. “I have always believed, and continue to believe, that the United States is the greatest country in the world.”
It was just two weeks later, on February 27, 2019, that subpoenas and government document requests issued by the “greatest country in the world,” began raining down on Colony Capital. The topics about which the government was seeking records included, among other things, the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump’s inaugural committee, and any communications related to any businesses, sovereign wealth funds, or individuals associated with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
On June 20, 2019, Tom Barrack met with the FBI in the Washington, D.C. conference room of law firm Paul Hastings only about a mile from the White House, and yet a world away. Multiple agents were in attendance, and they took notes but did not record the session. The discussion likely touched on questions like this:
Had Rashid Al-Malik ever asked Barrack to do anything for the United Arab Emirates?
Had he ever suggested any policies for Barrack to pursue?
Had anyone associated with the Middle East ever asked Barrack to download a messaging app?
Did Barrack perhaps have a dedicated telephone to communicate with someone in the Middle East?
Had anyone in the Middle East ever asked him to get one?
The government took no immediate action after Barrack’s interview—in which Barrack denied that Al-Malik asked him to do anything for the U.A.E.—but the next two years turned out to be tumultuous for him nonetheless. For starters, thanks to a steeply declining stock price, and a recalcitrant activist investor, Barrack was all but forced to step down from Colony Capital, the company he had founded. For another, his engagement to a would-be fourth Mrs. Barrack, Cio Soler, a Peruvian fashion entrepreneur about thirty years his junior, fell apart. Then, on July 20th, 2021, the hammer finally came down, when FBI agents slapped Barrack in handcuffs at his meeting in the San Fernando Valley. Arranging his $250 million bail wasn’t a walk in the park, either, particularly since Barrack is a dual citizen of Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S. To make it work, his package had to be secured not just by 21 million shares of Colony Capital stock, $5 million in cash, and his $18 million Aspen estate near Buttermilk Mountain, but also by the Los Angeles-area home of his third ex-wife, Rachelle Barrack, and that of his adult son, T.J. Barrack.
With his Brooklyn trial having just begun, Barrack’s future will soon be decided by 12 jurors. And yet there have already been ominous signs for the man who used to clean the stables for MGM movie stars’ horses. In a pretrial motion, Barrack’s lawyers attempted to disqualify any juror who admitted during questioning that they didn’t like Donald Trump. But Judge Cogan ruled against Barrack’s lawyers, declaring that jurors could dislike Trump, provided they could keep an open mind about Barrack.
Still, no matter how the jurors ultimately decide his case, the storybook aspect of Barrack’s glamorous American dream life may have come to its conclusion. “Tom’s life is already over,” says someone who worked with Barrack at Colony Capital, “even if he’s acquitted.”
Johanna Berkman is an investigative journalist who writes about business and wealth culture. A writer at large for Air Mail, this is her first story for LAMag.
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