Years before his latest real-estate project ignited an uproar, Sharif El-Gamal racked up at least seven run-ins with the law, including a bust for patronizing a prostitute.
"I regret many things that I did in my youth. I have not always led a perfect life," El-Gamal, 37, said in a statement to the Daily News.
His most recent arrest was for a Sept. 10, 2005, assault on a barber who sublet a Manhattan apartment from El-Gamal's brother, Sammy.
The brothers and another man went to the apartment that afternoon to retrieve back rent from Mark Vassiliev, criminal and civil court records show.
El-Gamal allegedly cursed at Vassiliev, called him the Arabic curse word "sharmouta" and punched him in the face, breaking his nose and cheekbones.
When he was arrested, El-Gamal denied he socked Vassiliev, but conceded, "[Vassiliev's] face could have run into my hand," court papers say.
"I am in real estate. I'm rich. Why would I do this? Why would I jeopardize my career? I'm not a thug," he told cops.
He was charged with misdemeanor assault and harassment. Charges were dropped in 2007 after Vassiliev sued.
El-Gamal eventually settled the civil case for $15,000 - and the 2008 negotiations provided a glimpse into his finances.
Vassiliev's lawyer, Erik L. Gray, said there was no indication El-Gamal had assets beyond a $1.1 million upper West Side pad he owned with his wife.
Even after El-Gamal inked the deal, he was slow to pay and the matter ended up in mediation - where his lawyer, Marshall Isaacs, told Gray there were money problems.
"He had told me [El-Gamal] was struggling financially and was having trouble coming up with the payment," Gray said. "It was based on the fact that he was in real estate and the real estate market was depressed."
El-Gamal agreed to fork over $1,360 in interest and fees but paid up in installments, Gray said.
If his 2008 cries of poverty were genuine, El-Gamal experienced a dramatic reversal of fortune a year later, scoring a $39 million mortgage to buy a W. 27th St. commercial building.
He had a partner, Egyptian-born businessman Hisham Elzanaty, who co-signed the loan. Elzanaty denied to discuss his dealings with El-Gamal.
In a deposition for the Vassiliev suit, El-Gamal testified he worked as a waiter from 1997 to 2001 when he "moved onto greener pastures."
In 2002, he became a commercial real estate broker and started his own company, Soho Properties, a year later.
El-Gamal began amassing a property portfolio in 2007, snatching up and managing apartment buildings in Harlem and Washington Heights.
He bought the property where he plans to build a $100 million Islamic cultural center, two blocks from Ground Zero, for nearly $5 million in July 2009.
The son of a bank executive, El-Gamal has said he turned to Islam after 9/11 and that his religious awakening followed a troubled youth.
He pleaded guilty in 1994, 1998 and 1999 to disorderly conduct in Manhattan.
He also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 1990, DWI in 1992 and attempted petit larceny in 1993, Nassau County prosecutors said.
Details were unavailable, but a source confirmed a 1994 arrest for patronizing a prostitute.
El-Gamal says he's a different man now.
"My faith teaches me every day about humility. I have been humbled by my imperfections. But my faith also teaches me about forgiveness," he said in the statement.
"While I might not be proud of some of my actions in the past, I am extremely proud of the Park51 project and what it will mean to thousands of New Yorkers of all faiths and denominations who live in Lower Manhattan."
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