Assyrian civic club lawsuit resolved

After five years of litigation over who said what to whom at Turlock's Assyrian American Civic Club, there was silence, with Judge William Mayhew dismissing a defamation lawsuit Wednesday morning.

Later, former club President Ramin Odisho, who had sued eight club members, declared victory over rumor and innuendo, even as he declined to discuss the details of a confidential settlement lodged with Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Odisho said his critics falsely had accused him of stealing $800,000 from the club because his job procuring high-end automobiles for car dealers around the region gave him a flashy lifestyle that included expensive suits and a steady stream of fancy rides.

An investigation by Turlock police and the district attorney's office came up empty, though Odisho admits that he broke club bylaws when he used bingo proceeds to cash a $3,186 check to pay club expenses for security guards and electrical work.

"They couldn't find anything because it was all based on hearsay, jealousy," said Odisho, 38, of Turlock.

The dust-up that began in 2000 prompted 21 articles in The Bee and The Turlock Journal and eventually produced four volumes of legal documents as attorneys filed claims and counterclaims.

The club temporarily lost its bingo license over questions about its nonprofit status.

But Odisho was not deterred, even when some club members asked him to resign his presidency. He finished his second term in January 2002 and later became the western regional representative for the Assyrian American National Federation.

Turlock has more than 12,000 residents of Assyrian descent, according to the lawsuit, and the club at 2618 N. Golden State Blvd. has more than 1,000 members.

As the battle was waged, Odisho penned a series of letters to club members, in one instance claiming that his critics were "no different than the Osama bin Laden people."

A year after his term ended, Odisho and Therese Lazar, a former club member who headed an internal audit committee during Odisho's presidency, filed a lawsuit against the club, saying they had been humiliated by false accusations that led to searches of their homes and offices in 2001.

Later, Odisho and Lazar dismissed the club from the lawsuit, focusing on eight members: Fred Adams, Cyrus Amirfar, Sam B'Racho, William Jacobs, Simon Mirza, Emanuel Oushana, Julie Sleeper and Orahim Yacoub.

Settlement includes gag order

In legal papers, the eight defendants said they merely were exercising their free-speech rights. Odisho and Lazar collected depositions from witnesses who said they heard the defendants refer to Odisho as a thief who stole money to buy new cars.

The eight club members went through a series of lawyers before the case landed on the desk of attorney Dave Wallis of Sacramento, who settled the matter a few weeks ago as a two- to three-week trial approached.

Legal papers mention Odisho and Lazar's demands for $75,000 each, as well as a counteroffer of $2,500 for Odisho and $10,000 for Lazar.

The final outcome remains confidential because the settlement includes a gag order.

"The less said about it, the better, so they can move on," Wallis said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.