A U.S court ordered a Baltimore restaurant owner to pay back around $8.6 million to a Kuwaiti royal, known as Sheikha Alia Salem Al-Sabah, after he was convicted of defrauding her, The New York Times reported.
On Friday, the defendant, Jean Agbodjogbe, was ordered to pay the royal $7.6 million she sent him over several years, in addition to $1 million in punitive damages. This came after the jury found Agbodjogbe guilty of "concealing and misrepresenting his business dealings" with the royal.
The two developed a financial relationship after she had traveled to the U.S back in June 2014 to visit one of her daughters who was attending Johns Hopkins University at the time. Her visit happened to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan, a period of time when Muslims give back to their communities and those in need and fast from dawn to sunset.
So when she stumbled upon Agbodjogbe's halal restaurant, the now-shutdown Nailah's Kitchen, she ordered $10,000 worth of meals and asked that they be delivered to feed worshipers at a local mosque. Her good deed sparked a partnership between the royal and the restaurant owner that continued to flourish even after Al-Sabah went back to Kuwait.
Al-Sabah is an esteemed member of Kuwait's wealthy royal family and reported her net worth at $24 million. Her father is the president of the Gulf nation's national guard, her uncle once served as head of state, and her husband is a former minister of interior.
The court heard that over time, Agbodjogbe convinced the royal to wire him "thousands of dollars at a time," telling her he wanted to expand his restaurant and even "revitalize Baltimore's once-thriving Howard Street." However, the amounts he received from her didn't go towards any of that but were rather spent on his personal expenses.
According to records, the defendant used the money to send his children to private schools and buy several properties including a $400,000-house for his family.
Speaking in court, the man claimed he thought he could freely spend the money because he "considered it a gift."
Al-Sabah's lawyers refuted the defendant's claims in court
The royal's attorneys refuted the man's claims in court, saying their client told him she was sending him money as an investment that would allow him to buy and redevelop properties on her behalf.
The lawyers also accused the once-reputable restaurant owner of inflating his business costs to get more money out of Al-Sabah.
In an email to press, Michael MacWilliams, one of the royal's attorneys, said he was satisfied with the sentence.
"The jury delivered a clear and unmistakable message: The Defendants lied to Ms. Al-Sabah for their own financial gain. The jury found that her unfortunate reliance on Defendants' web of deceptions and concealments was justified and reasonable," MacWilliams wrote.
James Sweeting III, a lawyer representing the now-convicted restaurant owner, confirmed that Agbodjogbe was in the wrong.
"He fell into the money trap. It was a honey hole, and he fell in," the attorney told the jury.