Self-proclaimed ‘Wolf of Rush Street,’ business partner of Joe Berrios’ son-in-law, indicted on federal prostitution charges

Chicago entrepreneur Iman Bambooyani calls himself “The Wolf of Rush Street,” a flashy, politically connected businessman who has dabbled in everything from valet parking to restaurants, real estate, wind farms and telemedicine.

Now, Bambooyani, who has long-standing business ties to the indicted son-in-law of former Cook County Democratic boss Joseph Berrios, is facing federal criminal charges alleging he arranged to have women travel out of state for high-paid trysts with himself and others, including an Arizona doctor with whom he also has had business dealings.

Bambooyani, 42, was quietly charged on May 8 with one count of transporting individuals over state lines for sex, which carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.

Also charged was Dr. Hojat Askari, of Prescott, Arizona, nicknamed “Grandpa,” who was accused of paying Bambooyani tens of thousands of dollars in 2018 to finance the women’s travel and other expenses. Askari also was charged with lying to FBI agents when he denied having met the women for sex.

Both Bambooyani and Askari pleaded not guilty to the charges during an arraignment Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert, who ordered them each released on a $100,000 appearance bond that did not require them to post any cash.

Prosecutors had asked for electronic monitoring and a curfew, saying both men had “significant financial means” to travel and had dual citizenship in the U.S. and Iran.

Gilbert declined to impose these extra conditions, noting that neither man has indicated an intent to duck the charges. In addition to the appearance bond, Askari’s wife agreed to serve as his third-party custodian at their second home in Beverly Hills, California.

The indictment was a relatively rare invocation of the Mann Act, which makes it a federal crime to induce anyone to travel over state lines for sexual purposes.

It’s unclear if the grand jury investigation that led to the charges has any connection to the ongoing case against James Weiss, Berrios’ son-in-law, who is accused of trying to bribe a state senator to support legislation expanding the use of so-called sweepstakes gaming machines.

Weiss, who is married to Berrios’ daughter, former state Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios, has pleaded not guilty in that case and is scheduled for trial later this year. In addition to once heading the Cook County Democratic Party, Joe Berrios was also Cook County assessor from 2010 to 2018.

The Weiss probe also led to charges against then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced last year to more than five years in prison. It also involved the undercover work of former state Sen. Terry Link, who wore a wire on Arroyo and later pleaded guilty to unrelated tax charges.

The lead attorney who appeared on Bambooyani’s behalf at the arraignment Thursday, Ilia Usharovich, also represents Weiss. Usharovich had no immediate comment on either case when reached by phone Friday.

Thursday’s hearing also was attended by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu, the U.S. attorney’s office’s section chief for public corruption and organized crime. Bhachu filed an appearance on Bambooyani’s case and consulted with prosecutors several times during the hourlong proceeding.

The 10-page indictment in Bambooyani’s case alleged that between January and May 2018, Bambooyani arranged for four women — two from Miami and two from Chicago — to travel to various states to have sex in exchange for money with Bambooyani, Askari and a business associate of theirs, identified only as “Individual A,” as well as others.

In addition to paying the women cash for sex, Bambooyani and Askari arranged for their travel and lodging in several cities, including Phoenix, Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida, the indictment alleged.

The indictment detailed that Askari allegedly wrote a number of checks from his business bank account for as much as $6,000 after each of the trips. Bambooyani deposited many of the checks into his personal bank account, the indictment alleged.

FBI agents on Nov. 17, 2022, confronted Askari and showed him photos of some of the women and asked about the payments. The indictment alleged Askari lied when he “denied having sex with any of the women introduced to him by Bambooyani.”

He also falsely stated the payments he made to Bambooyani were either reimbursements related to their business partnership — which public records show included real estate deals in Arizona — or “for the benefit of Bambooyani’s family member,” the indictment alleged.

At the arraignment on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Stone said that immediately after meeting with the FBI, Askari “fled” to Iran, where he remained for more than six weeks.

Askari’s California-based attorney, Meghan Blanco, said Askari was in Iran to visit his mother’s gravesite and seek medical attention for an ongoing health issue, not to try and avoid any criminal repercussions.

In a written statement Friday, Blanco said Askari “is a dedicated physician who has spent his entire life helping others.”

“He looks forward to the truth coming out and putting this saga behind him,” the statement read.

Bambooyani is well known in several Chicago business circles, having teamed up with Weiss on a string of valet companies that provided services to pricey Rush Street restaurants and once had millions of dollars in city contracts to park cars on Chicago Public Schools properties as well as other city-owned locations.

On his Instagram profile, Bambooyani repeatedly refers to himself as the “Wolf of Rush Street” with photos depicting a lifestyle of cigars, nightclubs and travel to Turkey, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other exotic locations. One photo still on his profile shows Bambooyani having dinner at Gibsons Italia in Chicago in 2017 with a beaming Weiss and Toni Berrios.

Bambooyani’s connections to Weiss have surfaced in numerous news reports over the years, including in the Tribune.

In 2019, shortly after the sweepstakes gaming investigation went public, the Tribune reported the Teamsters union pension fund had sued Weiss and Bambooyani in U.S. District Court over allegations they spent a decade “using sham companies to avoid paying debts associated with their Chicago-based valet parking enterprise.”

The lawsuit claimed Weiss and his partner emptied one company — Capital Parking LLC — of assets to avoid paying nearly $100,000 owed to the union for employee benefits.

The two have denied the allegations, and the suit was settled in 2021 for an undisclosed sum, according to court records.

In 2018, the Chicago Sun-Times reported another valet company run by Weiss and Bambooyani, Blk & Wht Valet LLC employed a convicted child-sexual predator to help Cubs fans park their cars on a school parking lot near Wrigley Field.

And in 2020, Chicago Public Schools filed a lawsuit in Cook County alleging Weiss and Bambooyani stopped paying CPS for the rights to park cars at schools near Wrigley Field, but collected more than $350,000 from Cubs fans who parked there anyway, court records show. They have denied the allegations, and the suit was still pending as of Friday, records show.

But the valet companies were hardly Bambooyani’s only business venture.

In 2021, he cofounded WaveLytix, a company that promises to use new measuring technology to help reduce water consumption for homes and businesses. A biography of Bambooyani posted on that company’s website also claimed he co-founded an online parking app that was sold for $1.1 billion.

Bambooyani also has co-founded a health care company involved in telemedicine, manages wind and solar farms in Illinois and the Middle East, and runs Kangaroo Propane, an on-demand propane tank delivery platform operating in Illinois and Florida, according to his bio.

The online biography, meanwhile, does not mention any ties to Askari, who founded a medical practice in Prescott, a hill town of about 50,000 between Phoenix and Flagstaff. More recently, Askari spent years attempting to develop a major medical and assisted-living facility there.

Business records show Bambooyani invested in many of the parcels in the subdivision that was to make up Askari’s development. Bambooyani also established several LLCs in recent years that share a Prescott business address with Askari.

At a groundbreaking for the project shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Askari was lauded by the town’s mayor and other dignitaries, who referred to him as “Dr. A,” according to a video of the event available online.

In a speech, Askari referred to the development as his “dream come true.”

His attorneys told the judge in Chicago on Thursday that Askari has since given up his regular practice at the Thumb Butte Medical Center that he founded, but “continues to see patients” on a one-on-one basis.

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