"He showed me a catalog full of pictures of beautiful flowers, and I ordered a huge amount, great big beautiful daffodils, like the kind they grow up in Puyallup, Washington. I also ordered some wonderful tulips with nice long stems. And he offered such a good deal; the price was very good. It was very hard to resist." U.S. Denmar, the salesman explained, was a new business working out of a small office on Oberlin Drive near Sorrento Valley. Its overhead was low, and it had good connections in Israel and elsewhere that could deliver some of the most popular new varieties.
About a week later, the bulbs arrived. McKinney and his wife Evelyn planted them, then ordered more. "It was a huge amount of bulbs, delivered weekly, and everything looked like it was going great. The flowers were coming along nicely, so I ordered even more." Pretty soon the McKinneys, court records show, were spending more than a thousand dollars a week on bulbs ordered from U.S. Denmar.
But a few months later the bulbs began to produce some unwanted surprises. "I ordered regular tulips, which are nice, long-stemmed, and ended up with -- I guess you could call them pygmy tulips. And I specifically ordered red-and-white tulips for Valentine's Day. Guess what I got? Black ones!" McKinney says he complained to a man whom he knew as "Gus" Doummar, who said he was the owner of U.S. Denmar, but got nowhere. "I wouldn't pay him, so he got all kicked out of shape, and we ended up in a court action, and I ended up not paying him."
In court papers dated July 1991, McKinney alleged that bulbs delivered by U.S. Denmar in January of that year "failed to properly bloom after being planted according to customary practice. Additionally, some orders were incorrectly filled, in that bulbs which were ordered were not received or bulbs which were not ordered by Evon Gardens were received.
"U.S. Denmar failed to disclose the true quality and nature of the bulbs. Instead, the bulbs were represented to be fit for Evon Gardens' purposes. The failure to disclose and the false representations were made by U.S. Denmar with the intent to defraud and deceive Evon Gardens. U.S. Denmar was negligent in digging the bulbs for sale before the plants were dormant and in storing and curing the bulbs. U.S. Denmar was negligent in its cooling and transporting of the bulbs."
But that, it turns out, wasn't the half of it.
What McKinney didn't know was that, according to records filed with the San Diego County Recorder's Office, one of the two partners in U.S. Denmar was Abdullah M. Binladen. Address records show that an Abdullah M. Binladen maintained a personal address at two San Diego post-office boxes during the 1990s. The records also show that the same Abdullah Binladen later moved his address to a unit in an apartment building on Rogers Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A man listed as Abdullah M. Binladen, currently listed as having that same address, has been identified as the half-brother of Osama bin Laden, now the world's most wanted man.
The San Diego records also show that Binladen was co-owner of U.S. Denmar.
What was Binladen, now 35, heir to a multibillion-dollar Middle Eastern fortune based on construction and Saudi oil, doing in San Diego? And why would he be involved in a small-time tulip-importing business -- based out of a two-room office in a Sorrento Valley industrial park, which, according to its other owner, lost $100,000 of Binladen's money before going under after just a few years?
Binladen himself isn't talking. Since the events of September 11, he has agreed to be interviewed by only one newspaper, the Boston Globe. In that story he is quoted as expressing remorse for the alleged deeds of his half-brother, now the target of a U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
"I totally support my family's statement that expressed condolences and deepest sympathy for the victims of the attack and unequivocally denounced and condemned the attacks and all those behind them," Abdullah told the Globe in writing. "I also affirm that the Binladin family and the Saudi Binladin Group have no relationship whatsoever with Osama or any of his activities. He shares no legal or beneficial interests with them or their assets or properties, and he is not directly or indirectly funded by them."
According to the Globe account and other reports, Abdullah Binladen is one of the youngest of 54 children born to the multiple wives in the harem of the late Muhammad ibn Ewad Binladen, a native of Yemen, whose family made a fortune building mosques, roads, and other improvements for Saudi founding ruler King Abdul Aziz , who somehow had become a personal friend. Abdullah Binladen told the Globe he first visited Boston in 1990 after getting a law degree from King Saud University in Ryadh and enrolled at Harvard Law School. A spokesman for Harvard says that Binladen received a graduate degree there in 1992. The school says it is referring all other questions to Binladen, for whom it is taking telephone numbers of inquiring reporters.
In his interview with the Globe, the paper reported, Binladen "spoke mostly about his family's educational ties to Boston and his fondness for the city," where 11 of his relatives reportedly live. "I was fascinated by the city, by its charm. I felt it was the best of both worlds, America and Europe. I think, 'This is the place. I shouldn't go anywhere else.' "
But before Binladen went to Harvard, says a man who identifies himself as Binladen's one-time partner in U.S. Denmar, the young Binladen was a man about town in San Diego, dabbling not only in tulips but dealing in Rolls Royces and Porsches as well. According to this man -- a native of Syria who says he linked up with Binladen through connections he made at a small delicatessen on Mira Mesa Boulevard -- the wealthy Saudi was attending a local university, studying either international law or business. The 1990 yearbook of United States International University lists Binladen as having received a master's degree in international business. Records show he started U.S. Denmar the same year.