• Image by Richard Higgins
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Almost 60 years ago, Tom Joubran immigrated to the United States from the town of Nazareth, once part of Palestine, and began a new life in the suburbs of Flint, Michigan. A Maronite Christian, he fled his home, the Flint Journal would later recount, after being kidnapped and held for several days by marauding Jews, who then traded him and 5 other Arabs for the freedom of 15 Jews.

Tom Joubran: Uncle and mentor to brothers Tom, Alec, and Sam Gores. According to a lawsuit filed against family members' high school teacher, the teacher told his American literature class that “Tom Joubran is a crooked son-of-a-bitch.”

Tom Joubran: Uncle and mentor to brothers Tom, Alec, and Sam Gores. According to a lawsuit filed against family members' high school teacher, the teacher told his American literature class that “Tom Joubran is a crooked son-of-a-bitch.”

“It was 1947,” Joubran recalled in a telephone interview last week from his home near Flint. “They just kidnapped me, and they put me underground and asked me questions about whether I was shooting, and I said, ‘No, I’m a peaceful man.’

“I worked for a Jewish guy, an Iraqi Jewish guy. He told them to stop it, don’t take me away, but at that time there was no Israel — it was under the British government — and they kidnapped me, and they kidnapped 6 of us, actually. The Palestinians kidnapped 15 Jews, and we were exchanged for them, then they let us go.

Tom Gores: Forty-four-year-old billionaire head of Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills–based buyout firm that is the new owner of the Union-Tribune.

Tom Gores: Forty-four-year-old billionaire head of Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills–based buyout firm that is the new owner of the Union-Tribune.

WireImage/Getty Images

“I came to the United States in 1950. I had my name in the American embassy for 13 years to come to America,” Joubran said. “I kissed the ground in New York when I arrived.”

Joubran, now 84 years old, has led a prosperous, if controversial life. He has witnessed others in his family achieve success American style, often with his help. His nephew Tewfiq Gores, now known as Tom, is a billionaire who runs Platinum Equity, the partnership that has bought the San Diego Union-Tribune from the Copley Press, a San Diego institution for over 80 years.

Hala Gores: Cousin to Tom Gores, this Portland lawyer is an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause.

Hala Gores: Cousin to Tom Gores, this Portland lawyer is an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause.

Jenna Biggs

The purchase has caused many to wonder what the new owners will do with the once-mighty, now down-at-the-heels newspaper, the nation’s 25th largest by circulation. Will Gores (pronounced GOR-is) invest the millions of dollars many observers believe are necessary to revive circulation and advertising revenue, currently in a seeming death spiral?

Alec and Sam Gores: Alec, on left, is a billionaire brother to Tom Gores. He divorced his wife Lisa after her 2000 affair with Tom. Sam, the third brother, is a renowned Hollywood agent, with an A-list of clients, including Andy Garcia and Aerosmith.

Alec and Sam Gores: Alec, on left, is a billionaire brother to Tom Gores. He divorced his wife Lisa after her 2000 affair with Tom. Sam, the third brother, is a renowned Hollywood agent, with an A-list of clients, including Andy Garcia and Aerosmith.

John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images

Or will he fire most of the U-T employees, load the company with debt, strip its substantial Mission Valley real estate assets, and eventually shut it down?

And if he keeps the U-T alive, will Gores change the paper’s mainstream Republican editorial slant regarding Middle East policy, as exemplified by an editorial the paper ran on December 30 of last year? Israeli air strikes against the Palestinians in Gaza represented “A justified attack,” the U-T opined. “It’s worth remembering, too, that Hamas, not Israel, broke a negotiated six-month cease-fire by lobbing rockets into Israeli towns in order to provoke retaliation, thereby helping its cause in the international arena and in Gaza.”

Though said by Forbes magazine to be one of the world’s richest people at number 334 on its March 2009 billionaires list, Gores, 44 years old and a resident of Beverly Hills, has maintained a low public profile as he accumulated his wealth. Little is known about his personal views and history.

In a March 19 story announcing its takeover by Platinum Equity, the Union-Tribune reported that Gores had “immigrated to America with his Greek family when he was 5 and eventually became a U.S. citizen.” But there is more to the story of Tom Gores and his large, extended family.

He was mentored through childhood, adolescence, and college by Tom Joubran, who became a grocer after arriving in this country and battled years of ethnic bias and criminal charges that he attributes to jealousy and discrimination because he came from the Middle East.

It was Joubran who sponsored the 1969 immigration of the Gores family, including his sister Marie, from Nazareth to Flint, where many members of the Joubran family live.

“I’m so glad I brought them in here,” Joubran said last week. “I provided them a house to live. They worked for me, and I paid them money.”

Tom Gores “was the carry-out boy in my grocery store and was in the produce department,” Joubran told the Flint Journal in 2007. “The apron he wore was bigger than him. He was very small for his age.… But look at him today. I’m so proud of him and all of his brothers and sisters. They were all dynamic kids. I knew they were going to be something from the day they came in.”

Dan Shriner, a former reporter for the Flint Journal, recalls that photos of the Gores brothers lined the walls of Joubran’s office, including one of Tom’s older brother Alec standing with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Joubran spoke with pride of how he had mentored the brothers in the promised land of America.

“I do know that he’s extremely proud of them,” says Shriner. “They’re in touch often. They really stay in touch. I don’t know about what, but they are in touch with great regularity.”

For some in the family who immigrated from Nazareth to America to begin a new life free of the ethnic and religious strife in perpetually war-torn Israel, memories of life under Israeli rule are hard to erase.

Tom Gores’s cousin, Hala Gores, came to the United States in the 1970s when she was ten years old. She later recounted that she had been stripped-searched before being allowed to leave Israel.

“[An Israeli official] took off my top. I helped to take off my pants and didn’t really say much of anything. And she had me turn around. She felt my legs; my behind. So there I was as a ten-year-old, in this little room, just about completely naked, and knew that I could not challenge what was happening and I just complied. It just feels, sitting here as an adult, that as a child I really shouldn’t have had to go through that.”

Now an attorney who lives and practices in Portland, Oregon, she is an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause. She belongs to the Portland-based Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights and is president of the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon.

In January of this year, Hala Gores helped lead a demonstration in downtown Portland against Israel’s occupation of Gaza. “Our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza are crying for the world to demand an end to the massacre and an end to Israel’s war crimes,” she said in a news release posted on the Palestinian Human Rights website prior to the event. “Our flags and our signs will send the message that all Palestinians are under attack; we are calling on Oregon’s Senators and Congressmen to demand an immediate end to the bloodshed.”

“In the past nineteen days, Israel’s military has killed more than 1,033 Palestinians, including 335 children, and injured more than 4,850,” she added. “Many of the dead are still under the rubble of schools, mosques, markets, police stations, and apartments.”

Gores has been a fierce critic of American mainstream newspapers for what she views as their pro-Israeli bias. In March 2005, Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights released a lengthy study of the way the Portland Oregonian had covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Overall, our analysis of The Oregonian headlines demonstrates a significant inaccuracy in the reporting of Palestinian versus Israeli deaths,” it concluded.

“While Palestinians in the last four years have consistently been killed at a rate three times greater than Israelis — and 10 times greater during the study period — The Oregonian headlines have portrayed the conflict in a way that minimizes the difference. Readers were given the impression that the Israeli death toll was greater than it was and the Palestinian death toll was considerably smaller than its reality.”

In a July 2007 interview with Willamette Week, Portland’s alternative newspaper, Hala Gores discussed possible reasons for the bias. “The Israeli lobby has been written up as the most powerful lobby in Washington, D.C. And there are certain newspapers, when they report a more balanced view of Israel, there is tremendous pressure put on them, financial and political, to stop that kind of reporting,” she said.

Asked by the paper whether she ascribed the problem of media bias against the Palestinians to “Jewish media ownership,” Gores replied, “I am always really nervous to talk to anybody about news ownership by any religious group. To prevent us from talking about the truth, all one has to do is label one an anti-Semite and the discussion stops there. I’m not saying that [Jewish media ownership] exists or doesn’t exist. The focus is on why the news media tends to focus on one side of this conflict.”

Although she is clearly proud of her cousin Tom’s purchase of the Union-Tribune, Gores is cautious when discussing him. She declined to talk about whether he shares her views on the situation in Israel or has ever given money to support her pro-Palestinian activities.

“I am not a representative of the family,” she begins when recently reached by telephone at her Portland law office. “I don’t get involved in discussing Tom’s personal life with newspapers. I’m not authorized to, I’m not asked to. I don’t step into that role.”

She adds, “I can say he’s been absolutely amazing with respect to close family members as well as distant family members. He’s just a tremendous human being. I can tell you that Tom as an individual, in his relationship with everyone around him, he has a heart of gold. Tremendous. Whenever he hears about anyone needing any assistance, I’ve never heard him say no to anything to anybody. He’s just the most decent human being I know.”

By many accounts the Joubran and Gores families have always looked out for one another, through hard times as well as good. Tom Joubran’s immigration to the United States was sponsored by his uncle, Tom Mansour, another Nazareth native, in whose Flint-area grocery store Joubran labored before opening his own business, Tom’s Supermarket, in 1957, the Flint Journal has recounted.

“Tom [Joubran] was kind of the trailblazer for the family,” recalls his nephew Brian Joubran in a recent telephone interview. “He became very successful in Michigan, and he is a very family-oriented person. He helped out the family a lot in Michigan, which meant that if we needed work and we needed help getting some type of income, Tom would hire us or we would go to Tom and ask him if we could work in one of his grocery stores and he would help us out, and he was very accommodating.

“I think that’s why Tom and Alec [Gores] attribute most of their success to Tom Joubran, because there was a lot of teaching and learning that was being exchanged from family member to family member.”

In 2002, the two Gores brothers, by then living in California, gave $250,000 to their alma mater, Genesee High, to replace the old cinder track with one surfaced with asphalt and rubber. The contribution was recognized with a plaque honoring Tom Joubran and his wife Julia on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

“The thing about Mr. Joubran is that he’s basically brought so many of his relatives and family members here,” notes Shriner, the former Flint Journal reporter who covered Joubran and his run-ins with the law during the 1980s and 1990s. “Just dozens and dozens of people he’s brought here over the years.

“He’s been an interesting character for a long time, I’ll give him that,” Shriner continues. “He came here, had like $25 to his name, couldn’t speak a word of English, did the immigrant thing — worked hard and eventually bought his own grocery store and kind of grew things from there.

“He’s owned several bars, but the big one that everybody remembers him for was the Mikatam,” says Shriner. “It was named after his son Michael, his daughter Kathy, and his youngest daughter Tammy: Mi-Ka-Tam.

“That was a huge bar, and he did business like nobody else. Frankly, what he did, I thought, was brilliant. What he would do was that he would charge a $10 cover charge, and this place would hold 5000 people. He told me he could easily get 3000 to 5000 people in there without a problem. Now, it was packed, mind you, but he would do it if he could, and he frequently did.

“He would sell draft beer. You would get 10 glasses of draft beer for like $5. They’d bring them to your damn table. The problem was, you’d have fucking 20 or 30 glasses of beer getting warm on your table.

“I asked him about it, ‘How can you do that?’ Because no other bars did that. He said it was all about volume. He said a glass of draft beer cost him 6 cents. So, hell yeah, he’d sell ’em 10 for $5 because it cost him 60 cents! And the cover was pure profit.”

But there is another side of Tom Joubran.

He has endured decades of controversy: In 1980, during testimony before a United States Senate subcommittee, the executive director of the Saginaw Valley Crime Commission listed him as a “person of interest,” purportedly involved in “organized criminal activities” in the Flint, Michigan area.

Further evidence of Joubran’s notoriety is found in a lawsuit that two teenagers in his extended family filed in January 2000 in Flint federal court against Damon McCord, their tenth-grade teacher, and the Kearsley Community School District. Jamil Joseph Joubran and Ryan James Anderson charged that McCord, their English teacher at Kearsley High, had made “false, disparaging and/or defamatory comments” about their great-uncle.

According to the complaint, McCord told his American literature class that “Tom Joubran is a crooked son-of-a-bitch”; “Tom Joubran rips people off”; “Tom Joubran is an arsonist”; and “Tom Joubran burns down buildings.” McCord denied making the remarks, and in August 2001 the case was dismissed in favor of the defendants, court records show.

But Joubran has defenders in the Flint area, among them Hani Bawardi, an Arab-American scholar whose master’s thesis at the University of Michigan–Flint was titled “Arab Immigrants in Flint, Michigan: The Case of the Merchants in the Inner City.” He has been a lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern and Asian Studies at Wayne State University, where he recently received a Ph.D. As part of his research, he conducted an interview of Joubran.

“Tom Joubran was subjected to a great deal of discrimination. That is something I’m certain of as a researcher,” said Bawardi during a recent telephone interview. “Most of the immigrant merchants faced severe discrimination and sometimes maltreatment.

“If they make a lot of money but they work in neighborhoods where nobody else is willing to work in, they are viewed with suspicion by the police. Tom Joubran probably is the largest property-tax payer in Genesee County, but he never got any respect from the township.

“When it comes to Arabs, they are defenseless. They don’t raise any noise. And there is no public sentiment in their favor whatsoever. The Arab-Israeli conflict took its toll, meaning they became pariahs. I can give you a million examples from the media. Dan Rather used to go after Arab merchants all the time, exceedingly racist, and nobody ever lifted a finger.”

Bawardi says the frequency of weapons charges brought by Flint-area police against Arab-American businessmen is a case in point. “Having been in the country some 40 years, Tom Joubran was accused of carrying a concealed weapon, which he can obtain legally if he wanted to. He was arrested for that once.

“Just to give you an idea, in my research I encountered many of the merchants who faced the same charge, carrying a concealed weapon. It was a very common charge. A lot of them keep weapons in their businesses. These are not illegal weapons — they are for protection, and those weapons serve against them.

“It became like a rash. The customer would claim the merchant pulled a gun on them, and the merchants would be carted off to jail on a charge, and they invariably pled guilty to a lesser charge. They very rarely fight these things. It’s very dangerous for them.”

Tom Joubran’s brother, Ibrahim, was a merchant in New Hudson, Michigan, south of Flint. On the night of November 17, 1985, according to records of the Oakland County medical examiner, an assailant entered his store, the Country Stop Market, and fired a shotgun into his abdomen. Ibrahim, 59 at the time, died shortly afterwards.

Ibrahim’s son Brian, who moved to California in 1989 and now lives in Escondido, was eight years old the night his father was killed. “It was a robbery. I wasn’t there to experience it, but I experienced the aftermath, which was very traumatizing for an eight-year-old kid.

“The story I heard was that he was robbed in the middle of the night. I think they were open until like eight or nine o’clock at night. A burglar came in with a sawed-off shotgun. The cashier left while my father was in the back room stocking some products, and he came out not knowing what was going on, confronted the man, and the man shot him in the groin, and he died on the way to the hospital.

“I don’t know the exact details. That’s all I know. As far as I know, I don’t think they ever caught the guy. There was no one to give a positive identification of the man. He was African American, and that’s all I know.”

One law-enforcement source in the Flint area — who says he is familiar with the circumstances of the killing but declined to be identified because the case remains open — maintains that there is more to the story.

“There were times when we felt that we were onto stuff about the mystery of this guy dying and who did it and why they did it,” the source says. “They set it up like it was a robbery, but it wasn’t a very good set-up job. The police’s theory was that he was bumped off. The suspected mastermind was somebody from another country. The feds didn’t want to pick up any of those loose ends. I don’t know why.”

The source made it clear that Tom Joubran was never regarded as a suspect in the slaying.

Joubran says that the case represents just another example of the hardships that Arab-American merchants face in Flint.

“My brother was shot and was robbed,” he said in a recent phone interview. “They robbed him, and he only had 25 cents, and they shot him. So that’s what happened. Most of my brothers died already. All I have left is my sister, which is Tommy and Alec’s mother, and my brother, Edmund. That’s all we have left right now. And now they shot my other nephew, just about six months ago, also robbed him in the store, two bullets in his chest and two bullets in the back, and thanks to God he’s still alive. So, he’s okay now.”

Joubran has long maintained that he was a victim of prejudice against Arabs, as well as a vengeful county prosecutor with his own unsavory ties, an integral part of the rough-and-tumble criminal underworld that thrived in Flint and the surrounding Saginaw Valley.

His nemesis was Genesee County prosecutor Arthur Busch, who grew up in a blue-collar household near Flint and counts among his high school friends Michael Moore, the film director who began his career publishing the Flint Voice, an alternative newspaper.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s a gangster, and I don’t care if you print it,” Busch, now in private law practice, said of Joubran during a recent telephone interview. Over the years, Busch accused Joubran of a litany of crimes. One case involved a charge of felonious assault brought by Busch against Joubran in 1995. It was described in a November 2003 Michigan Court of Appeals document.

“The charge arose from a complaint that [Joubran] pointed a gun at a highway worker. [Joubran] entered a no contest plea to the charge of attempted felonious assault and was sentenced to a term of three years’ probation, two hundred hours of community service and costs.”

During that case, a former Joubran employee, Wayne Atwell, testified under oath that Joubran had told him he could have Busch and his family killed, according to an August 1995 Flint Journal account. Joubran denied the allegation. In court, Atwell said that he had four felony convictions and had been sent back to jail after Joubran accused him of taking $1700, the article said. Joubran said he was forced to plead nolo contendere to the gun charges because he didn’t want to risk a prison sentence for the three felony counts originally filed against him, according to a January 1996 Flint Journal report. He was sentenced to a term of three years’ probation, 200 hours of community service, and costs, according to Michigan court records.

In an interview last week, Joubran said he pled no contest because he feared he couldn’t get a fair trial in Flint.

“I have never owned a gun in the history of my life, even back with the Jews and the Arabs [in Palestine], I never owned a gun. Never. I had a beeper with me, not a gun. I wasn’t guilty. I never had no gun, ever, ever in the history of my life. I don’t even know how to use it.

“They told me if you go in front of a jury and, you know, people don’t like you, they could put you in prison.

“Oh, yeah, they were jealous of me. They were very jealous of me. They were very jealous, because I came here in 1950, and of what I did, and I’m worth millions of dollars, and my nephews are in the billions of dollars. And we are successful, and it makes people jealous sometimes. But a lot of people love you — you have more people like you than hate you.

“But when you never know. Maybe we evicted somebody from a house or apartment building, they might be on the jury, they may turn against me, and I’m stuck with two years in prison. No way. So they advised me to [plead no contest]. We work hard, we fight like hell to survive, I guess.”

In 2000, Joubran filed suit in Michigan state court against Busch, claiming that Joubran had experienced “emotional distress” as a result of “a pattern of harassment and a false investigation of him” by Busch’s office, according to state appeals court records.

According to the document, Joubran alleged that Busch’s vendetta against him included the “issuance of subpoenas and the questioning of potential witnesses regarding underage drinking at Bugsy’s, possible intentional under-assessment of property taxes, and [repeated investigations of] any relationship between his real property holdings in Genesee Township and drug proceeds.”

“In 1998, Busch and the Michigan Attorney General’s office obtained an investigatory subpoena…for April Parish, a young woman who has worked for [Joubran] for years,” the court records said. “Parish was one of the individuals from whom the prosecutor’s office attempted to obtain information regarding underage drinking at Bugsy’s Bar and Grill, an establishment owned and operated by [Joubran’s] son.”

During Busch’s investigation of Joubran, Parish told authorities that when she was a teenager, she had a sexual relationship with Joubran. She later recanted her testimony, claiming that Busch coerced her to make false statements against Joubran.

“In her deposition taken pursuant to the subpoena, Parish testified to sexual conduct with [Joubran] when she was fifteen years old,” according to the court record. “[Joubran] has submitted an affidavit from Parish in conjunction with the present suit, in which she alleged that a member of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department approached her at her home and attempted to force her to provide testimony regarding [Joubran].

“Parish further stated that this individual, Sergeant John Fontana, and Busch threatened her with criminal prosecution if she did not give false testimony against [Joubran]. Parish indicated that the testimony she previously provided regarding [Joubran] was coerced by Busch and others acting in his behalf and that she felt she had no alternative but to provide false testimony regarding [Joubran].”

In November 2003, a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed Joubran’s case, in part because, the court held, Busch enjoyed immunity as a prosecutor investigating possible criminal activity: “...it is clear that Busch was exercising his duly authorized, legitimate investigative duties as a prosecuting attorney,” the court concluded. A similar complaint Joubran brought earlier in federal court was also dismissed.

Joubran told the Flint Journal that the ruling gave Busch “a license to steal.”

Busch says that the charges he brought against Joubran were legitimate and backed by the result of extensive investigation. He denies that any witnesses were ever coerced to falsely testify and complains that the FBI and federal prosecutors failed to follow up on leads he had generated, some of them international, that were out of his jurisdiction.

In an interview last week, Joubran expressed deep bitterness about the case and its prosecutor, Busch.

But Joubran said he was reluctant to discuss the matter further because his nephew Tom Gores didn’t want him to rehash the family’s past troubles.

“I don’t have to mention anything about that because my nephew don’t like this kind of stuff, okay? You can’t dredge up Arthur Busch. Leave Arthur Busch out of the picture. We don’t know him, we don’t like him, we don’t want anything to do with him. He’s the nastiest prosecutor we ever had.

“My nephews are doing big, God bless their heart. They came into this country, I sponsored them, and look at today where they are. They are big people, tremendous business they have. I wish you would leave Busch out of the way. It’s degrading, actually. Leave him alone; he’s done with.”

Despite his legal entanglements, Joubran’s wealth and influence have continued to grow. His financial empire has included mega-bars, supermarkets, houses, apartment buildings, shopping malls, and mobile home parks. At one point the Flint Journal reported that his net worth was $80 million.

Besides his own success, Joubran seems most proud of the financial achievements of Tom and Alec Gores, sons of his sister Marie and her late husband. Growing up, the boys had worked at Tom’s Supermarket, gone to Genesee High School, and graduated from Michigan public universities.

Then, in a Horatio Alger story to beat all, they went into business — at first working together and later separately — and became billionaires, each joining the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest Americans. Residents of Los Angeles, they lived in Beverly Hills and partied with movie stars, including Tom Arnold and Joe Pesci.

Their brother Samir, who also had labored in Joubran’s store, became a Hollywood agent, with an A-list of clients, including Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Aerosmith, and the Black Crowes. In 2006, Fishburne told the Los Angeles Times that Samir, now known as Sam, “is working for me in ways that I have no idea about until it happens.”

How had they done it? In the case of Tom and Alec, it had to do with buyouts of undervalued corporate assets from high-tech companies, Forbes has reported.

In February 2007, during a short-lived attempt by Tom Gores and his Beverly Hills–based Platinum Equity to acquire the Delphi Corporation’s steering-gear unit in Saginaw, Joubran talked to the Flint Journal about his famous nephew.

“I call him Tommy because he’s my nephew,” Joubran said. “I talked to him on the phone yesterday, and he said he’s going to put Michigan on the map.”

According to most accounts, Tom Gores worked for Alec’s buyout firm until 1995. Why he left is unknown, but the split seemed to only grow wider with time. “I can’t say the big-brother, little-brother thing didn’t have anything to do with it,” Tom told the Wall Street Journal in an April 2002 interview. “I just want to be the best I can be with nobody telling me I can’t. I don’t want to be limited by anybody else’s perception.”

The brothers have always been competitive. A neighbor in the gated community where the brothers lived in 2002 said they played basketball together, according to a report that appeared in April of that year in the Wall Street Journal.

“If Tommy’s going to win [at basketball], Alec may try to do something to stop him,” their neighbor and close friend, John Cirelle, told the paper. “Alec may even bring in an extra player. And Tommy will let him. He’s that confident.”

Vance Diggins, then chief executive of Gores Technology, Alec’s company, told the paper that the long-simmering rivalry between the brothers was a “clash of the titans. It’s very competitive.… It makes it very difficult.”

In 2000, Tom and Alec had jousted over the Learning Company, a money-losing division of Mattel, Inc., the Southern California toymaker that had bought the educational software maker at the height of the dot-com boom at a wildly inflated $3.5 billion price. Alec prevailed in that battle, paying no money down, and later carved up the company and sold off some of the pieces for a tidy profit.

In 2002, they competed with each other to acquire Global Crossing, another remnant of the free-spending dot-com era that had declared bankruptcy in January of that year. Then, apparently seeing a confluence of interests, the brothers teamed up to buy the firm but lost a bidding war to an Asian group.

Early in 2003, Tom and his brother Sam, the talent agent, ended up buying Global Crossing’s Beverly Hills headquarters for $45 million. The historic building on North Crescent Drive once housed the legendary MCA talent agency run by Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman, infamous for their purported Mafia ties.

In April 2002, Alec insisted to the Wall Street Journal that the brothers were still close, though competitive. “Is it tough sometimes? Sure it is. But my brothers are my best friends.”

Tension within the family has not been limited to the rivalry between Tom and Alec. One case in particular reveals that at least one member of the Joubran family was an investor in Alec Gores’s enterprises.

In September 2003, Comerica Bank, on behalf of the estate of Frank Joubran, a younger brother of Tom Joubran, filed suit in Genesee County, Michigan probate court against Alec, along with Gores Technology Group and related companies.

Frank had died in May 2001 at the age of 66. His heirs — including son Robert Joubran, who by then was a partner in his cousin Tom’s Platinum Equity operation — accused Alec of cheating Frank out of the proceeds of investments he had made to finance Alec and his companies.

“Between 1992 and 1998 Frank Joubran invested approximately $558,000 with Defendant Alec Gores and the various corporate Defendants and other entities in which Mr. Gores was a majority shareholder, officer and/or director,” according to the complaint.

“Pursuant to the investments, in 1993, Frank Joubran acquired 250 shares of Series B Convertible Preferred stock in Gores Enterprises, Inc.” Through their agent, the Joubran heirs went on to accuse Alec Gores of “attempting to illegally convert stock rightfully owned by the Frank Joubran Trust.”

“In late June 2002, Plaintiff sought financial information from Gores Technology Group regarding the Trust’s stock and all Gores related entities,” the complaint continued. “Mr. Gores did not respond. Rather, on behalf of Mr. Gores, the Assistant Counsel for Gores Technology Group notified Plaintiff that no further information would be forthcoming and incredulously and fraudulently alleged for the first time that the stock had been redeemed in compliance with the terms of the option.”

The case ended in February 2004, when the Joubran heirs agreed to accept a $230,000 settlement from Alec in exchange for the 250 shares of stock, according to probate court records.

The most sensational example of the rivalry between Tom and Alec Gores came to light in April of last year, during the trial of Anthony Pellicano, Hollywood’s notorious private eye to the stars. Pellicano was accused of bribing police and telephone-company workers to collect information on behalf of his clients, who included Alec Gores.

Sometime in 2000, Alec’s wife Lisa and his brother Tom began having an affair. Alec suspected something was amiss and retained the services of Pellicano, known for his ability to dig up dirt by using illegal wiretaps and an extensive network of police officers on the take.

During Pellicano’s 2008 trial, Lisa testified that she had called Tom after an early-evening rendezvous at the Beverly Hills Hotel to warn him that she thought they had been followed. One of Pellicano’s illegal wiretaps picked up the 25-minute conversation; the FBI subsequently obtained the tape and played it at the trial.

“Worst case, he had someone following me. So I went to a hotel — big deal,” Lisa was heard saying on the tape. “I’m not going to ever say anything unless I’m confronted. I’ll just deny everything forever.” She continued, “This is the bottom line, Tommy, no one saw inside the room. End of story.” Said Tom, “I don’t want you to have pressure on you.”

Later, Alec testified that he had paid Pellicano a total of $240,000 for his efforts. He also paid for a trip to Hawaii for Pellicano and his family because the private eye “was doing a good job.”

After Pellicano confirmed Alec’s suspicions, Alec confronted Lisa at a family meeting he called with her and his two brothers, Tom and Sam. “I told her at one time I had listened to conversations,” he testified. Lisa and Alec later divorced, but Tom has remained married to his wife Holly, to whom he has been married since their days in Michigan. Alec Gores was not charged in the wiretapping case. Pellicano was convicted and sentenced to 15 years behind bars.

Some say that deep embarrassment stemming from revelations in the Pellicano case has caused the brothers, especially Tom, to shun the limelight. Reached by phone at Platinum Equity headquarters last week, company spokesman Mark Barnhill, who once was managing editor at the Los Angeles Daily News and an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, said he would relay a request to Tom Gores for an interview. Two days later, Barnhill sent an email requesting written questions for Gores. A list of questions was furnished, but there was no response by deadline.

The Gores operation is so tight-lipped that even reporters for the Union-Tribune have been required to submit their questions about the future of the paper to Platinum Equity in writing and accept mostly written responses in return. That leaves the question of whether Gores will leave a mark on the paper so far unanswered. “Platinum has no editorial agenda,” said Louis Samson in a story the U-T ran on its front page on May 5, the day after the takeover. “We will rely on the newspaper’s professional staff to ensure that its pages appropriately reflect the values of the community it serves.”

Hani Bawardi, the Arab-American scholar who chronicled Tom Joubran’s rise from impoverished immigrant to one of the richest men in Flint, says it is hard to predict just what the new Union-Tribune will look like under Platinum Equity’s ownership. The paper’s takeover by those with roots in Palestine, he notes, “is very unique. I’m kind of surprised, actually.

“If they can make a dent on a lot of levels, they’ll be very, very lucky. Numbers don’t serve them. Popular culture works against them. But if anything, I think they might be motivated by the sheer hostility we as Arabs face in the media. They might be motivated by the hostility faced in the coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And maybe that’s why they are buying these papers, to make an impact.

“But remember that for a newspaper to function, you have to maintain your base of financial support. Now, where is that coming from? If enough Jewish Americans in the area wanted to put them out of commission it wouldn’t be that hard. Numerically, Arab Americans are a small, small number.

“There will always be a penchant for doing what one can for one’s home country, but you can look at the political options — they are very, very limited. Even if you own a newspaper, even if you own a network, you still don’t have enough senators, congressman, or vote swingers or a big committee that votes in unison.

“Arab Americans are politically extremely weak. Appealing to the mainstream has always been an uphill battle because we’ve never had the numbers. We’re talking about one newspaper here, and one should not assume this is a trend.

“I can assure you that this is a business decision, first and foremost. If those guys are already saying, ‘Hey, we’re Greek,’ that’s your cue right there. So they are going to run it like a business. I doubt that they will rock the boat.

“Buying a newspaper might give them a little cover, give them a sense of, ‘Okay, now maybe things are safer for us.’ That’s about it. It doesn’t go far beyond that. We’re embattled in many ways.

“If anything, Tom Joubran’s experience was a series of hard lessons, and he gave rise through his sponsorship to a homegrown Arab-American class who are pragmatic and proudly business people. I don’t think his descendants will draw a lesson from Tom, ‘Hey, let’s go against the grain.’ ”

Tom Joubran seems to agree.

“Tommy and Alec don’t get involved in any politics or that kind of stuff,” he said last week. “They will never be involved in that. They are good people, very honest people. They won’t do nothing. They don’t get themselves in politics. Me is different. I’m not afraid to talk to you, I’m not afraid to talk to the TV stations. I tell the truth. I tell my whole life story. I don’t care. I’m a good American citizen.”

Hear Matt Potter discuss this article on Reader Radio!

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


SurfPuppy619 May 13, 2009 @ 10:53 p.m.

I bet the paper will post huge profits next year and then sold to the highest bidder.

By Johnny

I'll take that action with a C-note.

And let me know if you want to raise that bet.


monaghan May 13, 2009 @ 8:36 p.m.

Wow. The Union-Tribune as a Palestinian mouthpiece. Will editorial page editor Bob Kittle replace his bow tie with a chequered scarf as he goes about his chores? The mind races to think about the possibilities....What an amazing story about the new owners of America's Finest City's only newspaper. Nice job, Matt Potter.


Ponzi May 13, 2009 @ 8:59 p.m.

They say there is a crime behind every fortune. These dudes didn't make billions without one. This story has a big gap between the time they worked in a little hometown market making nothing to bidding on billion dollar high tech companies. Exactly how did they get from Point A to Point B?


Johnny May 13, 2009 @ 9:55 p.m.

I think you all have it wrong this is a total business transaction. Does anyone know the terms of the sale? How much did they buy the paper for? I don't think Mr. Gores has a political agenda. If you look at past Gores transactions the companies he has purchased have been made profitable and then sold for huge profits. I bet the paper will post huge profits next year and then sold to the highest bidder.


Ponzi May 14, 2009 @ 11:18 a.m.

The partnership includes an operator of The Honolulu Advertiser, a paper in Akron, Ohio and several papers in British Columbia. So they may be trying to build a news paper empire afterall. Only time will tell. At least the Copley era is over.


Ponzi May 14, 2009 @ 2:30 p.m.

They can turn the newspaper around and increase ad revenue when...

The can compete with craigslist; free ads.

When they can get people paying to advertise yards sales and other items in their classified.

When people stop using Monster.com and other websites to look for jobs. When people stop using Autotrader and other sources to shop for cars. When people stop using all the online resources to find rentals and homes for sale.

The classifieds were a gold mine and it's pretty much gone. As the circulation declines, the ad rate they can get for display ads falls also.

Basically when they can offer free ads and make money. So that is going to be some magic to perform. They have their work cut out for them.


SurfPuppy619 May 14, 2009 @ 5:17 p.m.

When they can get people paying to advertise yards sales and other items in their classified.

They really raped people on the classified advertising.

I had to use it to sell some Southwest Airline vouchers and it was like $25-$30 for a three line ad.

Man, just thinking about that rip oiff still gets me upset-I'm glad the classifieds are history. One less scam from Big Business.


violadace May 15, 2009 @ 2:34 p.m.

I would LOVE to subscribe to a hometown paper. There's so much I miss about the city by not having a local news source. Voiceofsandiego.com is too amateurish and "Let's Make a Paper!" gee-whiz. The READER is only big story. I refused to support the U-T because it had been a prime player in San Diego's stupidity and corruption for the last 80 years. Maybe now the Copleys are gone, I'll hafta subscribe to the new U-T. . .


Flintexpats May 17, 2009 @ 10:29 a.m.

Tom Joubran's Mikatam was a Flint legend for a lot of reasons. Here's a link to a post on Flint Expatriates about the bar. The comment section reveals a lot about the Joubrans, Flint, and this locally famous bar:



PeterCavanaugh May 31, 2009 @ 3:51 p.m.

Matt Potter's May 13th feature article on Tom Joubran and his Gores nephews was quite encompassing, understandably only scratching the surface in recounting highlights in the life of a Great American. Observing several subsequent comments on much of the information being "hearsay", might I offer the following "eyewitness" testimony from "Local DJ", published in 2002 and now optioned as a film project by MIchael Moore and Kathleen Glynn?

From "Local DJ"--Page 298

“The Mikatam” in Genesee was owned and operated by Tom Joubran, a Palestinian immigrant and self-made millionaire. Tom couldn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t getting rich in America. He also was amazed that no one else could seize opportunities as he did and profit accordingly. Tom would say, "Look at me! I rode a goat to the boat!" The truth was that few people could work twenty hours-a-day with the energy and drive that Tom considered a matter of normal routine. Sleep? What’s that??

Tom owned laundromats, apartment buildings, pizza parlors, grocery stores and lots else. His first love, however, was show business. He proved to be a gracious host and extraordinary client. He brought a number of relatives over from the old country and there were a few confusions from time to time. I was visiting Tom one night at "The Mighty Mikatam" when we both noticed everyone being turned away from the door by a young nephew who had been instructed to check for I.D.s. He was demanding passports."

End of excerpt.

With best wishes,

Peter Cavanaugh Oakhurst, California WildWednesday.com


happilyretired May 31, 2009 @ 7:14 p.m.

I worked with Alec at Executive Business Systems in the 80's and it turned out to be a fabulous experience. All of us who worked with him knew he was special and would be a very rich man someday. He was a very smart, ambitious, fair and generous business owner. Alec had about 25 employees when I started and about 125+ when Contel purchased his business. His ego was not out of control and he could be trusted. He worked very hard and was quite inventive. He really deserves his success and I wish him the best. He had my respect then and I respect him today. I would like to know how what has happened to Marie, Samira, Susie and Linda.


Neal April 15, 2011 @ 8:52 a.m.

When Platinum Equity purchased the fastening division from Textron, Mr. Gores’ senior leadership guys approved a plan that effectively got rid of the (2) only Iraqi Americans who worked so hard for many years.


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader