Sunday, April 27, 2014

Envy no man

     Envy no man, because you don't know where he has been, or where he is going.
     It was last June, not a year ago, that I stood in the Hyde Park living room of Amer Ahmad and watched him and his family pray.
      I was writing what was on its surface a simple article: I wanted to look at Chicago Muslims, not through the context of controversy, but through the five prayers that a devout Muslim says every day. The story would start in one place—Fajr, the first prayer, at 4:30 a.m. at the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove—then jump around the city, meeting Muslims at various prayer times. In the process it would look at Islam in Chicago, and say something about the normality of a faith that still seems strange to many Americans.
     I had been to prayers in public mosques, suburban and downtown. I wanted to get inside someone's home. I happened to be talking to the mayor's press secretary, complaining, as I usually do, about their unhelpfulness. "How about a Muslim city worker?" I asked. They must know of one—hook me up with someone.
    They served up Ahmad, the city comptroller. We had a pleasant conversation over the telephone—an open, intelligent man—and a short time later, one evening after work, I visited his luxurious Hyde Park home: newly rehabbed, tasteful, huge. I met his lovely wife, Samar, and their three adorable young children. Looking around, I felt a pang of envy: THIS guy obviously had life figured out. Cultured. Traveled. He had been to Mecca. A rising star. Obviously money somewhere. HE got to live in this swell house in the heart of Hyde Park, across from the Kenwood Academy. While I'M exiled to my decaying ruin of a suburban farm house, hoarding pennies. 
     I don't want to overstate the case. I didn't gnash my teeth and shake my fist at the sky. More like a sigh, standing on the sidewalk after. Some guys have life figured out...
     Within a month he was at the center of scandal, and had quit his $165,000 a year job. Of course I thought of my visit to his house. Perhaps a connection to write about. And I did have the observation that seemed, perhaps, worth sharing. The question arose last summer: did City Hall know this guy was under suspicion? It seemed clear that the mayor's office probably didn't know he was dirty or they wouldn't be dangling him under the nose of the media. But that seemed pretty thin gruel, and, frankly, I didn't want to draw attention to his being Muslim, because that is irrelevant. There are crooks of every faith, in Islam as in all others, but there are people who would try to make hay with this specific situation, and why toss them fodder?
    Ahmad pleaded guilty to money laundering and a receiving kickbacks in Ohio. He is facing 15 years in prison.  It seemed to unhinge him. Since he surrendered his passport, he tried—his wife alleges—to get her to get him a fake passport, and is now on the run, with a warrant out for his arrest. His wife, pictured above, said he has become violent and abusive and has taken out an order of protection because she's worried he'll kidnap their children and flee to Pakistan, where he has family.
     I don't envy him any more.  I hope he turns himself in, finds a way to salvage his life. He seemed a smart man, the hour I spoke with him, explaining how he permitted his daughters to lead the prayers, contrary to strict tradition, but in keeping with the new tradition he was pushing toward. Family was important to Ahmad. I liked him. 
     The house did seem perhaps too nice for a city employee. I wondered about that. But I figured people have money somewhere, from their families. And besides, he was a money guy. Money guys do well. In his case, I guess the house was paid for with the graft money from Ohio. Which meant that I was gazing appreciatively at the tangible manifestation of the ill-gotten gains that would soon destroy his life, and didn't even know it.  
     Stealing was a bad choice, running worse. We all reap the fruit of the choices we make. I hope Ahmad chooses to stop running, report to the authorities, serve his time, and begin the slow crawl back to whatever new life awaits him. Hard work, but it is still possible. Life is a long time, or can be. Me, I'm going to try to remind myself, next time I cast a covetous eye on someone else's glittering lot, that all is not what it appears, and better to put that energy into paddling my own canoe and being content with what I do have, which is plenty and should be enough. Many ills flow from discontent. Better to envy no man. Because you never know where he has been. Or where he is going.

     Update: As of 2021, Amer Ahmad is serving a 15-year prison sentence at Terminal Island, a federal prison in Southern California.


  1. Last half of the last graph is probably the wisest thing I've read in months. You killed it today, sir.

  2. "It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more who is poor." Seneca

    1. LOVE this. It explains a lot about life to me

  3. Powerful post, Neil. I never understand why accused criminals don't know that they can just drive into Mexico. At least in California, there is largely no one on the Mexican side of the border to stop a person or car from entering. The Mexican government really wants those tourist dollars.

    Yes, there is 6-foot high stoplight light device, but it seems to be always stuck on green. At least the times I've driven into Mexico as an "unwanted" man in any part of the world. Drive right in, no questions asked.

    As someone without kids I also can't understand how those men and women accused of a crime can leave their children fatherless. I hope this former city employee makes it to Mexico and never comes back. We had a saying on the far South Side as kids: Those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword.

    Now getting back into the United States (legally), that's a different experience/blog post.
    He's probably using the time to hire a good pinstriped lawyer or two. Knowing bankers, he may have money in international bank accounts that his wife didn't even know existed. The city investigation to see if he stole money has cost the city $800k-plus already. The city should sue him to recover its damages. The house should just about pay the city's tab once sold at auction.

    1. things have changed to anon who writes of Mexico-since then one needs a passport

  4. This column should be in the Sun-Times. Your decision or your editor's not to publish it there?

    1. Mine, though that wasn't really the choice I faced. Yesterday I needed to write something for today ("Every goddamn day," remember) so wrote this. I don't have a Sunday column so running it in the paper wasn't an option, and Monday's is already written. I could ask if the paper wants to run it Wednesday, but I have a strong hunch what the answer would be, so probably won't bother.

  5. Two things to check out:
    His wife was the brains behind entire operation, from Columbus. She started Five Rivers LLC, it was her idea to buy Going Green Landscaping, all to use as cover for their money laundering scheme. Amer is book smart but she's the clever deceptive wolf in sheeps clothing. Amer is covering for her. Then when it seemed he was going to talk in December she helped him 'escape' and to distance herself she filed a fake abuse/ restraining order. Check her out! Someone who supposedly tried to commit suicide as she claims wouldn't go to extremes to run away AND write a thought out Journal entry about it. Who are they kidding? They're already planning for a movie and book deal. Mark my words.
    Also, They all planned for the escape to Pakistan, even the families and others helping them in Pakistan. He will not be returned and he will be let go to live free in Pakistan and his wife will go free here and we all get screwed, taxpayers ripped off in Ohio and taxpayers ripped off in Chicago.
    Dig deeper, talk to friends, connect the dots!

  6. ...also, in your original article Amer is quoted as saying that it was 'his growing faith' that inspired him to leave the world of investment banking and work for the government. Hah, his faith my a**! Yeah, just like he was 'inspired' to go back to the private sector a few weeks before he was publicly indicted! There's much more to the story! Dig deeper, go back and see what other fraud was committed during his time in the 'private sector'. Normal people don't leave way high positions for way low positions just because their 'faith is growing'. Usually when people's faith grows, they become more humble, live simple, give more, focus on others rather than themselves... you get my point. Oh there's way more to the story.


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