ROUND ROCK, Texas - A friend of a former used car dealer accused of plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States says he never thought of his one-time business partner as politically motivated, much less a key player in a potential terrorist act.
Manssor Arbabsiar was known as "Jack" to his friends because his name was too hard to pronounce, said David Tomscha, who briefly owned a used car lot with him in the Texas Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi. Tomscha said his friend was likable, albeit a bit lazy.
"He's no mastermind," Tomscha told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I can't imagine him thinking up a plan like that. I mean, he didn't seem all that political. He was more of a businessman."
Arbabsiar, 56, was being held without bail in New York for his role in the alleged plot to kill Saudi diplomat Adel Al-Jubeir in the United States. The Justice Department contends that Arbabsiar and another man working for the Iranian government tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the attack with a bomb while Al-Jubeir was at a restaurant.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New York, the plot was revealed by an informant inside the world of the Mexican drug trade, a man paid by U.S. drug agents to rat out traffickers.
Tomscha, 60, said their partnership in the 1990s ended after about six months when Arbabsiar stopped making his share of the payments for their lot, but they remained friends. Arbabsiar never talked about traveling to Mexico, Tomscha said.
Arbabsiar came to the U.S. to attend what was then known as Texas A & I University in Kingsville, Tomscha said. Then Arbabsiar opened a used car lot with a couple of college friends and eventually owned several in the Corpus Christi area, and he seemed to get first choice on the repossessed cars at the auto auction in town, Tomscha said.
"He was sort of a hustler," Tomscha said. "I think he made some money."
Tomscha said he last saw Arbabsiar last fall, and in early 2011 heard that his friend had moved back to Iran. Tomscha was shocked to hear Tuesday about the arrest.
After living for years in Corpus Christi, Arbabsiar followed his wife, Martha Guerrero, to the Austin area, Tomscha said.
Guerrero owns a home in a well-manicured neighborhood in Round Rock, the Austin suburb that federal officials list as Arbabsiar's residence. She addressed reporters overnight, saying Arbabsiar doesn't live there and only used the address to obtain a driver's license.
"We've been separated for a long time," Guerrero said. "I don't know nothing about his business or what he does or what he doesn't do."
But others in the neighborhood said they had seen Arbabsiar recently. Eric Cano, who lives next door, said he frequently observed Arbabsiar walking in the neighborhood after dark, while smoking cigarettes and talking on a cellphone in a foreign language.
"My wife and I always thought there was something weird about the guy," said Cano, a 38-year-old buyer for a grocery company. "But you don't think it will get to this level."
Calls to the home went unanswered Wednesday. But Guerrero said in TV interviews she believes the charges against Arbabsiar are false.
"I cannot for the life of me think that he would be capable of doing that," Guerrero told KVUE in Austin. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, I'm sure of that and I know that his innocence is going to come out."
Records show Arbabsiar also has lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Corpus Christi, and been married at least twice. He was arrested and released in 2001 for theft by check, charges that were eventually dismissed, said Cynthia Martinez of the Nueces County Sheriff's Office, which includes Corpus Christi. She said Arbabsiar was also arrested in 1993, 1996 and 1997 on traffic violations.
Court records also indicate he was once charged with evading arrest in the Dallas area.
Cano said Arbabsiar moved in with Guerrero, who had lived at the house previously and was raising three boys, all now grown. Records indicate Arbabsiar is married to Guerrero and show no indication they are separated.