Tami Agassi and Lobsang Dargey. (Tami Agassi)

Tami Agassi and Lobsang Dargey. (Tami Agassi)

In debt for millions, a con man’s ex-spouse is ready to talk

Tami Agassi, ex-wife of disgraced Everett developer Lobsang Dargey, wants “to prevent history from repeating itself.”

SEATTLE — Tami Agassi first shook hands with Lobsang Dargey almost two decades ago at a charity wine auction overlooking Lake Union, beneath the glow of glass sculptures made by artist Dale Chihuly.

As Agassi got to know him, she said, she found Dargey’s sincerity refreshing.

Agassi has always been accustomed to people approaching her. Her brother is tennis royalty. But as a Tibetan refugee and former Buddhist monk, that was news to Dargey. Or so it seemed.

Dargey called her downtown Seattle office for over a year, intent on taking her on a date, she recalled in a recent interview with The Daily Herald. Now, more than a year after their 16-year marriage came to an end, Agassi says she recognizes his apparent naiveté as the first of Dargey’s many acts of deceit.

He knew exactly who she was, she told The Daily Herald, and he exploited her from the start.

Dargey used the Agassi family’s money to finance his first few real estate projects. He relied on his wife’s stability as his career as a developer exploded with success. And he kept up his act even after he lost it all, according to a lawsuit she filed against him this year in King County Superior Court.

His renovations to downtown Everett cornerstones, like the Everett Public Market and the Chicago Title Building, were the foundation of a failed bid to build a real estate empire in the Puget Sound region. But his meteoric rise as a developer was cut short when federal investigators discovered he had cheated hundreds of Chinese investors out of millions of dollars by promising green cards through a program sanctioned by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In 2017, Dargey pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle to wire fraud and concealing information from immigration officials. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison and released in January 2020, still facing three years of probation.

“I feel guilty because I introduced this character to the community. I supported him. I helped build him. I fought to protect him,” Agassi, 52, told The Herald. “And now, I want to make a public apology.”

Projects of disgraced Everett developer Lobsang Dargey include the Grand Avenue Apartments in Everett, a 220-unit apartment building with ground-floor shops. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Projects of disgraced Everett developer Lobsang Dargey include the Grand Avenue Apartments in Everett, a 220-unit apartment building with ground-floor shops. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

As she grapples with millions of dollars in debt linked to his failed business endeavors, Dargey, 48, is back in the real estate business as an executive at a small Bellevue firm, Anandacom, formed a few months before his release from prison. And according to Agassi’s lawsuit, he’s working with some of the same investors he was convicted of defrauding.

A reporter’s efforts to reach Dargey for this article by phone and email, at his new office or through his attorney, were unsuccessful.

Agassi stood by Dargey’s side as his life unraveled. She has never before spoken to the media about his crimes. Her account adds another layer to a complicated portrait of an enterprising immigrant with an extraordinary origin story, who went on to become a white-collar convict.

To Agassi, he is — and always has been — a con man.

Yet she’s still not sure how deep his deceptions go.

‘Targeted and used’

Tami Agassi, the older sister to a world famous athlete, Andre, put herself through college on a tennis scholarship. She landed jobs managing and leading nonprofits in the Seattle area.

A breast cancer diagnosis tested her when she was just 30. She took on an aggressive treatment plan: nine months of chemotherapy, years of hormone therapy, she said.

When Agassi met Dargey at the charity auction, she was working for her oncologist, Dr. Saul Rivkin, as development director for the Rivkin Center, a nonprofit that funds ovarian cancer research.

Lobsang Dargey bought and renovated the former Federal Building in Everett in 2008 and renamed it for its biggest tenant, Chicago Title. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lobsang Dargey bought and renovated the former Federal Building in Everett in 2008 and renamed it for its biggest tenant, Chicago Title. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Saul Rivkin’s oldest daughter, Melissa Rivkin, had invited students of the small English language school that she and her husband owned in Seattle’s University District. Among the students was Dargey.

Dargey’s epic journey to the United States is well documented in court records. He fled political turmoil in Tibet in the 1990s, walked hundreds of miles across the Himalayan mountains to evade Chinese police, and eventually migrated to the U.S. in 1997, with a shaved head, orange robes and a few hundred dollars.

After a short courtship, Agassi and Dargey married in 2004.

He leaned on her from the start.

He quit his sales job at Sprint and began living off Agassi’s salary as he launched his real estate career.

He financed his first two projects with her money and her family’s money, refinancing her home to buy the Everett Public Market building in 2006, Agassi said. Money for a third project came from refinancing another property, jointly owned with Tami Agassi’s parents, according to the lawsuit.

“Lobsang built his success off of my back,” Agassi said. “My money, my connections, my ability for him to go off and start while he lived off my salary for a year and a half, my strength to be able to hold down the fort while he’s traveling through China.”

Dargey tapped Agassi’s social circle to raise money. And when he began traveling to China, he enticed investors there with her famous last name, the lawsuit says.

“At the time, I thought we were working as a team. He was building for our future and I was taking care of the family. He couldn’t do what he did without me,” Agassi said.

“Looking back, it wasn’t that way,” she said. “I believe I was targeted and used.”

Needing more cash, Dargey turned to the federal EB-5 program. The program offered foreign investors temporary residence and an accelerated shot at a green card if they put at least $500,000 into a development that created jobs in the United States.

The Everett Public Market was bought by Lobsang Dargey and renovated in 2006. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Everett Public Market was bought by Lobsang Dargey and renovated in 2006. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

As his pool of investors expanded, Agassi began to see a different side of her husband.

He left her alone with their infant twins and young daughter, returning home long after the children’s bedtimes.

He dismissed the people who helped him get his start, making rude comments and missing phone calls.

For a man who had nothing for most of his life, money was intoxicating, she said. He was reckless.

According to the lawsuit, she has since learned that he had multiple affairs and saw prostitutes throughout their marriage.

The lawsuit says Dargey was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in 2013, but was never formally charged.

Meanwhile, his mental health went downhill. His attention span shortened. Nightmares, fueled by PTSD from his traumatic escape from Tibet, became so intense he slept in another room.

“Some people in this world should never have power,” Agassi said, “and he’s one of them.”

“I come from a famous family,” she said. “I’ve seen how fame and money and things can affect people. It affects everybody differently. But eventually, you come back to who you are. I think the fame and the money took Lobsang to who he is.”

‘Deceptive nature’

Agassi answered the door when the FBI came knocking in 2015. She felt so confident in her husband, she said, that she figured it was nothing serious.

Dargey came out in his underwear.

“Go put your shorts on,” an agent told him.

“I sat back and I watched them question him,” Agassi said. “I needed to know if I was married to a criminal. And I watched him defend himself for like an hour.”

After about an hour, Agassi told them they were done, because the couple needed an attorney.

“And that’s when our life fell apart.”

Lobsang Dargey turned a former car lot in Everett into a 108-unit apartment building, Lumen Apartments, which opened in 2011. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lobsang Dargey turned a former car lot in Everett into a 108-unit apartment building, Lumen Apartments, which opened in 2011. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dargey’s downfall came with two projects: a 220-unit apartment complex on Grand Avenue in Everett and a more than 40-story skyscraper in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. Both were named for Potala Palace, the winter fortress of past Dalai Lamas and a sacred site for Tibetan Buddhists in thin air at an elevation of 12,139 feet.

A year after the groundbreaking in Belltown, federal agents raided his Bellevue and Everett offices in 2015, seizing records, documents and electronic devices. Attorneys for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, accusing Dargey of defrauding investors.

Every asset they owned was taken, Agassi said. Accounts were frozen. Legal bills piled up.

The court handed control of his businesses and projects to a receiver. Most were sold or changed hands.

Under the plea agreement, he admitted to diverting tens of millions of dollars of investors’ money, without contributing any money of his own.

Dargey convinced overseas investors and lenders to put nearly $240 million into his developments. He illegally spent tens of millions of dollars on business that didn’t qualify for the EB-5 program, according to federal prosecutors.

He promoted himself as a deep-pocketed entrepreneur who was bankrolling his own projects, but in reality, he was siphoning the cash — buying a $2.5 million home in Bellevue, withdrawing over $10 million for unrelated projects and personal use, and covering up many millions of dollars in shortfalls by falsifying bank statements, prosecutors said.

He wooed clients with fancy steakhouse dinners. He drove a Bentley.

“The magnitude, breadth, and deceptive nature of Dargey’s misconduct is shocking,” prosecutors remarked in a sentencing memorandum.

They sought the maximum sentence of 10 years.

Dargey robbed immigrants of their chance at U.S. citizenship, many of whom sold their homes and businesses in pursuit of the dream, prosecutors said.

Developer Lobsang Dargey (center) attends a sneak peak event at Potala Place in Everett in 2015. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Developer Lobsang Dargey (center) attends a sneak peak event at Potala Place in Everett in 2015. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Dargey’s attorney, Bob Mahler, contended his projects brought hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to Everett and the region. When his misdeeds were discovered, Dargey pushed to complete unfinished projects to make his investors whole, Mahler said.

The defense also cited Dargey’s “profound mental illnesses and academic deficiencies that affected his decision-making,” including post-traumatic stress and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

‘An amazing heart’

Leading up to Dargey’s sentencing in 2017, Agassi not only stuck by her husband, she stood up for him. She collected about a hundred letters for the judge from friends and family attesting to his strong character. Dozens of supporters packed the courthouse, many of them immigrants from Tibet and China.

In a letter to the judge, Dargey apologized to his investors, his family and the Tibetan community.

“My wife’s battle with cancer has been far more difficult for her than the hardships I experienced fleeing Tibet over the Himalayan Mountains were for me,” he wrote. “I feel very badly about adding to her suffering with my legal problems. She has stood by me and I cannot describe the remorse that I feel for what I have put her through, and her family as well.”

Dargey was a devoted father, his supporters said, not motivated by wealth, but by the chance to build buildings that brighten neighborhoods and offer immigrants the opportunity he had.

Agassi wrote a letter herself, calling Dargey “a great man with an amazing heart,” despite the toll his downward spiral took on their family.

“I have stood by his side throughout the challenges and I am committed to doing everything I can to support him so that he can continue to be healthy and contribute positively to the community,” Agassi wrote. “I would not have stuck by him if I didn’t believe in the strength of his character and the limitlessness of his potential.”

At the time, the couple’s twins were toddlers.

Agassi enrolled in Medicare and registered her children for free school lunches. She scraped together money to fill Dargey’s commissary account and visit him once a month at a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., where he served some of his sentence. He promised to pay her and her family back, she said, and urged her to file for divorce for financial preservation.

Lobsang Dargey outside the federal courthouse in Seattle in 2017. (Dan Catchpole / The Herald)

Lobsang Dargey outside the federal courthouse in Seattle in 2017. (Dan Catchpole / The Herald)

Soon after the divorce became final in July 2020, she learned he had a new wife from a friend who saw a post about the marriage on social media.

“You’re secretly married?” Agassi recalled asking Dargey.

“He giggled and he laughed, like he pulled one over on me. I’ve never seen him or anybody be so diabolical.”

Her trust in him was broken, finally.

‘The paperwork’

Agassi had filed for the divorce in March 2020 — but only because Dargey said it would protect her financially from his more than $24 million court-ordered restitution obligation, the lawsuit alleges.

“He got me an attorney. And we just did the paperwork,” Agassi said. “We were committed. We were going to divorce, but we were committed as a family to rebuild financially.”

Instead, he married another woman in secret and backtracked on his terms, the lawsuit says. Dargey introduced his new wife to their three children as their “second mom,” according to the lawsuit.

In a deposition for the lawsuit, Dargey said Agassi is “better off without me (for) financial reasons.”

“… I deeply care about Tami and my kids, what I put them through is a lot of suffering over the many years,” he testified, court records show, when asked why they divorced. “And plus we don’t get along, we’re two different individuals…”

Dargey’s attorney, Barbara Henderson of Tacoma-based law firm Smith Alling, argued in court filings that Agassi had a “superior bargaining position” during the split and got a good deal, including their house in Bellevue.

Three months after Agassi filed for divorce, their marriage was officially dissolved, in July 2020.

Under the terms of a separation contract, Agassi was awarded 60% of the couple’s assets, plus monthly child support of at least $1,975, according to court records. Once Dargey has paid his restitution, she’s entitled to at least $1,500 a month until he’s 65. Those additional “spousal maintenance” payments must be half of his net income, minus child support. Court records say Dargey represented himself in the divorce.

Agassi had legal representation when the contract was written. However, she contends in her lawsuit that the contract does not reflect the promises Dargey made.

Her lawsuit argued she deserves unfettered access to Dargey’s business dealings now, because her “right to income to restore her life to some semblance of normalcy” hinges on his ability to pay back nearly 300 defrauded investors.

“Furthermore,” the lawsuit says, “Agassi has the right to monitor Dargey’s activities to help ensure that this mental illness and self-destructive tendencies do not undermine the entire framework for rebuilding her life.”

Lobsang Dargey’s Everett developments: 1. Everett Public Market, 2804 Grand Ave.; 2. Potala Place Everett, now Grand Ave Apartments, 2900 Grand Ave.; 3. Hampton Inn, 2931 W. Marine View Drive; 4. Chicago Title, 3006 Colby Ave.; 5. Potala Village Everett, now Lumen Apartments, 1315 Pacific Ave.

Lobsang Dargey’s Everett developments: 1. Everett Public Market, 2804 Grand Ave.; 2. Potala Place Everett, now Grand Ave Apartments, 2900 Grand Ave.; 3. Hampton Inn, 2931 W. Marine View Drive; 4. Chicago Title, 3006 Colby Ave.; 5. Potala Village Everett, now Lumen Apartments, 1315 Pacific Ave.

Dargey is now a salaried employee at real estate developer Anandacom, earning $120,000 annually, with a possibility of an additional 4% to 5% in “performance pay” for each successful project by the firm, according to his deposition in the lawsuit.

All of it is subject to his restitution order, he said.

The company has obtained permits for at least one project, a 454-unit apartment complex proposed for eight acres along the Columbia River in Wenatchee. Anandacom bought the land for $2.75 million in February. It sold this month for $8.6 million to a homebuilder based in Arlington. The listing price was $12 million.

‘9,000 different ways’

Dargey’s crimes left Agassi in financial ruin, she said.

One of their only remaining assets was Potala Village, a former car lot he converted into a 108-unit apartment building on Pacific Avenue in Everett. It sold for $22.6 million in 2018, records show. Most of that money went to pay off investors, and the rest went to legal bills.

She’s living off her brother and driving her dad’s old car, and she’s the primary caregiver for their teenage daughter and 7-year-old twins, she told The Herald.

Agassi has struggled to pay the mortgage on the Bellevue home she once owned free and clear. Dargey leveraged the home as a building block for his empire. He now pays half of the monthly mortgage as part of his child support.

She also faces mounting legal fees, more than $3 million in back taxes for unrealized gains related to Dargey’s endeavors and the looming threat of a $2 million lawsuit over a hotel project he personally guaranteed, she said.

“He could have handled this 9,000 different ways,” Agassi said. “He picked the worst possible way for himself and for our family. And to me that screams mental illness.”

To complete the restitution process, the Grand Avenue apartment building and Belltown skyscraper must be sold to repay Dargey’s investors, and investors must be issued their green cards, according to Agassi’s lawsuit. She and her attorney expect that will take at least five years.

The two projects were completed by different developers.

The sale of the Grand Avenue apartment building is expected to close next week, said Bradley Sher, CEO of the EB5 Group, the company that took over the project.

The vast majority of the Grand Avenue project’s 80 investors are expected to get their money back, Sher said. Some of them have been approved for permanent U.S. residency, according to an immigration attorney working with Sher.

Sher is also CFO of the Molasky Group, the Las Vegas company that took over the Seattle skyscraper project with Dargey’s former partner, Binjiang Tower Corp. of China.

With Dargey’s support, the partnership pushed for the projects to be completed under the EB-5 program, Sher said. The fight included a lawsuit against the federal government.

The skyscraper, first called Potala Tower, opened in 2019.

Many of the tower investors have received approval of their initial EB-5 petitions for temporary U.S. residence. But because Congress failed to reauthorize the EB-5 program by a deadline last summer, they have not yet been able to immigrate to America.

Sher and others with ties to EB-5 projects are advocating for the federal government to reinstate the program. Assuming it’s reauthorized, Sher said, the hope is all of the investors will have green cards in the next five years.

Federal privacy law prohibits the U.S. Attorney’s Office from publicly disclosing a defendant’s progress toward paying a restitution order.

Dargey’s probation requires that he pay at least 10% of his monthly income in restitution.

The court garnished his Sprint 401(k) plan, which had a balance of about $169,000 as of Oct. 2017, court records show. The balance on the restitution was still more than $23 million.

In July, King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell sided with Dargey’s attorney and granted a summary judgment dismissing Agassi’s legal claim to revise the terms of the separation contract.

The court is still considering a claim that Dargey breached the contract, because he hasn’t yet obtained a life insurance policy worth at least $250,000, as the agreement requires.

The lawsuit also names Dargey’s new wife, Yang Liu, as a defendant.

Liu’s lawyer, Tacoma attorney Thomas Gallagher, said in an email that Agassi’s remaining claim is “not very newsworthy.”

“There is not much to report on,” he wrote.

‘Wild and inflammatory’

As Dargey embarks on his new business ventures, Agassi is afraid.

“I owe it to my children and myself to do everything that I can to prevent history from repeating itself,” she wrote in one court filing.

According to her lawsuit, he orchestrated a deal for his new employer, Anandacom, to acquire another company called Synergy Construction, previously owned by a family in Woodinville.

Before Dargey was busted for fraud, he chose Synergy Construction as the subcontractor for the Grand Avenue apartment complex. State records show Anandacom investors took control of the company in late 2020. Synergy Construction and Anandacom now share a suite in the same Bellevue business park.

The companies’ stakeholders are identified in court filings as Hua Han, Li Niu, Qiang Wang and Zhibin Ding.

An attorney representing the investors did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment.

The Herald could not confirm whether any of them were victims of Dargey’s federal crimes. Dargey’s restitution orders only lists the initials of the investors he cheated. And the federal court’s practice is to redact full names of crime victims from public records, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Agassi suspects Dargey, too, has an ownership stake that he hasn’t disclosed to his probation officer, as required under the terms of his release from prison.

She alleged in court filings that some of Anandacom’s principal investors and employees “have indicated to me that Dargey has or will have ownership or other profit percentage interest in future projects.”

Dargey has repeatedly denied an ownership interest. He has told the court he fears he will be fired because of Agassi’s contact with Synergy and Anandacom.

Anandacom’s corporate counsel has also said Dargey has no ownership, calling Agassi’s allegations “wild and inflammatory.”

After Agassi contacted the companies seeking information about Dargey’s role there, attorney Christopher Thayer of Seattle-based Pivotal Law Group sent her a cease-and-desist notice, court records show.

Judge O’Donnell granted Thayer’s request for a protective order, specifying that any confidential information from Anandacom and Synergy “shall be used solely for the purpose of preparing for trial and for the trial of this case.”

The order doesn’t make an exception allowing that information to be shared with Dargey’s probation officer.

“Anandacom and Synergy are not trying to block or prevent any discovery,” Thayer wrote in a court filing. “But merely to ensure their proprietary business information is protected in this contentious lawsuit between two former spouses.”

Brian Muchinsky, the Bellevue attorney representing Agassi, rejected that argument.

“If Ms. Agassi learns of violations of the condition of Dargey’s parole, I believe that she has a duty to report them,” Muchinsky said in an email. “It’s not like the parole officer has a blog for such information. I do not share your conclusion that its disclosure would destroy confidentiality; unless you assume that what is being disclosed is illegal, and therefore to be documented in publicly available criminal pleadings.”

“But then,” he added, “you might know something I don’t.”

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

Corrections: An earlier version of this story misstated the prison where Agassi visited Dargey, how Agassi learned of Dargey’s second marriage and how Dargey paid for the Everett Public Market. The story has been modified to correct the errors.

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