Who is Nate Paul, the real estate investor linked to abuse-of-office allegations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton?
By Edgar Walters and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
Walk through downtown Austin or its rapidly developing nearby neighborhoods and it's impossible to miss the massive black banners draped over office buildings, warehouses and bars. "Another World Class Project," reads one posted to the metal siding of a squat industrial building downtown. Other banners riff on their own ubiquity with a pithy line popularized by DJ Khaled: "Another One."
The promotional campaign belongs to an Austin-based real estate investment firm owned by Nate Paul. World Class Capital Group has acquired an enviable portfolio of some of Austin's choicest parcels with ambitious plans to lease or develop them. Paul has described himself in media reports as wanting to become "the youngest self-made real estate billionaire."
These days, Paul's name is associated not just with a real estate empire but with a series of recent high-profile bankruptcies and a much-publicized raid on his home and business office last year by FBI and U.S. Department of Treasury agents. The investigation remained active as recently as April, though no criminal charges have been filed, according to the Austin Business Journal.
And now he has been linked to bribery and abuse-of-office allegations made against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
According to the Houston Chronicle, former top aides to Paxton have alleged that the attorney general inappropriately appointed a special prosecutor to target "adversaries" of Paul, who donated $25,000 to Paxton's reelection campaign in 2018. Those "adversaries" appear to include agents who raided Paul's home and business office, though Paxton has confirmed only that he authorized an investigation into "allegations of crimes relating to the FBI, other government agencies and individuals" and that the investigation involved Paul.
A Paxton-appointed special prosecutor, Brandon Cammack, obtained subpoenas to look into allegations Paul made accusing federal authorities of wrongdoing when they raided his home and offices, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
And a text message, which was first obtained by the Houston Chronicle, sent last week by senior staff at the attorney general's office to Paxton does not specify the nature of the real estate investor's involvement in the "violations of law" they accuse Paxton of committing, but the aides mention Paxton's "relationship and activities with Nate Paul."
Paxton has said the allegations made against him by high-ranking attorneys at his agency are false, brought by "rogue" employees, and that he does not intend to resign. He also said he appointed a special prosecutor to lead the investigation to keep the investigation "independent" of his relationship with Paul.
Paul did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Earlier in his career, media reports called the now 33-year-old investor a "wunderkind," a "rising star" and a "prodigy," with an estimated net worth of nearly $1 billion. Raised in Victoria by Indian immigrant parents, Paul changed his name from Natin to Nate, moved to Austin, enrolled at the University of Texas and then dropped out after acquiring a taste for flipping real estate, according to media reports.
He founded World Class in 2007 and has said he got his start purchasing property at low prices and in a low-interest-rate environment after the 2008 financial crisis. He bought storage facilities, land in Austin, a marina on Lake Travis and a building being used by a call center in south Austin, according to a profile in Forbes. "I was buying at the pit of the crisis," he told the magazine. "In many of those deals, there was no other bidder."
By 2015, he had amassed hundreds of millions of dollars, primarily from institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies, according to the Austin Business Journal.
"I started with zero," Paul told the Business Journal. "There was no legacy. I'm self-made."
In brief media appearances, Paul has shown off a taste for luxury. In 2013, a New York Post report documented his attendance at Leonardo DiCaprio's 39th birthday party. In 2017, he drove a Forbes reporter around Austin in a Bentley to point out his real estate holdings. He has posed for photos in the Austin Business Journal in his office in the penthouse of Austin's iconic Frost Bank Tower. And he owns a nearly 9,200-square-foot mansion in a wealthy West Austin neighborhood appraised at $2.4 million, according to local tax records.
A 2017 Forbes profile pronounced him a "Texas Tycoon" and estimated his net worth to be about $800 million. Paul's company at the time had $1.2 billion in assets and 10 million square feet of commercial space, ranging from offices to retail outlets to self-storage facilities, according to Forbes.
As his real estate ventures expanded across state lines, with World Class and its related companies opening offices in New York and Los Angeles, Paul attracted controversy at home. Former employees of one of his rooftop bars in Austin sued after the bar allegedly cheated them out of tips, according to Forbes. The case was settled privately in 2014.
And among local musicians, Paul became known as something of a venue-killer, as World Class developed a reputation for buying properties leased by bars and clubs and promptly evicting them as tenants.
Vincent Salvaggio, the owner of downtown rooftop venue Ethics Music Lounge, told the Austin Chronicle in 2018 that World Class Capital locked the bar's doors for delinquent payment immediately after purchasing the property, unbeknownst to Salvaggio.
"They had me locked out before I even got the legal paperwork that they owned it and they haven't let me back in to get my shit — not my sound system, not even my checkbook," Salvaggio told the Chronicle at the time. "They're trying to raise the rent on everything, so it's good for [them] to get people out who are playing lower rent."
Recent local news reports and bankruptcy filings indicate Paul's business may have fallen on difficult times. At least 18 entities connected to World Class Holdings have filed for bankruptcy in the past year, according to the Austin Business Journal. Paul's firm has used the bankruptcy process to "fend off creditors and provide a degree of breathing room as it tries to find a way out of default on multiple loans tied to real estate across the city," the publication reported.
In September, American Express sued Paul and World Class Capital seeking to collect more than $300,000 in credit card debt, court records show.
Meanwhile, Paxton's office has come to Paul's defense in at least one other legal matter, records show. Paul's World Class firm works through a complex web of more than a dozen affiliated business partnerships, which jointly own properties with investors.
A dispute arose two years ago between companies affiliated with World Class and the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, which invested in multiple Austin properties with the companies. The foundation is an Austin-based nonprofit that provides grants to charitable organizations and academic scholarships for students with financial needs.
The Mitte Foundation sued Paul in 2018, claiming he wasn't sharing financial information on their jointly owned investments that Paul's businesses managed. The case went to arbitration, and on July 1, 2019, a company affiliated with World Class agreed to buy out Mitte's interest in the real estate partnerships for $10.5 million with payment due that August.
It never came, said Ray Chester, the lawyer representing the Mitte Foundation in the case.
In October 2019, the judge in the case ordered a receiver to take over the business partnerships, which would compel Paul to reveal the financial records that Chester said still hadn't been shared with the Mitte Foundation. Chester said that within days, Paul "blatantly defied" the arbitrator's ruling and said he had sold the partnerships at less than half of their market value.
But the sale was to another company affiliated with Paul, Chester said.
"He basically sold it to himself at below market value," Chester said, although court records show the sale was never consummated.
As Paul's firm cycled through teams of attorneys and held back on making the $10.5 million payment, Paxton's office intervened in the case on behalf of World Class and its business affiliates this June, court records show. Paxton argued that his office needed to "protect the interests of the public" because the suit involved a charitable trust.
In July, Paxton asked a judge to halt the case. During that time, Chester said Paxton's office called him five to 10 times per day to try to get him to settle for "pennies on the dollar," calls that Chester characterized as "vaguely threatening."
On Sept. 20, less than two weeks before news broke about the allegations against Paxton, the attorney general's office reversed itself and announced its intention to step away from the case, which is still ongoing.
After filing for bankruptcy in August, the World Class affiliate handling investments in the property did not pay the $10.5 million or turn over the records, Chester said. But a clause in the settlement agreement does allow the Mitte Foundation to take a valuable, larger ownership share in the downtown property, Chester said.
As media reports surfaced detailing Paul's connection to the allegations against Paxton, Texas Republican politicians who had received campaign contributions from Paul announced they would donate the funds to charities. Campaigns for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy distanced themselves from Paul's campaign contributions, which ranged from $2,500 to $10,000.
Roy, formerly a top Paxton aide at the Texas attorney general's office, also called on Paxton to resign.
Although Paul has not said much publicly since garnering attention in the past year for the FBI raid and his bankruptcy lawsuits, he frequently shares inspirational quotes on his LinkedIn profile. He shared a Sun Tzu quote this summer: "Pretend to be weak, so your enemy may grow arrogant," appending the hashtag #WorldClass.
On Monday, he posted another update: "Work Hard in Silence, Let Success Make the Noise."
In the Austin Business Journal's 2015 profile of Paul, outside observers praised him with a tinge of skepticism. David Armbrust, a real estate attorney at Armbrust & Brown, called Paul's meteoric rise "very impressive."
"I suppose like many in the real estate business, he may fit into one of two categories — either a rising star or a shooting star," Armbrust said at the time. "Only time will tell."
Shannon Najmabadi and Emma Platoff contributed reporting.
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In what could be one of their least energetic showing to date, Austin FC was outperformed by home team San Jose in a 4-0 road loss late Wednesday night.
As the first team officially out of playoff contention in a loss on Saturday, the team seemed defeated from almost the moment they hit the pitch as Quakes standouts Chris Wondolowski and Javier "Chofis" Lopez scored on the team.
A tenth-place San Jose maintained a clean sheet in the match as they inch closer to a last-minute spot in playoffs.
Just as they did in their 1-0 loss Saturday, it was Austin FC who struck first in the match. Captain Alex Ring forced a save from Quakes keeper JT Marcinkowski in just the second minute of play, while star forward Sebastian Driussi followed soon after.
A little over 10 minutes later, San Jose responded with a shot of their own as Austin keeper Brad Stuver was forced into action with a diving save. But with a failing back line and a lack of energy throughout, a frustrated Stuver wouldn't be enough to stave off the home team Quakes in their four-goal triumph.
After a slow first half, San Jose star Chofis was the first to strike after sneaking past Stuver to make it 1-0 for the home team to kick off the second half.
Just five minutes later, Quakes midfielder Benjamin Kikanovic broke free with a fast-paced drive in a play that saw two Asutin FC players hit the ground to double the lead. Stuver and other players were immediately outraged in the controversial call after an apparent handball in the box.
MLS' top all-time scorer Chris Wondolowski capitalized on the slow Austin defense next, taking a pause in the box to score the third goal unmanned in the 59th minute.
Finally, Carlos Fierro clinched the win for the home team after placing a header from six yards out off of a cross and corner kick to end the match 4-0 for San Jose.
Austin head coach Josh Wolff attempted to staunch the wound with a series of subs starting at the beginning of the second half, subbing in native Austinite McKinze Gaines for Moussa Djitte and Rodney Redes for Cecilio Dominguez. But no subs were enough to push back against the 'Quakes as the team lost their second match in a row.
Austin FC has four final matches to end the season, including two remaining home matches against the Houston Dynamo at 4 p.m. on Sunday and a final match at Q2 Stadium against Sporting Kansas City at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 4.
85' San Jose makes it 4-0
Austin FC once again can't plug holes in the box as San Jose scores their fourth goal of the match off a set piece and header to make it 4-0 in the 85th minute. The Quakes' Carlos Fierro scores on a header from close up after a well-placed cross from Cristian Espinoza as a frustrated Stuver is unable to block the six-yard shot.
Frustrated and sluggish, Austin FC appears to have lost their chance at a win or draw in one of their worst losses by scoring margin this season.
59' Wondolowski scores for the "Quakes
Just a minute after he hits the pitch, MLS' all-time top scorer Chris Wondolowski tacks one more onto San Jose's lead as the home team leads 3-0 in the 59th minute. A beleaguered Austin leaves Wondolowski undefefended as he receives the ball in the box, pauses and scores in the bottom right corner of goal.
It's looking to be an especially bad match for Austin, who already sit at the bottom of the West. The Verde and Black continue to be outperformed in their late season road matches.
53' Austin doubles the lead
After a rough-and-tumble drive that saw two Austin FC players take a fall, San Jose's Benjamin Kikanovic shoots past Stuver to score the second goal of the match for the home team. The play drew ire from Austin FC players including Stuver, who said there was a handball in the box. Austin's defense continues to be outperformed in the match.
47' San Jose scores first
The Earthquakes finally capitalized on a sluggish Austin FC as San Jose's Javier "Chofis" Lopez snuck one past keeper Brad Stuver and a last-ditch dive from Austin's Jhohan Romana to net the first goal of the match. The goal is Lopez' 12th on the season.
40' Romana gets yellow carded
Romaña is trying to play flag football 😂 #AustinFC— Seth Davis (@sethdavis512) October 21, 2021
Austin FC's Jhohan Romana is the first to get yellow carded in the match after grabbing a jersey in the 40th minute of play. Seconds later, Austin nearly gets an opportunity as San Jose keeper JT Marcinkowski fumbles a blocked shot, but he passes the ball off before the Verde and Black can get one in off the rebound.
The Quakes repeat the move in the 41st minute as they nearly get one past Stuver, who is able to hold it down unguarded and grab a shot from Jeremy Ebobisse.
18' Stuver keeps it clean
Just like Saturday, it was Austin who struck first with a shot by Captain Alex Ring in just the second minute of play. Star newcomer Sebastian Driussi came soon after with a shot of his own, but the ball was once again kept out of goal.
Just over 10 minutes later, Austin keeper Brad Stuver got his first big test as the Quakes' Jeremy Ebobisse shot one towards the bottom left corner. In signature fashion, Stuver was able to keep a clean sheet.
Austin's "strongest lineup yet" may not have been able to finish in Saturday's loss, but they created plenty of chances. Wolff seems to have confidence in the starting XI and hasn't changed much for tonight.
Nick Lima is in for right back in Hector Jimenez's stead, while Cecilio Dominguez, Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi lead up front. Center back Matt Besler remains out on concussion protocol.
Tesla's third-quarter profits were released on Wednesday afternoon and current richest-man-on-earth Elon Musk topped the charts since his high-profile transition to Austin.
Q3 held record-high deliveries for the electric vehicle manufacturer, despite chip shortages and supply chain issues. Revenue came in slightly shy of expectations but still yielded the most profitable quarter thus far for Tesla. Plus, adjusted earnings per share are also on the up and up.
"A variety of challenges, including semiconductor shortages, congestion at ports and rolling blackouts, have been impacting our ability to keep factories running at full speed," Tesla said in a statement. "We believe our supply chain, engineering and production teams have been dealing with these global challenges with ingenuity, agility and flexibility."
According to Tesla's update, the EV giant's Q3 revenue came in at $13.76 billion—a big year-over-year increase as Tesla recorded $8.77 billion in Q3 of 2020. The expectation was $13.9 billion and though the company came in just a few million lower, it was the company's ninth-straight profitable quarter.
Though earnings were a touch lower than expected, adjusted earnings per share came in at $1.86, where expected had been $1.67, and a year ago was 76 cents per share.
An accomplishment for Tesla this quarter was delivering more than 241,300 vehicles worldwide from its California factory—almost half of what the company delivered throughout all of 2020.
This Q3 update comes on the heels of Tesla's announcement that it would move its headquarters to the capital city. Additionally, the new Gigafactory in southeast Travis County is looking more complete by the day. While full-scale production isn't slated to start until 2022, the factory has already begun testing its robotic assembly line.
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Radhia Gleis never meant to join a cult—in fact, she didn't even know she was part of one until decades after she had joined—and she's still picking up the pieces that her departure left behind.
Although it was Buddhafield, a movement that has been called a cult by a host of ex-followers, that brought Gleis to the Hill Country, the group's Austin presence has diminished to almost nothing. After over two decades in the group, Gleis revealed it all in her first-place PenCraft award-winning book, "The Followers, 'Holy Hell' and the Disciples of Narcissistic Leaders" in which she talks about the dangers of groupthink and the impact that spending years in the Buddhafield cult had on her.
Gleis now works as a clinical nutritionist and is working on healing through her art. (radiagleis.com)
From a "well-to-do" family in California, Gleis was learning how to make cocktails for wealthy dinner guests shortly after she learned how to walk. She grew up emotionally distant from her parents and only brother; Gleis vividly remembered being called "dopey" by her father, consistently forgotten by her mother and held at knifepoint by her brother.
Needless to say, Gleis grew up without secure connections. On top of that, she grew up in the 1960s and '70s during mass cultural upheaval, the free love movement and obsession with Eastern religions.
"There were these desires to expand your thinking, expand your consciousness as opposed to the 'Leave it to Beaver' kind of paradigm," Gleis told Austonia. "There was a rebellion, a schism in the culture."
She had become interested in the idea of nirvana when she was in high school, so when a friend told her about spirituality sessions with a beautiful woman named Malila who claimed to have experienced God directly, her interest was piqued.
Her experiences with Malila threw her into the spiritual realm. Gleis met Jaime Gomez, the would-be leader of the Buddhafield cult who went by many names, in the early 1980s through a friend of Malila's in California. Gomez, a native of Venezuela, was known to often wear only eyeliner and a speedo in his prime and when Gleis met him, he was clad only in a golden tan, skin-tight jeans and a small vest.
The Shakti scam
Gomez originally began guiding members through an independent spiritual journey but flags were raised when he began to see himself as a godlike figure. (WRA Productions LLC)
Her initiation was subtle—it started as just a group of friends who followed Gomez, a young yogi with a small but growing following, to learn techniques of "The Knowing" that he possessed. Members were initiated via "shakti," a godly transfer of power that opened your third eye. Members would "pranam," or deeply bow to show respect, to God during the first four years of Gleis' time with Gomez.
The initiation started as a relationship between the individual and their "divine birthright" through God.
"Generations were trying to get Shakti from him, they were trying to get his energy," Gleis said. "He was like, 'Whatever you experience in your initiation is between you and God, it has nothing to do with me.'"
Things started to change at the next initiation when Gomez had new members pranam to him and connect to his love, not the divine love they had come seeking.
"He would say, 'Well, Radhia, some people, not you, need a living person they can touch and see and talk to, I am just being that for them,'" Gleis said. "So he considered himself now a living deity like Jesus or Krishna or Buddha."
Although she did not support the pranam to Gomez, the shift was harrowing. While Gomez was a "skilled sociopath," Gleis said, he was also her friend and she was his close adviser; he knew all of her' hopes, dreams, fears and how to keep her around.
"If you go to Disneyland, it's a fantasy, but you're willing to forgo your disbelief for the fun, for the ride," Gleis said. "But what if you don't know it's fake? What if all your friends and all your family are in on it? And the one person that you revere the most is creating the illusion?"
It would take years for Gleis to learn Gomez was secretly taking advantage of members in the group.
The domino effect
The Buddhafield waltzed into Austin from West Hollywood in the late '90s after accusations against Gomez came out, Gleis would later learn. She found out that later that multiple members alleged that Gomez sexually abused them, and it was a pattern of his to jump ship and change his name once people started speaking out.
There were a few reasons the group chose Austin: their new home had to be in a warm climate, near a body of water, full of rich culture and jobs.
Having been in the cult for over a decade, the Austin move had triggered a need to build a life outside Buddhafield for Gleis. The connections she made outside the "family" she had made for herself led her to visit the home of an injured member of Buddhafield, where she says she was greeted by two men who told her tales of Gomez's transgressions.
Tales of Gomez attempting to hypnotize male members of the group into removing their clothes, which Gomez would deny, and his penchant for using the AIDS crisis to scare members into silence came to light. It was a feat in and of itself to tell a single soul about the things the victims had experienced, let alone make formal charges.
Among the victims was Will Allen, who released the documentary "Holy Hell," made from hours of his own original footage, in 2016 to detail his experiences.
The women in the group were untouched to Gleis' knowledge and some of the victims took years to gain the courage to speak out.
"Now it was like dominoes, it was like this was our #MeToo movement. When this guy came out, now all of a sudden, I'm getting phone calls because the rumors spread," Gleis said. "It was very heartbreaking—I started hearing all these stories of what (Gomez) had done and all the secrets that all of these men had been holding, these traumas that they had been holding in for years."
That was her line in the sand—so, at 55 years old, Gleis left Buddhafield, "alone and forsaken." And she has learned a good deal about herself since then—she works as a clinical nutritionist but left all of her friends behind, with no one to fall on but herself.
It has been 15 years since her departure—15 years to ponder how she was manipulated into that place. Gleis often compares those two decades of her life to Trumpism, where Gomez had tapped into her preconceived notions and led her to believe what she wanted to believe.
As someone who grew up not knowing love, it made sense to jump headfirst into the sense of community and protection that Buddhafield offered.
"We have to be careful when we use words like 'brainwashed.' We went willingly. Jaime didn't torture us. He didn't brainwash us," Gleis said. "All he did as a narcissist—he figured out what we were all thinking about and he became that for us. When you pranam to him, which we did, then he becomes bolder. That's what a sociopath does."
Gleis details her story of what led her in and out of Buddhafield in her book, "The Followers." Gomez and certain members who are still connected to Buddhafield have moved on to Hawai'i, but Gleis remains in Austin and is currently working on a children's novella.
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