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Bulgarian women want answers from landlord

News Channel 8
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 01:14 PM

The attorney for two Bulgarian college students, who accuse their employer/landlord of installing hidden video cameras in their apartment, is asking a judge to order him to answer deposition questions.

The students, Ralitsa Dzhambazova, 24, and Vanya Samokovareva, 23, came to Hillsborough County from Bulgaria in May 2011 to work at Nadir Punjani's Bollywood café as servers.  When they arrived he employed them as models and actresses to promote his new venture Pizza Babe. 

The women discovered the cameras disguised as motion and smoke detectors two months after they moved into an apartment they leased from Punjani.  The cameras were in their bedroom and bathroom as well as other areas.

Dzhambazova and Samokovareva filed a lawsuit against Punjani in September 2011 claiming, among other things, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Punjani filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2011, which effectively put the case on hold.

The women want to know if Punjani watched or recorded video of them naked, going to the bathroom, or showering, with the cameras.

Punjani, also known as Raj Armani, repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination during a three-hour, videotaped deposition Aug. 17.

Attorney Mark Wright asked Punjani about the whereabouts of the cell phones that he used during 2011.

Punjani admitted under oath that he had sold a BlackBerry on eBay that he used during the time in question.

When asked why he sold it, he said, "Because I wanted to."

Wright quizzed Punjani about whether the BlackBerry contained video or photographs of Dzhambazova and Samokovareva.

"Did the phone contain any photo of Ralitsa or Vanya?" Punjani repeated.

"Photo or video," Wright asked.

"2011, I said yes," Punjani said.

"I said in Tuscany Bay, in their apartment?" Wright asked.

"I can't remember. They were hired as models and when we do the shoot we took pictures and videos. I can't remember," Punjani said.

"We can dance, you want to dance, I'll get my shoes out," Wright said.

Wright asked Punjani if he knew Dzhambazova and Samokovareva.

"I respectfully decline to answer the question based on my rights of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Punjani said.

Punjani admitted he sold an iPhone that he used in 2011 during a trip that he made to India in May 2012.

He said another iPhone that he used in 2011 broke and he returned it to AT&T.

Punjani later testified that his phones did not contain any video of the women taken at the Tuscany Bay apartment he leased to them.  He said he no longer had any of the phones that he used in 2011.

He also testified that he no longer possessed an Apple MacBook laptop.

On Sept. 9, 2011, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Herbert Baumann issued an order stating Punjani shall not destroy or discard any computer, laptop, iPhone, router, server or Wi-Fi box that he used or had in his possession in the last six months. 

Wright reminded Punjani of the order and asked him if he violated it.

"I respectfully decline to answer the question based on my rights of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Punjani said.

When asked if he installed cameras in the apartment, Punjani invoked the Fifth Amendment.

When asked if he hired anyone to install cameras in the apartment, he took the Fifth.

The sheriff's office found no evidence of a crime when it investigated the complaint last year from Dzhambazova and Samokovareva. It closed the case, claiming there was no evidence the cameras were connected to a recording device. 

The women contend Punjani removed some equipment from the apartment while they were not home.

When asked in the deposition if he removed anything from the apartment after the cameras were discovered, Punjani again took the Fifth.

James Felman, a civil and criminal attorney, said Punjani is not permitted to use the Fifth Amendment as both a sword and a shield.

"You can't pick to testify about the things that might help you and then hide behind the Fifth Amendment as a shield when it comes to the answers about the same subject matter and the same people," Felman said.

Felman points out he is going to feel pretty good about a civil case if the defendant he is suing is taking the Fifth.

"It's going to be devastating for them, it should be anyway.  I get to get up and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you may infer that everything that I am about to tell you is true because I asked him and he refused to deny it,' "  he said.

Frustrated with the results of the deposition, Wright asked the Hillsborough county state attorney to grant Punjani use Immunity, which prevents prosecutors from using Punjani's testimony against him in a criminal case.

  On Sept. 7, Chief Assistant State Attorney Karen Stanley wrote bankruptcy judge Michael Williamson granting use immunity to Punjani.

Wright then filed a motion asking Williamson to order Punjani to answer the deposition questions.

He and the women are waiting for a decision. 

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