They say they are stunned by the charges against him.
"Everybody was like, 'What, Jack?'" said Mitchel Hamauei, a friend who runs a Corpus Christi Mediterranean market and deli that Manssor "Jack" Arbabsiar frequented.
Friends describe Arbabsiar as irresponsible yet well meaning, as prone to give cash to anyone who needs it as he is to hide in an apartment when creditors knock.
They say he is chatty, not secretive. People who know him say he has a habit of starting projects that do not last, from flunking out of a Texas college to launching used-car dealerships, a Greek restaurant and other ventures that either failed or were sold.
He got his nickname from his penchant for swigging Jack Daniels whiskey, friends said.
"No way was this guy the master of this plot," said former roommate Tom Hosseini, who has known Arbabsiar for 30 years. "Iran has 75 million people, and they cannot find a better guy to make a plot like this?"