Republican donor kills deal in fraud case by writing 'innocent' in Farsi on plea agreement
What is a Silent Witness and how do you become one? Wochit
Farzaneh Akhavi admitted to defrauding six people. She said she took their money to fund a lavish lifestyle.
She agreed to repay $1.2 million. And she made a deal with federal prosecutors that would have gotten her no more three years in prison.
Then Akhavi added some characters in Farsi next to her signature on the plea agreement.
It could have been just a flourish. But federal prosecutors said in court last month the characters roughly translated to mean "innocent."
That led a federal judge in Phoenix to reject Akhavi's plea deal on June 29 and derail her sentencing hearing.
U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa ordered Akhavi instead to stand trial on at least 87 counts of fraud, identity theft and money laundering. If found guilty, that could send her to prison for the rest of her life.
The rejection of the plea agreement also could result in charges being filed against Akhavi's 36-year-old daughter. As part of Akhavi's original plea deal, authorities agreed not to pursue bank fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud or money-laundering charges against her daughter.
Akhavi, who was formerly involved in Southern California Republican campaigns and now lives in Gilbert, could not be reached for comment.
Her attorney did not return calls about the case.
The Farsi characters appeared on the signature page of a plea agreement filed in December, more than two years after a federal grand jury indicted Akhavi.
A critical part of any plea deal is an admission of guilt and an allocution, or statement, by the defendant regarding the elements of the crimes.
For Akhavi, that meant pleading guilty to bank fraud and money laundering as part of the fraud scheme and voluntarily agreeing to and approving the terms of the deal.
Asserting innocence in Farsi would be a direct contradiction of the agreement Akhavi signed — a way to take the government 's deal while maintaining she did nothing wrong.
"The judge said she didn't think the plea was genuine," said Linda Barnes, who attended the hearing and is listed in court documents as one of Akhavi's victims. "The defendant wouldn't come out and say she was guilty."
Barnes declined additional comment about the case, citing the likelihood she would be called as a witness if it goes to trial.
Akhavi, 58, previously admitted stealing the identity of a woman and defrauding five other victims.
Akhavi, who also goes by the name Frances Meshkin, said in the December plea agreement that she convinced victims that their money would be used for real-estate investment purchases, but converted their money to cash and deposited it into accounts controlled by her family.
"I told them that the money would be used to purchase or improve property in which they or a relative of theirs would have shared ownership," Akhavi said in the plea agreement. "While some of the money was spent on political activities or for the purchase of real estate, I did not tell the victims that I would be withdrawing large amounts of money in cash for unaccounted-for expenses."
Known as donor to Republican candidates
Akhavi was known as a donor and supporter of local Republican candidates in Orange County. Campaign-finance records show Akhavi has given about $31,000 to California Republican campaigns since 2004.
Akhavi was accused in a 2014 indictment of using her influence to systematically defraud a political hopeful out of $1.6 million; first convincing her to move from Orange County to Queen Creek and then using her name and Social Security number to open credit accounts and take out loans between 2009 and 2013.
Authorities said Akhavi used the woman's money to buy a car and a house for herself and two properties for her daughter.
The indictment refers to the victim only by the initials SRG. But court records showed a federal civil lawsuit was filed against Akhavi by a California woman named Soraya Ghalchi, who claimed she was defrauded in the financial scheme.
Federal authorities said Akhavi befriended Ghalchi "in order to form a partnership business and establish (Ghalchi's) political career."
In exchange for rent and utilities, Ghalchi worked for Akhavi as a graphic designer and constructed political signs, banners and pamphlets, according to the indictment.
Akhavi was accused in 2014 of taking out a $37,646 loan in Ghalchi's name for a 2007 Cadillac Escalade. Federal authorities say it was the first of a series of loans, accounts and properties obtained by Akhavi in Ghalchi's name.
Authorities said Akhavi used the name and bank accounts of a California non-profit called the Cyrus Society, which was operated by her husband. The IRS revoked the Cyrus Society's non-profit status in 2011 for failure to file its annual paperwork, records show.
Akhavi in 2009 told Ghalchi that she had found a piece of commercial property near Gilbert worth more than $1.5 million and asked her to partner in its purchase, according to the indictment.
Akhavi reached out to Ghalchi's brother in New York to fund the purchase. But she told him that the property was located in California and that he would be the sole owner, the indictment says.
"Almost immediately after receiving the money from (the Ghalchis), Akhavi began using it for personal use," according to the indictment, which noted that Akhavi had a balance of about $1,000 in her account before the Ghalchis gave her $420,000. "Akhavi made large cash withdrawals, ... wrote herself large personal and cashier's checks, ... invested in certificate of deposit in her own name, ... and made multiple transfers to separate bank accounts which she controlled."
She also instructed the Ghalchis to wire more than $1 million to the Cyrus Society account as part of their partnership in the fictional commercial-property investment, the indictment says.
Although Ghalchi's brother was reluctant to make the transfers, Akhavi convinced him that his sister "opened the account in honor of the biblical King Cyrus, the liberator of the Jewish people," the indictment says.
Federal authorities said Akhavi transferred the money into accounts owned by her and her daughter. She also gave her daughter $396,000 to buy two properties on Greenfield Road.
Akhavi admitted in the plea deal to obtaining a $211,105 mortgage from Wells Fargo Bank in Ghalchi's name to buy a home on Pinot Noir Avenue in Gilbert. Akhavi later created a fraudulent deed and tried to transfer ownership to her daughter, according to the indictment.
Criminal record dates back nearly 40 years
Records show Akhavi has a criminal record going back nearly 40 years in Texas under the Meshkin name. In 1986, she was arrested on charges of misappropriating funds that were later dismissed and, in 1978, she pleaded guilty to passing bad checks. She was fined $2,500, records show.
Akhavi originally was charged in Arizona on at least 87 counts of fraud. In exchange for her guilty plea, the government agreed to drop all but two charges and limit her prison sentence to a three-year maximum.
Despite her plea agreement, court records show Akhavi continued to push back against charges. In some cases, she continued blaming her victims, saying they lack credibility and stability and that they lied.
In motions filed in June, Akhavi objected to characterizations of her conduct and said the government had failed to make a case against her. She said "countless allegations in the indictment" have been proven false.
"Faced with the draconian option of spending potentially possibly 8-10 years in prison, or the ability to argue for probation, Ms. Akhavi opted to enter into a plea," the motion stated. "This choice was not without muse, anguish, and perhaps some regret."
Akhavi said several California politicians were prepared to testify on her behalf and rebut claims made by victims in the case.
"Many upstanding members of California’s political community, including the Mayor Pro Tem of Irvine, were prepared to come forward to dispute (Ghalchi's) wild tale," Akhavi said in her motion.
Akhavi argued the government overestimated the amount of losses suffered by victims, saying they were offset by her own attempts at recompense and the forfeiture of two properties.
Akhavi raised objections to several government claims, including her failure to file income-tax returns, which she said resulted from "the financial ruin she has suffered because of her dealings" with victims.
Nevertheless, Akhavi said she was willing to accept the court's judgment.
"Ms. Akhavi has accepted responsibility for those things that she did do wrong," Akhavi said in a motion. "She is prepared to accept whatever punishment this Court believes is appropriate, and to try and somehow move past this horrific phase of her life."
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