Raid targets millionaire on food stamps

Food Stamp Millionaire Probed

RUSSELL TOWNSHIP, OH. - He was born the son of a prince. He boasts that his companies developed multi-million dollar properties across the globe - from St. Lucia to Southern California to the Middle East.

His sprawling, 8,000 square-foot home in Russell Township, Ohio, complete with horses and an in-ground swimming pool, and the sports cars attest to the life-long success of Ali Pascal Mahvi.

Yet there he was, waiting his turn, a prince becoming a pauper, asking for food stamps in little Geauga County.

And, he got what he asked for. For himself, his wife, and their three adult children.

For two years, the family was handed about $300 a month in government food stamps. They also wanted help to pay their gas and electric bills. And Medicaid. They needed – and got - Medicaid.

But to law enforcement, this poverty was all a ruse. While getting welfare, prosecutors say Mahvi had millions in the bank.

Detectives are now looking at Mahvi’s myriad bank accounts, trying to piece together his family’s total worth as they investigate potential theft as well as Medicaid and welfare fraud charges.

“It’s outrageous to see a situation where somebody is living in a house almost worth a million dollars, a horse barn, driving luxury cars, have millions of dollars in overseas bank accounts and here they are accepting this type of assistance,” said Geauga County Prosecutor James R. Flaiz.

“Certainly, they were very good at manipulating the system.”

Mahvi, reached by phone Wednesday, adamantly denied any wrongdoing. He said he is "not a wealthy man" and that the investigation "is all a misunderstanding."

"The allegations are not true," he said. "I'm not guilty."

He said despite his appearance of wealth, he was and is eligible for aid. By law, his home - worth more than $800,000 - and personal belongings don't preclude him from obtaining government assistance.

Mahvi said he's relied on loans from friends to help his family survive.

"If you don't like the [food stamp] system, change it," said Mahvi, 65. "I can borrow a hundred million dollars from friends and still get food stamps."

Last week, a search warrant was obtained and inside the Mahvi residence – worth more than $800,000 – detectives seized more evidence.

About a dozen officers from Russell Township and South Russell Village, along with agents from the county Department of Jobs and Family Services and county prosecutors, searched the home and a large stable sitting on nearly six acres of land owned by Mahvi.

Detectives also rifled through two cars, a Lexus and a BMW, parked in the attached four-car garage.

Neither Mahvi nor his wife, Caryl, has been charged with any crime. The investigation is ongoing.

According to old news reports, Mahvi is the son of Abolfath Mirza Mahvi, a Prince Royal of Iran and founder of M. Group Resorts, a resort development company.

Ali Pascal Mahvi is credited with developing the Jalousie Plantation Resort and The Jalousie Enclave, the site of UNESCO's newest World Heritage. He boasts of his wealth on his LinkedIn.com page.

“I have flown aircraft since 16 and [was] an ocean sailor. I published my book, ‘Deadly Secrets of Iranian Princes – Audacity to Act,’ about my experiences in Iran and the Shah's aspirations to be a nuclear power,” he wrote.

One friend wrote a fawning recommendation of Mahvi.

“Pascal is an amazing and talented visionary and entrepreneur. He is the epitome of a consummate professional and embraces those around him with a contagiously charming and inviting personality,” the friend wrote on LinkedIn.

To welfare officials, the Mahvis painted a picture of financial ruin and desperation inside their expansive home.

The family told county workers that they were surviving on the help of church donations and loans from friends. Records show the family received two personal loans – one in 2014 and another in February - totaling $25,400.

But according to the affidavit compiled by Geauga County investigators, the family has at least 14 bank accounts with a combined value of more than $4.2 million. Those funds were not disclosed when Mahvi applied for benefits, officials said.

Mahvi told Channel 3 News that the bank accounts are old and one statement - a Swiss account belonged to his father. He scoffed at the police contention that the Swiss account holds $4 million.

"Show me the account. I will kiss your feet," he said. 

Detectives have combed through the bank accounts focusing on 23 months – March 2014 to February 2016 – when the Mahvis received food stamps.

They noted typical expenses for affluent families: a $4,600 mortgage payment, $567 for cell phones, $200 meals at local restaurants and $350 for cable TV. And there were stops for tanning sessions and Starbucks. Mahvi did not deny the household expenses, but said his lifestyle is relative to others.

"It was our right to apply [for food stamps] and I applied," he said.

Investigators say that while Mahvis were receiving government assistance, their bank records show the family’s monthly net income ranged from at least $3,200 to more than $8,500. Mahvi said the money came as loans or donations from friends and cannot be counted as income, according to food stamp rules.

When Mahvi initially filed for food stamps in April 2014, he told the county that his total net income after taxes and housing costs was zero and that his resources – cash, savings and checking accounts – were less than $100, records shows.

In June 2014, the Mahvis filed a second application for Medicaid, records show. Mahvi wrote that in the next year he expected to earn more than $300,000 from his company, Idria Energy, and his Caribbean resort interest.

 His wife claimed income of $1,200 in rental fees and $1,700 in “other income.” That income, investigators said, was not disclosed when the family filed for food stamps.

A year later, in April 2015, the family re-applied for Medicaid and again, claimed zero income. The application was approved for one year.

During the investigation, detectives say they uncovered what appears to be “structuring” bank transactions by the family. Investigators say six deposits totaling $30,000 were made in increments under $10,000.

 For example, on Feb. 4, the family deposited $4,000 at 2:55 p.m. About two minutes later, $6,000 was deposited. Similar dual transactions were made in April and May, each minutes apart, records show.

Transactions over $10,000 require banks to file forms with the government under the Bank Secrecy Act.

“He doesn’t live in my neighborhood and he doesn’t have to deal with the kind of things I have to deal with,” said one woman, who receives government assistance. “That upsets me very badly. I think he should have to go to jail.”

It was questions – legal questions -  asked by Ali Pascal Mahvi of a county welfare official that raised suspicions earlier this year. The lone county Jobs and Family Services investigator, Ashly Hiscox, coordinated her investigation with Karen Sweet, a former long-time deputy now working as an investigator for the county prosecutor.

The raid last week is expected to be followed up by a grand jury hearing and a potential indictment.


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