Federal Indictment Charges Three in Scheme to Evade Iran Embargo and Defraud the IRS with False Charitable Donations
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 16, 2010|
PORTLAND, OR—A federal grand jury sitting in Portland has charged Hossein Lahiji, 47, of McAllen, Texas; Najmeh Vahid, 35, of San Antonio, Texas; and Ahmad Iranshahi, 53, of Tehran, Iran, in a two-count indictment charging conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit money laundering. The indictment alleges that the defendants transferred Lahiji's and Vahid's purported donations totaling more than $1.8 million to a Portland charity, the Child Foundation, and invested the funds in Iran in violation of the Iranian embargo. According to the indictment, Lahiji and Vahid, who are married, retained interest and control in Iran over a significant part of the transferred funds, yet claimed them as charitable deductions to reduce their U.S. income tax liability. Lahiji and Vahid are to appear in court in San Antonio during the week of December 20, 2010. Iranshahi, a resident of Iran, is a fugitive.
"It is imperative that the donating public have confidence that charities providing overseas services, are operating in compliance with all applicable U.S. laws," said United States Attorney Dwight Holton. "These defendants are charged with going to extraordinary lengths to conceal the transfer of large sums of money in violation of the trade restrictions with Iran that have been in place for well over a decade. This prosecution will help restore confidence in the integrity of charities."
The indictment specifies that the defendants used several different methods to facilitate the transfers through the Child Foundation: with the assistance of a series of money transmitters, through the Swiss bank account of a related charity, and by arranging for claimed embargo-exempt food commodities transactions from Dubai, U.A.E., designed to disguise what were in reality significant cash transfers to Iran. Child Foundation additionally provided funds for a large portion of the overhead and operational expenses in Iran. Iranshahi, the head of a related Iranian entity, took control of the funds once they reached Iran, and provided deceptive records and receipts for auditors and regulators in the U.S.
The charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The conspiracy to commit money laundering has a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Holton noted the extraordinary teamwork involved in the underlying investigation. Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Coast Guard all provided major contributions to the investigation. Personnel from the Oregon State Police, the Department of State, the Oregon Department of Justice, the United States Marshal's Service, the Port of Portland Police, and the Department of Defense also assisted. The prosecutions will be handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David L. Atkinson and Charles F. Gorder, Jr.
The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.