Judge finds Geauga County 'food stamp millionaire' guilty of welfare fraud

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Prosecutors say they will seek jail time for a wealthy Geauga County man convicted of fraudulently obtaining food stamps and Medicaid for his suburban family.

Pascal Mahvi, the so-called “Food Stamp Millionaire,” was convicted Friday of two fraud-related charges stemming from his acceptance of more than $8,300 in food stamps and other welfare benefits during a two-year span that ended with his arrest last year.

Mahvi and his attorney declined comment after Friday’s verdict. Mahvi is expected to be sentenced in four to six weeks.

Prosecutor James Flaiz said he will recommend that Mahvi serve some time in jail.

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“We’re absolutely going to recommend time behind bars,” Flaiz said. “I think people have to understand, if you abuse the system that taxpayers have set up to help the poor, and you defraud that system, there needs to be consequences.”

Mahvi, 66, faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, according to prosecutors. He could also be ordered to make restitution for the welfare benefits he received.

Ohio law, however, suggests probation for low-level, first-time offenders. Mahvi was convicted of a fifth-degree felony for food stamp fraud and a misdemeanor for making false or misleading statements in his application for Medicaid.

WKYC legal analyst and attorney Adam VanHo said Mahvi is unlikely to go to a state prison.

“For as egregious as this fraud was, Mr. Mahvi will most likely never see the inside of a prison cell,” VanHo said.

Instead, under sentencing guidelines, Mahvi is likely to get probation and perhaps a brief jail sentence or house arrest. He also will be ineligible for food stamps in the future, VanHo said.

The Investigator Tom Meyer first exposed the investigation last year in an exclusive report on food stamp abuse.

Prosecutors and county investigators found that Mahvi failed to fully disclose his wealth, which includes an expansive, $800,000 Russell Township home, an in-ground swimming pool, several cars, stabled horses and undeveloped property worth tens of millions of dollars in St. Lucia.

Mahvi has asserted that he is the son of an Iranian prince and comes from a successful, wealthy family. He boasted to WKYC that he once lunched with Donald Trump. But he defended his application for welfare, saying his businesses failed and he had no choice but to seek public assistance.

But prosecutors said that while Mahvi’s family was receiving food stamps in 2014 through 2016, investigators uncovered more than $1 million flowing through several family bank accounts. But those records, Judge Forrest W. Burt found, do not cast an accurate or thorough accounting.

As a result, Burt, who heard the case this week after Mahvi waived his right to a jury trial, acquitted the businessman of two counts of grand theft.

In a three-page decision, Burt said the state’s case was hampered by the lack of a forensic examination of Mahvi’s assets.

“Testimony from a forensic accountant ….would have been of great benefit to the parties and the court,” Burt wrote. “Simply adding debits and credits into and out of the various accounts does not present an accurate representation of whether [Mahvi] did or did not disclose resources or income.”

Mahvi’s attorney, Brendan Delay, said in opening statements that prosecutors created “an illusion of great wealth” when, in fact, Mahvi was destitute. He said Mahvi’s business ventures had failed, his home was in foreclosure, the St. Lucia property was heavily mortgaged, and that he needed the food stamps to provide for his wife and his adult children.

Mahvi said the bank accounts merely reflect loans totaling about $500,000 that came from several friends and fellow church members. The loans are not required to be disclosed in the welfare application.

However, only three of the friends testified about the loans at trial. Burt said it appears Mahvi paid household expenses with funds from two businesses.

To prosecutors, that’s proof that Mahvi was no pauper.

“I think this is an individual who just takes whatever he can get,” Flaiz said. “And this is something that he thought he could get. And there’s consequences to his actions.”

READ MORE: 'Food-stamp millionaire' goes on trial in Geauga County