The wealthy son of an Iranian prince pleaded not guilty Friday to allegations that he falsely claimed to be a pauper to collect thousands of dollars in food stamps and welfare payments.
Ali Pascal Mahvi, 66, entered his pleas during his first appearance in Geauga County Common Pleas Court.
He is charged with four felonies: illegal use of food stamps, Medicaid fraud and two counts of grand theft. Prosecutors say Mahvi defrauded Medicaid out of $45,000 in cash and about $8,400 in food stamps.
Mahvi, who walked into court with the help of a cane, said little during his brief court hearing.
When questioned outside the courtroom by WKYC investigator Tom Meyer, Mahvi said he “didn’t commit a crime.”
Neither he nor his attorney Brendan Delay would comment further.
The defense attorney did, however, file a motion in which he alleges prosecutors are unfairly targeting Mahvi.
Delay contends Mahvi is the first resident charged with food stamp fraud since Prosecutor James Flaiz took office in 2013.
Further, Delay complained that the indictment is devoid of facts.
“If practice make perfect, [Flaiz] had zero practice before writing this type of criminal indictment for food stamp or Medicaid fraud. It is not informative or particular,” Delay wrote.
In an interview after the hearing, Flaiz said Mahvi is not the first indicted and added: “What does that matter?”
“We feel we have the evidence for a conviction and we're moving forward with the case," he said.
Flaiz has previously said he believes Mahvi’s crime warrant a prison term.
During the hearing, Flaiz expressed concern to Judge Forrest W. Burt that Mahvi, who also holds citizenship in France, would flee the country before his trial, now set for May.
Mahvi’s bond requires him to surrender his passports to his attorney. He is not permitted to leave the state without approval from the judge.
“If you have a need to leave the state, you will ask the state’s permission to do so,” Burt told Mahvi.
In an earlier interview with WKYC, Mahvi estimated his worth at about $120 million.
The bulk of it stems from his ties to a 70-percent ownership of a St. Lucia resort.
His $800,000 home in Russell Township features five bedrooms and five bathrooms, an in-ground swimming pool, and stable with horses.
According to a book he wrote, Mahvi is the son of Abolfath Mirza Mahvi, a Prince Royal of Iran and founder of M. Group Resorts, a resort development company.
Mahvi, however, contends he fell into financial hardship in 2014 and that he was not generating any income for himself, his wife and three adult children.
Sheriff’s detectives and prosecutors, however, say that while the Mahvis were receiving government assistance, bank records show the family’s monthly net income ranged from at least $3,200 to more than $8,500.
Mahvi has said the money came as loans or donations from friends and he believes that money was not required to be counted as income when applying for government aid.
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.