Pascal Mahvi may look like a millionaire, but it’s only an “illusion of great wealth” and the Geauga County man deserved the food stamps he collected for nearly two years, his attorney said Monday.

Prosecutors counter that Mahvi and his family hid multiple bank accounts, where about $1 million flowed over that span while Mahvi received about $8,300 in food stamps.

Mahvi, a Russell Township resident, went on trial Monday in Geauga County Common Pleas Court. He’s accused of illegal use of food stamps, Medicaid eligibility fraud and grand theft.

Mahvi, the son of an Iranian prince, has pleaded not guilty, saying his failed business left him no choice but to seek government aid.

But prosecutors argue that Mahvi concealed assets in order to collect the food benefits. For example, they say he also failed to tell county welfare workers of his interest in a development project in St. Lucia.

“There was no mention of a property in St. Lucia and there was no disclosure of any bank accounts in that initial online application,” assistant prosecutor Nicholas Burling said in his opening remarks. “The entire amount of money that passed through these accounts was approximately $1 million. And none of that was mentioned.”

Defense attorney Brendan Delay offered a sweeping opening statement that was cut-off by Common Pleas Judge Forrest Burt after about 20 minutes. Burt is hearing the case without a jury.

Delay argues that Mahvi broke no laws in obtaining the food stamps. He said the land in St. Lucia was not required to be reported. And besides, he said, the land is undeveloped and already heavily mortgaged. He also said Mahvi is just one of several investors.

“This alleged land in St. Lucia is not an accessible resource,” Delay said. “It cannot be accessed by him. He can’t get any rent from it. He can’t sell it. He cannot pull off loans from it.”

As for the money, the attorney said Mahvi’s church friends provided the loans out of a sense of “Biblical responsibility” after Mahvi’s business collapsed. Delay said Mahvi was not required to report the money as income.

“This is part of the illusion of great wealth which the state is portraying. But it is great wealth that cannot be considered,” Delay told the judge.

Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday.

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