Jury convicts McAllen urologist, wife of funneling $1.8M to Iran - The Monitor: News

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Jury convicts McAllen urologist, wife of funneling $1.8M to Iran

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Dr. Hossein Lahiji

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 10:01 pm

McALLEN — A federal jury in Oregon convicted a local urologist and his wife Thursday of laundering $1.8 million to Iran, violating U.S. sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation, court records say. 

Dr. Hossein Lahiji and his wife, attorney Najmeh Vahid Lahiji, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit money laundering during a federal trial that ended Thursday in a Portland, Ore., federal courtroom. 

The guilty verdict came after more than two days of deliberations in the 13-day trial. The husband and wife each face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine at a sentencing hearing set for Nov. 19. 

A 26-page indictment filed in 2010 named the couple as recipients of federal tax exemptions for their donations to a Portland-based nonprofit that channels aid to other charities in Iran.

Lahiji, 50, and his 36-year-old wife made more than $1.8 million in “purported charitable donations” to Child Foundation, the indictment said. The money went toward Iranian bank accounts that remained under control of the McAllen urologist and his wife. 

Prosecutors said the laundered money was used to make investments, as well as pay for services and property in Iran — a violation of the U.S. trade embargo against the country since 2010. 

Attempts to reach lawyers for Lahiji and Vahid were unsuccessful Thursday night. 

Beyond Thursday’s conviction, federal court records say Lahiji and his wife still face healthcare fraud charges on a separate indictment returned in 2011 in U.S. District Court in Houston. 

Named as a co-conspirator, but not charged in the indictment was Mehrdad Yasrebi, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and was sentenced to five years’ probation and a $50,000 fine in 2012. 

Yasrebi headed Child Foundation, the charity that Lahiji and his wife used to launder the money to Iran. 

The indictment said Yasrebi sent money supposedly for food and aid to his cousin and an Iranian government-controlled bank. 

Yasrebi’s cousin, Ahmad Iranshahi, is an Iranian national never arrested in the case and remains a fugitive, court records show.

Yasrebi and the Child Foundation moved $5.4 million — including some of the McAllen couple’s money — between 2001 and 2005 through a Swiss bank account, prosecutors said. Those funds had been deposited with Bank Melli, an Iranian government-controlled bank, the indictment said.

“Virtually all” the money donated to Child Foundation went to Iran, with millions in investments in exported goods and bulk agricultural commodities that violated the U.S. trade embargo. 

Yasrebi sought assistance from Iranian officials and Hezbollah, an Islamic militant group the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization, upon its founding in 1999, the indictment said. Court records do not allege any direct link between Lahiji and his wife to Hezbollah. 

Founded in 1994, Child Foundation continues to send aid money to the Middle East.

Following the charges against Lahiji and Vahid in 2010, the organization said on its website that its aid goes toward “support of civil society in Iran — and not the Iranian government.” 

In 2007 — the final year of the money laundering scheme — the vast majority of its donations went to Iran, with a small percentage going to programs in Afghanistan and Indonesia. 

The nonprofit’s latest IRS disclosure form shows it sent more than $1.4 million to the Middle East in 2012. 

Texas Medical Board records show Lahiji, an Iranian native, received his license to practice medicine in Texas in 1995. It lists Doctors Hospital at Renaissance as the facility where he has medical privileges. 

ANOTHER PENDING CASE

A superseding indictment in that case was returned against the couple in May, saying between 2003 and 2011 they fraudulently billed more than $1.5 million to Medicare and Medicaid for procedures purportedly performed by the doctor when he actually was traveling in the Middle East. Prosecutors also accuse Lahiji of “upcoding,” where a doctor over-bills the government for procedures not performed on patients.

The pending, superseding indictment also accuses the couple of using an unlicensed money broker known as a hawala to violate the U.S. embargo with Iran. 

More than $1.1 million in 11 transactions was funneled toward real estate ventures in Iran in 2008, the indictment says. After two wire transfers from accounts at Lone Star National Bank, the money went to Espanada Exchange of Laguna Heights, Calif., and then on to an associate in Isfahan, Iran, prosecutors said. 

Lahiji’s wife is accused in the indictment of maintaining the books in the alleged scheme, noting land purchases and investments in Iran. The indictment cites a document she wrote in which she considers whether her father, who lives in Iran, should be paid a salary for attending to the tenants at properties the couple owns.

The indictment quotes an email from Lahiji’s wife to an accountant, saying the couple sends money to her father, who purchases and develops land and hands over 60 percent of the profit. 

The case is set to go to trial in October.

jtaylor@themonitor.com

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