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Man held in Iranian's death in court in fraud case

  • Article by: MICHAEL GRACZYK
  • Associated Press
  • May 27, 2014 - 4:30 PM

HOUSTON — A Jordanian-born man facing state murder charges in the shooting death of an Iranian student and women's rights activist was denied bond Tuesday on federal fraud charges for what authorities say was his involvement in a welfare and Social Security benefits scheme.

Ali Irsan, 57, in custody since his arrest last week, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson during an initial court appearance he had only about $800 to his name and would need an appointed attorney. He listed about $1,800 in monthly welfare and disability benefits as income.

Johnson agreed to get him a lawyer and set a detention hearing for Thursday.

Federal prosecutors said evidence revealed at that hearing likely would show some connection to his state indictment in Houston for the slaying of 30-year-old Gelareh Bagherzadeh. The woman, a critic of the Tehran government, was gunned down near her parents' Houston home in 2012.

Ali, a naturalized citizen, his Jordanian national wife, Shmou Ali Alrawabdeh, 37, and daughter, Nadia Alia, 30, were all arrested Thursday at their home in Conroe, north of Houston, and charged in the alleged benefits scheme.

Ali, responding to questions from Johnson, said he was divorced, not legally married in the U.S. but had married again "overseas." Johnson looked puzzled when he indicated he might have been married to two women at the same time. Prosecutors outside the courtroom said he may have six or seven other children.

Nadia Ali, a U.S. citizen, made her initial appearance before Johnson earlier Tuesday, and said she had no attorney and had made no attempt to contact one. Johnson set another hearing for her on Wednesday.

The three are charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., theft of public money and benefits fraud. A federal criminal complaint alleges Irsan and his wife falsified documents to receive Social Security disability benefits with help from his daughter. Convictions on each of the charges carry prison terms of five to 10 years and fines of up to $250,000.

Bagherzadeh was shot to death as she talked with a friend on her cellphone. Her body was discovered slumped behind the wheel of her car after it crashed into the Houston townhome complex where she lived with her parents.

Another of Irsan's daughters had befriended Bagherzadeh while both were studying molecular genetics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Houston Chronicle reported. Nesreen Irsan introduced Bagherzadeh, who had recently moved to the U.S. from Iran, to her husband's identical twin brother, Cory Beavers. Bagherzadeh and Cory Beavers began dating.

Authorities also are now taking a new look at a different unsolved killing to see if the cases are related.

Harris County District Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff McShan has said investigators are examining whether a link exists between Bagherzadeh's death and the killing of her boyfriend's twin — Irsan's son-in-law — in November 2012. About 10 months after Bagherzadeh died, Nesreen Irsan's husband, Coty Beavers, was discovered dead from multiple gunshot wounds in the couple's suburban Harris County apartment.

No one was charged, and at the time, the Harris County Sheriff's office could not establish a connection between the two killings.

The Chronicle also reported that Irsan claimed self-defense when in 1999 he used a 12-gauge shotgun to kill his son-in-law Amjad H. Alidam, who was married to Nasemah Rachelle Irsan. Montgomery County records show Irsan was not charged in that death.

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