Woman Convicted in Newport Tax Fraud Scheme

Safieh Fard, 50, could face up to 20 years in prison for conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A 52-year-old woman who pleaded guilty in 2009 in connection with a $2.5-million tax fraud and money laundering scheme that included two Newport Beach properties and was later allowed to withdraw her plea was convicted today following a jury trial.

Safieh Fard had struck a plea bargain in May 2009 with federal prosecutors that recommended a 30-month prison sentence. Now Fard could face up to 20 years in prison, her attorney Correen Ferrentino said.

"We're planning to file a motion to dismiss," Ferrentino said after her client was convicted. "We don't think the evidence was sufficient."

Sentencing is scheduled for April 8.

Jurors began deliberating about 2:30 p.m. Friday and reached verdicts about 5:30 p.m.

The federal prosecutors on the case, Erin Mellen and Mark Williams, were not immediately available for comment.

Fard was convicted of one count of conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Fard's two sons, Ahmad Kikalaye and Mohsen Kikalaye, and the defendant's sister, Sedigheh Bahramian, earlier pleaded guilty in the case. They were all indicted in 2007.

Fard pleaded guilty in May 2009, but U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney allowed her to withdraw her plea in January 2011, based on her allegations that a prior attorney did not fully inform her about the guilty plea and bullied her into it.

Federal prosecutors argued that Fard was the leader of a conspiracy that included her two sons and sister in the purchase of several valuable residential real estate properties in Southern California.

In three of the properties, Fard bought the real estate with the help of mortgages obtained by falsely inflating her income and net worth, according to prosecutors.

Then Fard drew equity in the properties by selling them to her sister and sons, who similarly obtained mortgages with falsely inflated income and net worth claims, according to prosecutors.

Fard and the others often did not report the sales on federal tax returns, and when they were reported the cost was inflated to reduce or eliminate tax obligations, according to prosecutors.

In all, the family netted more than $2.5 million with the property sales, although their tax returns reflected net losses, according to prosecutors.

The two Newport Beach properties were at 2312 W. Oceanfront and 2400 W. Oceanfront. One property in question was in Irvine and another in Escondido, Ferrentino said during her closing arguments.

Ferrentino argued to jurors that her client would never put her children at risk, that she did not realize some of the record keeping was wrong and deflected blame to Mina Azariani, a loan officer at Washington Mutual Bank who helped Fard refinance and obtain mortgages.

Fard invested money from loans into a jewelry business, Ferrentino argued.

"We know now they were bad loans because we know what happened with Washington Mutual," Ferrentino told jurors, referring to how the bank failed during the collapse of the economy in 2008.

Fard had a "tough upbringing" growing up in Iran and emigrated here, later gaining citizenship, Ferrentino said.

In 1996, she was divorced, and found herself in a new country having to care for her four children "with no support," Ferrentino told jurors.

"She is incredibly devoted to her children," Ferrentino said. "She's a woman who has a good faith belief she was doing what was right."

Ferrentino argued that her client should not be convicted if she thought she was filing her taxes properly.

-City News Service


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