At least $695,112 of unlawfully obtained proceeds was laundered, the government said.
YOUNGSTOWN — A federal grand jury has indicted seven men — three believed to now be in Iran — on charges of arson, mail fraud and money laundering.
The seven defendants are named in a 21-count indictment unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. Between 1994 and 2005, nine fires were set at commercial buildings in Mahoning and Trumbull counties by one or more of the co-conspirators, said William J. Edwards, acting U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio.
Those charged and arrested Thursday are Majeed Bazazpour, 44, of Youngstown; Mohammad Fard, 44, of Canfield; Iraj Nasseri, 48, of Poland; and Frank Tenney, 29, of Masury. They will remain in custody pending their initial appearance in Youngstown federal court.
Those charged and believed to now be in Iran are Cyrus Ghassab, Farideh Jamali and Jamshid Ghassab. The Ghassabs are brothers.
The scheme involved purchasing and operating retail buildings and businesses and insuring the properties against fire losses. Insurance proceeds — at least $695,112 — were laundered, according to the indictment.
The defendants, to conceal what they were doing, made misrepresentations to insurance companies by using multiple companies, failing to disclose prior property loss claims, using variations of their names, changing the names of the businesses and altering the addresses of the businesses, the government said.
To throw suspicion away from themselves, the defendants consistently named a business competitor as the likely arsonist, the government said.
The case was investigated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Youngstown arson bureau; Warren Township Fire Department; Trumbull County Fire and Explosive Unit; and the Youngstown Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Phillip J. Tripi, an assistant U.S. attorney, and is assigned to U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells in Cleveland.
Money made from the insurance claims was used to buy homes in the United States and Iran, to travel to and relocate to Iran, to reinvest in other businesses and to divert assets to other countries, according to the indictment.
Also, $100,000 in insurance claims was used as bail to release Jamshid Ghassab on a pending felony case. Court records show he failed to show up for sentencing in an international parental kidnapping case in 1999.
The court entry said before Ghassab posted a $100,000 cash bond, he had to provide documentation he purchased round-trip airline tickets to Tehran, Iran, for himself and his mother with an open return date to the U.S. He never returned.