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Murder of Iranian activist pulls cover off Texas family's alleged empire of fraud, weapons and hidden cash

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    The suspect in the murder of Gelareh Bagherzadeh (pictured), an Iranian Christian activist, is also alleged to have operated an empire of fraud.

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    Irsan, his wife and daughter were arrested on federal fraud charges, but he faces additional charges of at least one murder. (AP)

The long-anticipated arrest of a Texas man on charges he murdered an Iranian activist who befriended his daughter has helped reveal a massive empire of government fraud, suspicious real estate deals and hidden money, gems and weapons stretching back two decades, according to federal authorities.

Ali Mohmood Awad Irsan was charged last month in the 2012 fatal shooting of Gelareh Bagherzadeh, an Iranian Christian activist, and is suspected of killing his daughter’s husband, Coty Beavers, months later in his apartment. Prosecutors are also taking a new look at the 1999 shooting death of another of Irsan's sons-in-law, a case originally found to be self-defense.

The murder charge is being prosecuted by the state, but last week federal authorities executed a search warrant at Irsan's sprawling, 5-acre property 40 miles north of Houston, where they allegedly found cash, diamonds, pearls, weapons and phony passports hidden in attic rafters, in secret compartments throughout a cluster of trailers and outbuildings and even inside the buried drum of a clothes dryer at the Conroe property. Irsan, his wife Shmou Ali Alrawabdeh, and another daughter were subsequently arrested on a variety of federal fraud charges and are in federal custody.

“He had a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and believed that (Nesreen) was supposed to marry a guy that he chooses.”

- Cory Beavers

A federal criminal complaint detailing the discoveries recounts a saga of nearly 20 years in which the 57-year-old naturalized citizen from Jordan and his family allegedly scammed taxpayer disability assistance funds claiming “fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue symptoms,” and “affective disorders” while secreting real estate, vehicles and cash in U.S. and foreign bank accounts. The complaint also alleges Irsan was receiving taxpayer funds for a son not living in the U.S., maintained several addresses on the property to facilitate various schemes and once disabled a safety feature on a saw then purposefully cut himself to receive a $75,000 settlement.

Also found on the property was a makeshift gun range, which witnesses said “five or six Muslim families” frequently visited to fire AK-47s and information about Irsan’s attempts to get a silencer. 

According to MyFoxHouston, it was Irsan's daughter, who is now in hiding, who tipped federal investigators to her family's web of fraud.

"I believe the allegations of the family member come from a family member who has an ax to grind and all of that's gonna come out in court," Irsan's attorney, John Floyd, told the station.

While there have been no allegations of terrorist ties regarding the family's alleged foreign bank accounts and suspicious wire transactions, Irsan's strict adherence to radical Islam may have been a motive in the alleged murders. Bagherzadeh had befriended Irsan’s daughter, Nesreen, telling her it was her right to marry Coty Beavers, an American Christian who was shot to death in his apartment 11 months later. Authorities suspect Irsan in that killing, though he has not been charged.

“He had a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and believed that (Nesreen) was supposed to marry a guy that he chooses,” Beavers’ twin brother, Cory, who had once dated Bagherzadeh, told the Houston Chronicle.

Bagherzadeh, 30, was an Iranian activist and convert to Christianity well-known within her ethnic community. She is believed to have encouraged Nesreen Irsan to leave home and marry Beavers in 2011, months before she was gunned down near her parents' Houston home Jan. 15, 2012.

A month after leaving home, Nesreen Irsan got a protective order against her father.

"Nesreen was in hiding and afraid of her father," Gary Dickens, a special agent with the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, testified last month.

On the night Bagherzadeh was killed, a witness saw a silver vehicle leave the scene of the killing. Less than an hour later, Irsan and his wife were stopped for speeding as they drove north toward Conroe in a vehicle that matched the description of the one witnesses saw at the murder scene. Authorities also found Bagherzadeh's name and phone number on Alrawabdeh's phone.

Eleven months later, Coty Beavers was gunned down in his home. Friends have established a Facebook page dedicated to bringing his killer to justice, tracking the recent flurry of charges and calling for prosecutors in Houston to charge Irsan in that killing. Harris County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Jeff McShan said investigators are examining whether a link exists between Bagherzadeh’s death and the killing of Beavers. At a detention hearing on the fraud case, a federal prosecutor divulged that Irsan is the prime suspect.

"He tracked down Coty Beavers and killed him," said prosecutor Jim McAlister.

Authorities are also re-examining a 1999 case in which Irsan was not indicted after claiming self-defense in the shooting of son-in-law Amjad Alidam, who was married to Nasemah Rachelle Irsan.

 

 

 

 

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