RUSSELL TOWNSHIP - If he wanted Donald Trump’s help, all he’d have to do is pick up the phone and this food stamp fraud case would go away.
"Yes, I'm friends with Trump," he said.
But Ali Pascal Mahvi said he’s not going to bother his long-time business associate.
“I’m totally innocent,” Mahvi said.
And he’s intent on proving it, he added, so he doesn’t need the help of Trump or any of his 2,000 other friends on his cell phone contact list.
“I know Trump," Mahvi said in a phone interview Friday. "I’ve had lunch with him many times and I have many other friends in high places. But I’m innocent. I don’t need their help."
Exactly one week ago, law enforcement descended on Mahvi’s palatial estate in Russell Township.
It was for the oddest of reasons: Mahvi is accused of concealing millions of dollars in assets and cash in order to receive about $300 a month in food stamps and thousands more in other welfare benefits.
The story, first reported by WKYC, has garnered international attention.
So much so, that Mahvi this week reported to sheriff’s deputies that he and his family have received death threats.
“The stress is tremendous," he said. "But we’ve kept it together."
Mahvi’s life, as recounted in his autobiographical book, Deadly Secrets of Iranian Princes, displays a whirlwind of wealth and fame. He boasts of friendships with President Regan, Prince Charles and other dignitaries.
In his book, he flashes photos of the ships and jets he once owned and his vacations around the globe.
“I had money,” he recalled. “I had my own airplane. I had my own yacht. I worked my a-- off.”
Mahvi was born into wealth, the son of an Iranian prince named Abolfath Mirza Mahvi.
He says his father lost “billions” during the Iranian revolution.
Father and son managed to rebuild their riches in the 1980s, primarily through development projects in the U.S. and St. Lucia.
Still, Mahvi doesn’t deny receiving food stamps to help feed himself, his wife and their three adult children.
He admits living off the public dole for two years beginning in 2014, taking the monthly food benefits as well as Medicaid and vouchers to help cover his gas and electric bills.
He did it for one reason.
“I don’t have an income,” he said.
The payments ended when one of his adult sons got a better paying job.
A welfare fraud case started earlier this summer.
Geauga County prosecutors and investigators believe Mahvi is still worth millions.
Among his assets, they allege, is a Swiss bank account holding $4 million in cash. (Mahvi said that’s prosecution “fiction.”)
Investigators say that while receiving government aid, Mahvi was spending $4,600 on his home mortgage, $500 for cell phones, $200 dinners.
Even $88 a month for mail-order cat litter. His household expenses peaked at $8,000 at one point.
The criminal investigation is ongoing. No charges have been brought.
Mahvi says he is worth millions. But, he says, his wealth only exists on paper.
He owns about $120 million worth of property on St. Lucia. It’s next door to a resort he and his father developed years ago. The resort is a playground for the rich and famous called Sugar Beach.
But Mahvi says his business soured in recent years thanks for lawsuits, buyouts and failed promises.
“I became a pauper,” he said.
He lived for a while on church donations and as much as $200,000 in loans from friends.
He concedes he didn’t report to welfare workers every loan he received. He said he didn’t know it was required.
Now, at age 65, his credit is shot. He has no cash flow. He can’t sell his St. Lucia land. He’s already sold all his wife’s jewelry. His home in Russell, worth $800,000, is mortgaged to the hilt, he said.
That’s why he went to the office of Jobs and Family Services and applied for food stamps. He only scoffs at the notion that he would risk his freedom and bring shame to his family just to collect $300 a month in food stamps.
“It makes no sense. It just doesn’t make any sense,” he insists.