Prescription Grudge

Arapahoe County prosecutors don't want to punish Ali Seyed Kazemi, but he still swears he's innocent.

At least this much is clear: Somebody entered the Payless Drugs pharmacy on South University Boulevard early in the afternoon on October 9, 1995, and tried to refill a prescription for the painkiller Vicodin. The pharmacist thought the guy looked "Arabic." She also suspected his prescription was being refilled prematurely. When she told the man she'd have to check with the doctor first, he left the store empty-handed.

What's happened since gets fuzzy quick. Start with the name.
"In the Middle East, my name is like Smith or Jones," explains Ali Seyed Kazemi. "There are thousands of us." He's a short, intense man with thick glasses, thinning hair and a round face. To buy his story, you have to believe that the guy who tried to pass the fake prescription probably was named Ali Kazemi, the name police eventually came up with. But not this Ali Kazemi.

Then you have to accept that the three people who later picked him out of a photo lineup were all wrong. "I'm at a loss to explain that," sighs Kevin O'Shaughnessy, Kazemi's lawyer.

It's more than inexplicable. It's a big challenge, alibi-wise. "He wants you to believe that there's another guy out there with his same name and who looks just like him," says a dubious Glenn Davis, the Littleton police detective who investigated the case. "What are the odds of that? If I had showed around the lineup pictures and two out of three, or even one out of three people hadn't been sure, I might not have brought the case to the district attorney. But three out of three? C'mon, Ali."

Many guilty people insist on their innocence. But it is the fact that Kazemi's case seems so hopeless, coupled with his stubborn persistence that others have got it all wrong, that make his predicament unusual. Besides, most everyone other than Kazemi appears eager to get on with life.

"Prescription fraud is a felony," notes Davis. "But in the scheme of things that go on in the world, it's not that big a deal." Arapahoe County prosecutors feel the same way. Recently they offered Kazemi an extraordinary deal. It was more gift than plea bargain, since the district attorney's office would get nothing out of it. The prosecutors said they would not even file charges, and if Kazemi kept his nose clean for a couple of years, the case would disappear. It would be as if he was never arrested. There would be no trace of a crime. Ali Kazemi would be free and clear.

Ali Kazemi firmly declined.
"I don't know what he's thinking," says Davis.
"I did nothing wrong," points out Kazemi.

"Maybe he's right," shrugs Ted McElroy, the Arapahoe County assistant district attorney. "He seems like a nice enough guy."

He apparently wasn't always that way, though. "Ali came to the United States as a young, pampered and spoiled man," says Eugene Keyser, a long-time friend and Denver resident who can speak to Kazemi in his native Farsi. "His father was an important and highly respected Sufi in Iran, so Ali grew up with all this living in luxury and getting respect."

In 1974, at the age of 23, Kazemi left Tehran and came to America speaking not a word of English. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1980 with a degree in electrical engineering and, four years later, picked up a master's degree.

Despite the excellent education, however, Kazemi has never been employed as an engineer. Today he works for Avis as a counter representative. The reason is a now-fifteen-year-old dispute with his wife that escalated out of control.

Kazemi's marriage to the Boulder woman in 1982 soured quickly, but not before the couple produced a daughter. Following their separation was a series of increasingly bitter custody disputes. In late 1985 Kazemi showed up at his wife's place of employment to try once more to work things out. The meeting turned into another confrontation, and this time Kazemi ended up hitting her. Three months later he was convicted of third-degree assault. The judge acknowledged that the custody issue had driven Kazemi to the assault but sentenced him to two years in prison--a term that the Boulder Camera reported was the most severe ever handed down for a misdemeanor assault.

After serving his time in Boulder, Kazemi bounced around working at odd jobs. Eventually, he says, he took a job with Alamo car rentals in Colorado Springs and, later, Las Vegas. He returned to Colorado in 1995 and began working for Avis in May 1996.

Although the charges pending against Ali Kazemi are simple--prescription fraud--the details of the alleged crime are not. When the Payless pharmacist called to verify the prescription, the physician confirmed what the pharmacist had suspected: The man named on the prescription, Arash Rode, was no patient of his. The prescription appeared to be a fake.

Later, when the police arrived, the pharmacist recalled that the man who'd tried to obtain the Vicodin was familiar. In fact, she said, he'd been in just a couple weeks before to fill a legitimate prescription for Darvon. After checking the pharmacy's records, she came up with a name: Ali Kazemi.

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