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Ali Clear

Ali Kazemi's common name is finally clear.

The cops were wrong, and Ali Seyed Kazemi was right: Despite the three-year police investigation that concluded otherwise, it wasn't he who tried to pass a fake prescription for a painkiller ("Prescription Grudge," December 10).

"There's not a doubt in the world that there was probable cause to bring charges," says Arapahoe County Assistant Attorney John Franks. "But," he adds, "in an ideal world, this would have happened much earlier."

Although he didn't know it at the time, Kazemi's saga began on October 9, 1995, when a man whom clerks later described as "Arabic" walked into the Payless Drugs pharmacy on South University Boulevard and tried to refill a prescription for Vicodin. Suspicious, the pharmacist told the man she needed to check with his doctor before she got the pills.

Her suspicions were soon confirmed--it appeared to be a bogus prescription. Later, when the police arrived, the clerk thought she recognized the man, a customer named Ali Kazemi who'd come in only two weeks earlier to fill a separate prescription.

The case was assigned to the South Metro Drug Task Force, whose investigators checked motor-vehicle records and found several Ali Kazemis living in the Denver area. They prepared a photo lineup from which three people--two pharmacists and the doctor who supposedly wrote the Vicodin order--fingered Ali Seyed Kazemi as the same man who'd tried to acquire the drug that day at Payless.

Yet after a nominal attempt by the police to track down Kazemi failed--he'd moved, and the address on his driver's license hadn't been updated yet--the case bogged down. It was shuttled between several prosecutors. It sank even further out of view when the South Metro Drug Task Force determined that such trifling offenses were better handled by local police and got out of the prescription-fraud investigation business altogether.

As a result, Kazemi never heard from the police--or, for that matter, even knew that he was under suspicion for anything--until the night of December 12, 1997, when two police officers pounded on his apartment door and demanded his name. When he told them what it was, they turned around and left, apparently satisfied that he was their man. Two weeks later he was picked up on an outstanding warrant for the Vicodin fraud. He spent the night in jail and, following what he describes as physical manhandling by Denver police, was released on Christmas Eve on a $2,000 bond.

Kazemi, who works for a car-rental agency, spent the next year desperately trying to convince Arapahoe County prosecutors that he wasn't their man. The DA's office offered to meet him at a place they considered more than halfway, proposing that the charges against Kazemi would be dropped if he stayed out of trouble for a year. Insulted that he would have to tacitly admit that he was guilty, even if only for a year, Kazemi rejected the plea offer.

Finally, late last year, an attorney named Kevin O'Shaughnessy agreed to look into the case. O'Shaughnessy says that, using city property records, it took him just over one hour to determine that the Highlands Ranch address actually written on the allegedly fake prescription was a home owned by a family named Kazemi, a common Persian name.

He says that the ease with which he came up with the exculpatory information--and the fact that the police never bothered to try--astonished him. "They stumbled onto [Ali Kazemi] and just held on and held on," he says. "One is left to wonder whether [the case] received the attention it should have gotten."

Armed with the new information, O'Shaughnessy went back to the Arapahoe County DA. By now, Ali Kazemi's case had been assigned to its fourth prosecutor, John Franks. After reviewing the case, Franks agreed to arrange for an officer to accompany O'Shaughnessy and Kazemi to the office of the doctor who had identified Kazemi as the man who'd tried to get the Vicodin.

On Monday, December 21, the party met at the Littleton offices of Dr. John Hughes. After seeing Kazemi in person and performing a physical exam, the doctor reconsidered his earlier photo-lineup identification and agreed that Kazemi wasn't the man he thought he was. The man he'd been thinking of, Hughes explained, had a long scar on his back; Kazemi didn't.

So on December 30, at an early-morning court session, the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office officially erased the charges against Ali Kazemi. "All the signs had begun to point to him telling the truth," Franks says. "That, combined with his sense of sincerity, convinced me to drop the charges. I told him that I personally was sorry for the frustration and the ordeal he'd been through."

Kazemi says that while he appreciates the acknowledgment, it amounts to small consolation. "I told him, 'Your mistake cost me a lot--a lot of money, one year of my life, and a lot of anxiety.'"

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