The Shah Was a Sham

A fake Irani prince leaves Denver victims feeling royally screwed.

In the late 1800s, what is now lower downtown was the heart and groin of Denver, a rowdy, rollicking locus that served as a jumping-off point for folks hell-bent on gold and riches. The neighborhood teemed with saloons, gambling halls and bawdy houses, and it seemed that cardsharps, ladies of pleasure and con men disembarked from nearly every train chugging in to Union Station.

Madam Mattie Silks ran a couple maisons de joie on Market Street. Joseph Randolph Smith, better known as "Soapy," set up shop on Larimer Street, peddling phony mining claims and bars of soap, some of which, he claimed, contained hundred-dollar bills.

So it's fitting that when Prince Ali Patrik Pahlavi came to Denver this past October, he arrived by train and immediately gravitated to LoDo. Pahlavi, a smooth-talking grifter who introduced himself as a billionaire nephew of the late Shah of Iran, dazzled locals with vivid tales of wealth and privilege. And in less than three months, he'd cut a pricey swath through town, emptying people's pocketbooks, wrecking careers, dashing hopes and reportedly ruining at least one marriage.

The elegant LoDo Inn became the pretend prince's rent-free headquarters.Lani Lee's, which sold Patrik thousands of dollars' worth of clothes, is moving on. Dixons became the unofficial office for the Shah wannabe.
Phung Huynh
The elegant LoDo Inn became the pretend prince's rent-free headquarters.Lani Lee's, which sold Patrik thousands of dollars' worth of clothes, is moving on. Dixons became the unofficial office for the Shah wannabe.
Ali Patrik Pahlavi
Ali Patrik Pahlavi

Investigators estimate that Pahlavi -- whom they've identified as a 55-year-old ex-convict -- is responsible for losses totaling well over $100,000. And that doesn't include the wreckage he left behind in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Germany.

Pahlavi now sits behind bars at the Immigration and Naturalization Service lockup in Aurora, his regal air only slightly diminished by the orange jail uniform he is forced to wear. His silver hair is fashionably cut. He answers questions with seeming arrogance, his expressive eyebrows shooting up at the least sign of impertinence.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Pahlavi continues to cling to his royal identity. "I am Ali Patrik Pahlavi," he says in a voice heavy with an unidentifiable accent. "I am expecting some documents soon to show who I am."

But some of the people who met Pahlavi during his Denver stay say they already know who he is. They call him "the con artist formerly known as Prince."

Somewhere in the world -- France, perhaps -- there is a real Ali Patrick Pahlavi. He was born in Switzerland 57 years ago, the son of the late Prince Ali Reza, the former Shah's youngest son. As an heir to the Pahlavi dynasty, Ali Patrick is rolling in dough; in 1979, when the Shah was driven into exile by the Ayatollah Khomeini, estimates of the Pahlavi family's assets ran as high as $25 billion.

Ali Patrick, however, is said to be a devout Moslem who maintained his distance from the rest of the royal family. He may well be the least visible member of the Pahlavi line and thus the easiest to impersonate.

Apparently that's what Valliola Gnassemi-Dakdare believed, anyway.

According to officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Gnassemi-Dakdare was born in Tehran on January 22, 1946. Details of his life are sketchy at best, although it is known that he recently did time in a Frankfurt jail for theft and defrauding an innkeeper. Although it was not possible to positively confirm whether Gnassemi-Dakdare was arrested after posing as a member of the Shah's family, investigators have said that they believe he has been carrying on the charade since at least 1996.

Gnassemi-Dakdare spent a year behind bars, according to sources close to the Denver investigation. After his release, he bought a stolen Belgian passport and had it remade in the name of Ali Patrik Pahlavi. The forged document appeared legitimate, and few people questioned the fact that the real Pahlavi spells his middle name "Patrick," or that Gnassemi-Dakdare claimed to be several years younger than the Pahlavi heir.

On April 17, 2000, using his forged passport, the phony Pahlavi entered the United States at Niagara Falls. He made his first appearance in the Washington, D.C., area, where members of the local Iranian community immediately took him to their bosom.

The newcomer was charming and approachable, told everyone to call him "Patrik," and claimed he was temporarily broke.

"He said he had big money coming in from out of the country," says Maryland resident Yasmina Zand (whose name has been changed to protect her identity). "It was in Chase Manhattan, he was waiting for a CD, a big heritage in the Bahamas. It was about $1 billion dollars."

Until the money arrived, he was bust, he told people. And they fell over themselves offering to help him out.

"People like the Shah's family," says Zand, attempting to explain her community's acceptance of Patrik. "It's like the Kennedy family. Everybody loved them. People still love the Shah. And [Patrik] claimed he was his nephew and he needed some help. All the Persian society here in Maryland and Virginia started to help him. He used this feeling to abuse them."

Zand was one of those left feeling abused. And like many of the people who were bilked by Patrik Pahlavi, she is embarrassed to have fallen for his con games. When requesting that her real name not be used for this story, she says, "I have two children. I don't want to lose my job. I don't want to lose anything more."

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let us know when you write the book because this man is somewhere in méxico doing whatever he wants


A great story on the imposter Ali Patrick Pahlav- a lot is missing I met him in 1992 when he defrauded Society General and Lansana Conteh- I have decided to write a book on him- and know one speaks about the Hundred million Dollars he nearly took from Boeing