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The Shah Hits the Fan

Back at the turn of the last century, lower downtown was the jumping-off point for thousands of travelers who arrived in town by train and then set out to earn their fortunes -- some honestly, some less so.

A hundred years later, on September 29, 2000, Prince Ali Patrik Pahlavi got off a train at Union Station and headed straight to the LoDo Inn, an antique-filled bed-and-breakfast that occupied a renovated warehouse a block away, at 16th and Wazee streets. Pahlavi told the owner, Tom Broemmel, that his luggage, along with his identification and $12,000 in cash, had been stolen; he needed a place to stay until relatives could send in reinforcements. He was good for the tab, he said. After all, he was a prince -- the nephew of the Shah of Iran.

Pahlavi quickly became friendly with Broemmel, a former FBI agent, and his wife, Lani Lee, as well as many others in Denver -- so friendly that over the course of just two months, he wrecked careers, dashed hopes and picked local pockets of more than $100,000 ("The Prince of Thieves," February 8, 2001). And that was just his Denver take: Before he arrived in this town, the anything-but-princely Pahlavi -- an ex-convict whose real name is Valliola Gnassemi-Dakdare -- had embarked on similar scams in Washington, D.C., and Germany.

But it was in Denver that the law finally caught up with him. In early December 2000, Pahlavi was arrested and charged with theft and defrauding an innkeeper. The Broemmels listed their losses at close to $30,000 -- $21,576 for the hotel room, and $8,000 for clothes that Pahlavi had taken on credit from Lani Lee's boutique in the hotel. Although Pahlavi still found a mark gullible enough to post his bond so that he could get out of Denver County Jail, he was quickly locked up again -- this time by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which charged the Tehran native with fraud and misuse of visas and other documents, as well as forgery and false use of a passport.

Earlier this month, the 56-year-old Pahlavi wannabe finally got his day in Denver District Court: In exchange for a guilty plea, he was sentenced to 42 months in prison; he must also pay court costs and $30,000 in restitution.

The Broemmels have already paid a heavy price for believing in fairy tales. They were forced to sell the LoDo Inn last April, auctioning off many of the antiques that had filled its rooms, and have since moved to North Carolina. The hotel was purchased by Luna Hotel LLC, which has done much to change the place: The Bronco-themed bedroom is gone, and the antiques have been replaced with modern furniture, 27" flat-screen TVs, and individual French-press coffeepots. Next week, Luna will start on a $1.7 million renovation of the Inn, adding a lounge in the storefront space once occupied by the Express Cafe; Lani Lee's clothing boutique will become Velocity Coffee Company, a walk-up coffee-and-crepe operation that Luna hopes to roll out across the Northwest.

The LoDo Inn will remain open for business during renovations, according to Luna president Seth Sorensen. Just don't ask to put $29,000 worth of room charges on your tab. "That's not our policy," he says.

 
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