In Denver's crowded, competitive real estate market, getting a call from a man who says he's interested in purchasing eight prime units is nothing to sneeze at. Not even after it becomes clear that the man is calling from the Immigration and Naturalization Services detention center in Aurora -- where he's a resident, not an employee. So last January, Katie Everett, the Re/Max Classic agent representing Beauvallon, sent a brochure for the elegant, pricey project on Lincoln Street -- whose website promises that this is "where you will work, play and indulge your passions" -- to the INS lockup.
In July, when the caller was finally free to visit Beauvallon, he was most interested in seeing the penthouse. "That was the first clue," Everett says. He arrived with a woman he introduced as his wife and a girl he said was his daughter, and announced that he wanted to buy one unit for a maid, one for a nanny, one for another daughter. "I'm from New York City," Everett adds. "When it sounds too good to be true, guess what? It is too good to be true."
So after the man and his entourage left, she headed straight for a computer. "The reason I found out he was a fraud," she says, "was I did a Google search on his name and up came the article."
And that article would be "The Shah Was a Sham," first published in the February 8, 2001, issue of Westword.
A man then calling himself Ali Patrik Pahlavi had arrived in Denver by train on September 29, 2000, and headed straight for the LoDo Inn, a converted bed-and-breakfast a block away from Union Station. His luggage and $12,000 had been stolen, Pahlavi told the hotel's owner, Tom Broemmel. Could Broemmel possibly give him a room for the night and loan him $500? He was good for it, Pahlavi promised; after all, he was the billionaire nephew of the late Shah of Iran. Broemmel was charmed by the prince and agreed. (Never mind that the real Pahlavi -- and, yes, there is one -- spells Patrick with a "c," is tall and blond rather than short and dark, and is considerably older than this one.)
Two days later, Pahlavi was back at the LoDo Inn with a proposal: His company, Eagle Spirit Investments, was going to build a twenty-story, 500-room hotel in downtown Denver. Perhaps Broemmel might like to invest? The rest of the money would be coming soon -- and in the meantime, Pahlavi would need a place to stay.
What followed were two of the wildest months in LoDo history. And that's saying something, since a century before, this part of town was the jumping-off point for some of the biggest con men in the West, including the legendary Soapy Smith, who conned suckers into thinking there might be hundred-dollar bills in the bars of soap they were buying.
Pahlavi persuaded Broemmel not only to extend him credit for his room -- including food service at Dixons, the restaurant across the street -- but also to provide him with $8,000 in clothing from his wife's designer store, Lanie Lee's Cherry Creek boutique. Ultimately, he even convinced Broemmel that he should sell him the hotel, and the LoDo Inn quit accepting guests in anticipation of the day that deal went through. In the meantime, Pahlavi met with realtors across town, telling them that of course he'd buy that multimillion-dollar mansion, as soon as his funds came in; wooed potential investors with his plans to build a factory in the Denver area that would make disposable toothbrushes; and promised waitresses at Dixons that one would become the manager of his fancy new restaurant in Beaver Creek, while another would be the concierge at his mansion in the foothills, catering to the members of European royalty who would inevitably visit.
The waitresses were the first to suspect the person they'd come to think of as "the con man formerly known as Prince."
But by the end of that November, even Broemmel -- alerted by a savvy realtor who'd checked with the Iranian community in Washington, D.C., and learned that a man matching Pahlavi's description had recently bilked people there for tens of thousands of dollars -- was suspicious of his sole guest. On December 4, 2000, he went to Pahlavi's suite and asked him to pay his hotel bill. "Later," Pahlavi said, while a Denver police officer and investigator with the Denver District Attorney's Office listened in. They arrested him and took him to jail, where Pahlavi was charged with theft and defrauding an innkeeper.
The INS had some concerns about him, too, including the illegal Belgian passport he'd used to enter the country in April 2000 after being released from a German jail -- where he'd served a year for, yes, theft and defrauding an innkeeper.
In February 2002, Pahlavi, now 56, pleaded guilty in Denver District Court and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
He was released in November 2003 and apparently temporarily moved back into the INS detention facility, the same lockup where our reporter had met with him in February 2001. "I am Ali Patrik Pahlavi," he'd told her. "I am expecting some documents soon to show who I am."
When those documents, complete with matching fingerprints, came, though, they showed that he'd been born Valliola Gnassemi-Dakdare, on January 22, 1946, in Tehran.
After Gnassemi-Dakdare was released from the INS facility earlier this year, he stuck closer to that name, going by Patrik Nassimi (sometimes Nassemi -- despite his big-time interests, he doesn't have business cards). But Nassimi shares many interests with Pahlavi. He likes expensive audio equipment and fancy cars, including Range Rovers and Mercedeses. In fact, he was at Murray Motors looking at a Mercedes when the sales manager got a call, warning against doing business with the man. "We've had no sightings lately," says Debbie Thompson. "Thank goodness."
Before she'd gotten that warning, Nassimi had taken a car for a test drive. He and one of Murray's salesmen had driven straight to the $5.75 million house near the Phipps Mansion that Nassimi had looked at the night before. He wanted to make sure a Mercedes 600 would fit in the garage, he'd told the realtor and a few others gathered there for the showing, including a stereo dealer who'd already caught on to the scam. "As soon as he walked in the door, I knew this guy wasn't for real," said another person there that night.
Nassimi was concerned about his Mercedes fitting, but he still needed a ride home -- to a not-very-nice apartment complex in southeast Denver, which didn't look like the sort of place a man who wanted to buy a $5.75 million house would be living. The people he'd taken with him to the showing -- his wife and daughter, he said -- didn't look like they belonged with him, either.
Assorted real estate offices around town now have the mug shot of Valliola Gnassemi-Dakdare, aka Ali Patrik Pahlavi, aka Patrik Nassimi, aka the con artist formerly known as Prince, posted on their walls.
Still, this man has shown an amazing ability to fool otherwise sensible people, including Broemmel. The con cost him his hotel; the LoDo Inn was sold in April 2001 to Luna Hotel LLC, which has turned it into the upscale Hotel Luna. And while he hasn't returned to that old haunt, Nassimi did call Dixons a few weeks ago. He got a cold reception. "We all hate him so much for what he did to Tom Broemmel that I don't think he'll come near us," says co-owner Lee Goodfriend.
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The Denver District Attorney's Office hasn't heard from Pahlavi, who's on probation until July 2006, but it's starting to hear about him. "The economic-crime unit has received a couple of calls from people who either recognized him or recollected his adventures in Denver in 2001, and while they did not agree to do any business with him, they were concerned with what they thought were suspicious stories and business proposals," says Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the DA's office. "One involved buying a bunch of condos, one a privately designed electrical system. We've logged the calls and we've logged the concern, but there doesn't seem to be any criminal activity at this point."
All it takes is one successful con, though.
Everett was concerned enough about the would-be penthouse-dweller that she pulled his "wife" aside and asked where she'd met the man. On a bus, the woman replied.
The Mercedes must have been in the shop.