FBI Portland: Charity and its founder plead guilty to circumventing Iranian Embargo
PORTLAND, OR—A charity headquartered in Portland and its founder and former CEO entered pleas of guilty to federal conspiracy charges today in district court. Mehrdad Yasrebi, 53, of Clackamas, founded the tax-exempt charity Child Foundation in 1994 and served as its chief executive officer until his resignation last year. The information charges that Yasrebi and Child Foundation conspired with Ahmad Iranshahi, Hossein Lahiji, and Najmeh Vahid, who are separately charged in an indictment returned December 16, 2010. Today’s information charges Yasrebi and Child Foundation with conspiring to defraud the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the federal agency having enforcement responsibility for the Iranian embargo. Yasrebi and Child Foundation acknowledged having agreed with Iranshahi and others to encourage the concealment of violations of the embargo against Iran. It also alleges that Yasrebi and Child Foundation conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service by impeding the IRS in its oversight responsibility to supervise tax-exempt, charitable organizations. IRS has the authority to revoke tax-exempt status when a charity acts in violation of law or public policy.
The Information also alleges that Yasrebi helped transfer funds to Iran on behalf of, and facilitate exaggerated charitable tax deductions for Lahiji and Vahid.
“Today’s guilty pleas address the cover-up by a Portland charity and its former chief executive of conduct in violation of the embargo against Iran,” said U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton. “The embargo was initially ordered by President Clinton 15 years ago to further our national security, and has been continued by every successive administration. Charitable giving is a cornerstone of our nation’s culture. This prosecution is one means by which we can support charitable giving. By ferreting out charities that act in violation of our nation’s laws, we seek to enhance public confidence that their gifts are used properly.”
The information specifies that the defendants used several different methods to facilitate the transfers through the Child Foundation: with the assistance of a series of money transmitters, through the Swiss bank account of a related charity, and by arranging for claimed embargo exempt food commodities transactions from Dubai, U.A.E., designed to disguise what were in reality significant cash transfers to Iran. Child Foundation additionally provided funds for a large portion of the overhead and operational expenses in Iran. Iranshahi, the head of a related Iranian entity, took control of the funds once they reached Iran, and provided deceptive records and receipts for auditors and regulators in the U.S. The charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Garr King scheduled sentencing for defendant Yasrebi for May 9, 2011.
U.S. Attorney Holton noted the extraordinary teamwork involved in the underlying investigation. Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Coast Guard all provided major contributions to the investigation. Personnel from the Oregon State Police, the Department of State, the Oregon Department of Justice, the United States Marshal’s Service, the Port of Portland Police and the Department of Defense also assisted. The prosecutions will be handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David L. Atkinson and Charles F. Gorder, Jr.