(CN) – The president of an Islamic foundation must stand trial on two similar counts of obstruction of justice after he allegedly destroyed documents tied to a grand jury investigation, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled.
Farshid Jahedi is accused of impeding an investigation of the Alavi Foundation, an Iranian advocacy group that promotes Islamic culture and the Persian language.
U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin also shot down Jahedi’s bid to exclude from trial separate allegations stemming from a civil lawsuit.
Jahedi was indicted in May after FBI surveillance allegedly caught him discarding torn papers in a garbage can near his home, after the foundation was subpoenaed in December 2008. Prosecutors wanted to know about the foundation’s alleged relationship with Bank Mellin Iran and several purported shell companies.
The government seized Alavi’s Manhattan office building in December, filed a forfeiture complaint and froze several accounts for alleged money laundering.
The complaint did not name Alavi as a defendant, but claimed that Assa Corp., which owned 40 percent of the building, was a front for Bank Mellin. The bank, which is owned by the Iranian government, was included in the sanctions the United States imposed against Iran in 2007.
Prosecutors claimed Assa was formed in 1989 to help Alavi and Bank Mellin avoid paying taxes on the office building at 650 Fifth Ave.
Judge Scheindlin ruled that the civil allegations could be used in the criminal prosecution. Though the criminal charges deal strictly with the obstruction of justice claims, she noted, “the forfeiture allegations are the context of this case, and the government need not prosecute Jahedi in a vacuum.”
Jahedi also unsuccessfully tried to get one of the two counts dropped by citing multiplicity, part of the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause.
Jahedi argued that “both counts allege the same obstruction of the same grand jury proceeding.”
“Of course, the same set of conduct frequently violates more than one statute,” Scheindlin wrote. “However, Jahedi’s argument is more nuanced. An indictment is multiplicitous when it charges a single offense as an offense multiple times, in separate counts, when, in law and fact, only one crime has been committed.”
But she said it wouldn’t apply if there’s an element in one offense that isn’t contained in the other.
The indictment alleges Jahedi “withheld, concealed and discarded documents,” and “discarded torn up documents” requested by a federal grand jury subpoena.
The government presented several scenarios in which he could be convicted of one count and not the other, and the judge seemed satisfied – for now.
“I view with some skepticism the government’s assertion that the jury could conclude Jahedi intended to obstruct a pending judicial proceeding, but decide that he did not in fact attempt to conceal or destroy a document that would be used in an official proceeding,” Scheindlin wrote.
“After all, the alleged obstruction for both counts is trashing documents, and the same grand jury proceedings underlie both counts.”
Though evidence at trial could prove multiplicity, Scheindlin concluded, “at this stage … the government has sufficiently distinguished the charges.”