Prosecutors have filed a forgery charge against a Beverly Hills pharmacist after L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca personally launched a criminal investigation on behalf of the pharmacist's landlord, a well-connected businessman who has given Baca campaign donations and gifts.
Prosecutors had declined to file charges against Afshin Nassir when detectives first submitted their case, but reconsidered after an appeal from the Sheriff's Department. Nassir had been in a dispute with Ezat Delijani that Beverly Hills police had concluded was a civil matter. The case, which police experts said showed favoritism by Baca, was detailed in a recent Times report.
Nassir is facing one felony count of forgery. His attorney, Stephen Kahn, said that his client was innocent and that he "looked forward" to taking the case to a jury. Kahn called the case "one of the most unusual I've ever seen."
"The fact that it took months to get reviewed and filed, it's just very disturbing to me," he said. "It just has odors. It just has the whole purview of favoritism and what the power of special people can get accomplished."
The Delijani case was labeled a "special" investigation in internal sheriff's memos and given "rush" status, generally reserved for high-priority cases such as homicides. Law enforcement experts said it was highly unusual for one police agency to launch an investigation in another agency's jurisdiction without being invited.
Baca has downplayed the issue, saying that the gifts and contributions he received from Delijani did not affect his decision and that he would have launched the investigation no matter who had brought it to him. The Sheriff's Department, Baca said, can investigate all crimes in Los Angeles County, even those that occur in the jurisdiction of other police departments.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Monday "the record speaks for itself, the record speaks volumes … an investigation occurred, a forgery was found to have occurred, and the district attorney filed a felony charge against the individual."
The sheriff's investigation was focused on a 2008 dispute between Delijani and Nassir. Nassir said his lease entitled him to reimbursement for tenant improvements, and for rent he had paid while those improvements were being made. Delijani, according to records, said the lease Nassir produced was forged. Both sides sued.
The sheriff's investigation was launched after the businessman's son e-mailed Baca's aide, prompting the sheriff to send a handwritten note to his then-chief of detectives requesting a criminal investigation. A Beverly Hills police official told a sheriff's detective that the case was civil, according to records, and when pressed said, "If your boss wants it that bad, then go ahead."
After Sheriff's Department detectives completed their four-month investigation, prosecutors did not file criminal charges, citing lack of evidence.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Katz declined to say what caused his office to reverse its earlier decision. He did say, however, that he contacted the lead detective on the case to further investigate.
Days after The Times detailed the case, Baca asked his department's watchdog agency, the Office of Independent Review, to look at his handling of the case and consider guidelines that would help him decide how to handle investigation requests brought directly to his attention, including pleas from donors, celebrities and friends.
That review has not been completed.
Nassir is expected to turn himself in this week, Kahn said. "Had this occurred to anyone else, this never would have gotten to this point."