Toronto police have charged two men with fraud for alleged ties to a sophisticated $17-million mortgage fraud case and the disappearance of a rookie lawyer who fled the country and was central to the alleged scheme.
Arash Missaghi and Grant Erlick, are facing criminal charges of fraud exceeding five thousand dollars, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and accessory after the fact to an indictable offence. Missaghi was also charged with uttering forged documents. Erlick was charged with money laundering.
The charges come almost four years after the Star looked into the case of the missing millions, the private financing of luxury homes in one of the city’s toniest neighbourhoods, broken business relationships and a young lawyer on the run, Golnaz Vakili.
Toronto Police have named their investigation Project Bridle Path.
Missaghi and Erlick are accused of “enabling (Vakili) to escape” and providing “comfort” to Vakili, respectively, while knowing she was “party to the offence of uttering forced document and obstructing justice,” according to court documents.
Attempts to reach both men for comment were unsuccessful. Toronto police confirmed that Vakili is in Canada and will be a witness in the case.
Speaking to the length of time it took police to lay charges, Det. Alan Fazeli, with the financial crimes unit, pointed to the fact that Vakili has been out of the country. “Obviously there has been a change in that situation. She is co-operating,” and her charges have been dealt with, he told the Star.
Two other men were also charged. Masumeh Shaer-Valaie is charged with fraud over $5,000, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and accessory after the fact to an indictable offence.
Bob Bahram Azizbeiki, who once worked for Missaghi and accused him of being the “mastermind” behind a string of illegal transactions linked to one of the key properties in the alleged mortgage fraud case as well as making a “direct threat” on his life, has been charged with forgery.
Azizbeiki told the Star he has “no clue” why he was charged.
Police described a “sophisticated and complex mortgage fraud investigation,” where investors were allegedly introduced to people who pretended to be the owners of luxury properties, forged documents were produced to add legitimacy to the transactions, and mortgages that were expected to be secured on the homes were never registered, something that was misrepresented to lenders, according to a news release.
Vakili, the rookie Toronto lawyer, left town in 2013, with $5,000 in cash and a bag stuffed with yoga pants and purses.
She left handwritten notes for her loved ones, confessing she was stressed to the breaking point but offering few clues as to why she abandoned her practice, her husband and her family.
“I’m so sorry to leave in this manner, so suddenly and without a goodbye, but I could not stay a minute longer without completely breaking down,” Vakili, aged 32 at the time, wrote in a letter left to her parents.
Vakili’s husband found the letter on their kitchen table. It went on to say she would be safe in Europe.
Within a month of her abrupt departure, Vakili would be named in a massive civil suit alleging she was a central figure in a sophisticated mortgage scheme worth an estimated $17 million. The courts froze her accounts and the law society suspended her licence.
Then Toronto police charged her with fraud in absentia and issued a warrant for her arrest.
Attempts to reach Vakili through email and messaging apps were unsuccessful. She has previously told the Star she is innocent and did not flee because she had something to hide.
“I did not feel safe speaking to authorities,” she told the Star in 2014, adding that she kept her family in the dark “because I did not want them to be dragged into this and pose a security threat for them …
“I have become paranoid since this situation happened. Ultimately, obviously people you think are good and honest turn out to be the devil incarnate.”
Missaghi, who is also named in the civil case, has faced several previous charges for fraud, uttering threats to two separate women, uttering a threat to cause bodily harm and conspiring to commit murder and arson. He has not been convicted of any of these charges.
In 2014, during a lengthy interview with the Star, he said people either lied about his behaviour, or he was swept up unfairly in a larger investigation.
“This is police. This is their style … where they see smoke they say ‘Let’s just charge everybody, let the judge decide where it goes,’ ” he said.
Missaghi said the accusation made by Azizbeiki is false and was made after a failed extortion attempt.
At the time Missaghi said that he didn’t know where Vakili was, or if she was innocent.
“The face that I saw of that woman, I can’t see her doing any wrongdoing,” said Missaghi. “If I knew of her whereabouts I would convince her to come back. A lot of (this) nonsense could be put to rest.”
The massive $17-million civil suit Vakili is named in was filed by a handful of companies led by businesswoman Tova Markovzki (she goes by the surname Marks), her husband, daughter and a family friend. That case, which the Star has come to call “the Marks case,” alleges that Vakili and others planned to defraud them, and that Vakili forged documents, including postal receipts for an important package that was never mailed, and that she was seen shredding papers in her office.
Missaghi, his associates Erlick and Vakili convinced Marks and her family’s network of companies to make large loans, largely in the form of second mortgages, to people who pretended to own luxury houses, according to a statement of claim in the case.
The “homeowners” used fake identification and posed as self-employed Iranian businesspeople who claimed to have trouble borrowing money from the bank. It also states Marks and her family were provided with counterfeit mortgage and bogus title insurance documents that made it seem like the transaction was insured against fraud.
Vakili was Marks’s lawyer on the deals and the money was deposited into a trust account she controlled, the claim alleges. It also says Vakili hid the fact that some properties already had multiple mortgages and failed to register some of the new ones.
The Marks case also maintains that many of the nearly 30 properties detailed in the claim were “owned or controlled by” Missaghi and Erlick and this was how the group kept, got a cut of or distributed all or some of the loaned money that is alleged to have improperly left Vakili’s account.
Police are asking anyone with information to contact them at 416-808-7300 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477.