Armon Mosadegh was surprised in late February when he opened a letter from the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. The letter stated Mosadegh had been arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison. The letter said he was eligible for the DA's diversion program — which offers drug treatment and counseling in lieu of jail time for first-time, nonviolent offenders — but he would have to respond to the office or he would receive a subpoena to appear in court and face the charge.
Clearly, the diversion program was Mosadegh's best option — if he had been the person police took into custody in the first place.
"I've never been arrested," Mosadegh says.
Someone posing as Armon Mosadegh was arrested on Jan. 6 and booked at Orleans Parish Central Lockup. The suspect didn't have any identification, Social Security number or supporting documentation, but Mosadegh's name is now listed in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court's docket master, a computer database of suspects arrested in Orleans Parish.
If Mosadegh hadn't discovered someone had falsely used his name during booking and alerted the DA's office, he could have ended up in jail. The judge would have issued a bench warrant, the police would have picked up the real Mosadegh and he would have been held in contempt of court as well as being charged with the marijuana misdemeanor. For Mosadegh, who plans to join the U.S. Army Reserves, this could have been disastrous.
What makes the situation alarming is, given certain circumstances, there's little to stop this from happening — to anybody.
It's been a difficult month for Armon Mosadegh and his parents, Claire and Dr. Medhi Mosadegh. Their first inkling something was amiss was when Armon received a letter from the Orleans Traffic Court in late January ordering him to appear before a judge for driving without a license and impeding traffic. Mosadegh and his father went to traffic court and explained to an assistant district attorney that Mosadegh, a quiet 19-year-old who lives in Metairie with his parents, doesn't know how to drive and rarely leaves the house. The charges were dropped, and the family thought that was the end of the matter.
That was until the second letter arrived from Anna Glaudi, a case manager/counselor for the district attorney's diversion program. Alarmed, Dr. Mosadegh immediately contacted Glaudi, and, according to the doctor, the counselor told him and his son to come in after Mardi Gras to straighten out the matter. The family remained concerned, but since Armon hadn't actually committed the crimes, they felt the situation could be easily resolved.
What the Mosadeghs weren't aware of was The Gambit had published a story ("Playing Defense," Cover, Feb. 24) profiling the Orleans Public Defenders office and one of their attorneys, Chant'a Parker. One of Parker's clients, a young man languishing in parish prison, was identified as Armon Mosadegh. Claire heard about the article from her sister. By this point the Mosadeghs were worried about clearing not only Armon's name, but also the doctor's, who has an established dermatology practice.
"I have a reputation in the city," Dr. Mosadegh says, "and don't want it out that my son was arrested for marijuana when it wasn't him."
According to a New Orleans Police Department incident report, at 10:35 p.m. on Jan. 6, police officers observed a car parked haphazardly, blocking traffic at the corner of St. Ann and Dauphine streets. Officers Kelsey Lewis and Johnnie Brumfield approached the vehicle to issue a citation, but as they got closer, they smelled marijuana burning. Lewis watched the driver put a hand-rolled cigarette Lewis believed contained marijuana into the center ashtray. He ordered the driver — "subject identified as Armon Mosadegh W/M 1-22-90" — from the car. The report continues: "Officer Lewis placed Mr. Mosadegh into double-locked handcuffs and advised him of his rights per the Miranda warnings."
The report does not state whether the suspect had identification, but he was arrested for not having a driver's license as well as the pot charge. In the report's box for a Social Security number, "unknown" is printed.
NOPD spokesman Jansson Valencia says not every person arrested in Orleans Parish has a photo ID, and these suspects sometimes try to use another person's background information, including Social Security number, address and date of birth.
"They memorize this like the back of their hand, and they'll give you this information perfectly," Valencia says.
NOPD uses the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system in its cruisers, but the database gives only a general description — no photographs — of people previously arrested, according to Valencia. When there are no prior arrests for the claimed identity — as was the case for the name Armon Mosadegh — NOPD places the suspect under arrest, using the name provided.
After the initial arrest, suspects are processed at Orleans Parish Central Lockup. Col. Gerry Ursin, who is in charge of the intake processing center, says his staff takes the fingerprints of any suspect who has no identification, and the prints are run through multiple computer systems — national, state and local — to see if they match anyone previously arrested. Mosadegh's impostor was fingerprinted, but computer searches didn't reveal any matches. Without any proof to the contrary, criminal sheriff officers booked the suspect as Armon Mosadegh and entered his name as a defendant into Orleans Parish Criminal District Court's computer database as well as a state and national database.
Once processed, the man posing as Armon appeared in court and his bond was set at $500. Unable to make bail, the impostor spent 54 days in OPP before the charges were disposed of and he was accepted into the diversion program. On March 2, he walked out of jail a free man with no arrest record.
On that same day, The Gambit emailed Armon a photograph taken of the suspect during his booking, and Armon says he recognizes the man as a former friend. After proving his identity to the DA's office, Armon told DA officials who he thought the impostor was. But it was too late; the suspect was out of jail. Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says he can't comment on the case because of an ongoing investigation. He says Armon has a right to have the arrest expunged from his record, but to get that done he will have to make a legal motion before a criminal court judge.
"We don't really grant the motion, but we would not oppose the motion," Cannizzaro says.
The only piece of personal information the impersonator got right about Armon Mosadegh besides the name was his address, and that's what alerted Armon to the crime. If the DA's office hadn't sent the letter about the diversion program to the correct address, Armon never would have known he had an arrest record unless someone — a potential employer or a cop — ran his record. If the police had stopped him, he would have gone to jail, all because someone without any supporting identification claimed to be Armon Mosadegh when he was arrested.
"That's why you insist so much on people carrying identification," NOPD's Valencia says.
If only criminals would get the message.