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Prosecutors tie Iran, U.S. assets
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have long suspected that Alavi and its related institutions are vehicles through which the Iranian government keeps tabs on Iranians here, obtains data about U.S. technology, promotes Tehran's views on world affairs, provides gathering places for pro-Iran activists and channels money to U.S. academics to gain friendly readings on Iran. Indeed, a lengthy investigation by Newsday in 1995 concluded that Alavi was controlled by Iran's clerical leadership and that several officers and directors had been implicated in arms and technology shipments to Iran.
But law enforcement officials have had trouble making a case against Alavi; a federal judge in 1999 thwarted an effort by a victim of Iranian-linked terrorism to collect from Alavi because evidence suggested Iran did not exert "day-to-day control" over Alavi.
In December, however, the government began to make headway by bringing a forfeiture action against Assa. Within days, Farshid Jahedi, then-president of the Alavi Foundation, was charged with obstruction of justice after FBI agents followed him and observed him tossing torn papers from his pockets in a public trash can. FBI agents later retrieved the papers, written in Farsi and English, and determined they were related to complex transactions involving Alavi and the building. His case is pending.
Officials with the Islamic Education Center and the foundation have long asserted that they are philanthropic groups providing religious education and services. Officials at the Potomac center, a verdant six-acre campus in an affluent neighborhood, did not respond to phone calls or e-mails Thursday night.
The Islamic Education Center formally opened in 1983, and tax records showed it received $6 million for the venture from the Mostazafan Foundation of New York, which changed its name to Alavi in 1992.
In a 2007 tax form, the center said it "uses the facilities provided by Alavi Foundation at no charge. The organization pays for the repairs and maintenance of the facilities." It said the Islamic center "organizes lectures, seminars and sermons in response to public needs, religious holidays, commemorative occasions and cultural events," while a primary and secondary school educates more than 150 students.
But a longtime teacher and former assistant principal, Arlene Pater-Rov, said Thursday that contributions from the Alavi Foundation dried up since the probe became public last year. "All the teachers had to take a cut in pay when that happened because we had less money," she said, while tuition was increased.
Staff writers William Wan and Carrie Johnson in Washington, Colum Lynch at the United Nations, Karl Vick in New York and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.