Jurors hearing the bribery and conspiracy case against bar owner Tommy M. Motlagh were told yesterday that a key government witness lied when he told a grand jury that Motlagh had a partnership with two D.C. licensing officials who also are being tried on bribery and conspiracy charges.
Nassar Zolfaghari, a Washington area restaurateur, had testified before the grand jury that Motlagh told him about an alleged agreement he had with two Alcoholic Beverage Control officials in which he promised a share of the profits in a liquor store in exchange for a liquor license.
Several defense witnesses testified yesterday, however, that after a grand jury investigation of the alleged deal, Zolfaghari told them he had "lied about Tommy" and that an automobile accident last year that took the life of his father in Iran was "God's punishment" for the false statements.
Houshang Nikfar, who described himself as a friend of both men, said that at a memorial service for Zolfaghari's father last year Zolfaghari told him: "My conscience is bothering me; I shouldn't have lied about him Motlagh to the grand jury."
According to Zolfaghari, he had met Motlagh at an Atlantic City casino last year, shortly after a federal probe was launched into the alleged deal between Motlagh and the two city officials on trial with him -- former ABC chairman Robert C. Lewis and former ABC staff director James E. Boardley.
"He told me the story of the ABC guys," Zolfaghari has testified. "He told me, 'You will see it in the paper. These ABC guys, they goofed up.' They couldn't get the license or the permit, or something like that."
Zolfaghari, owner of the Italian Gardens restaurant in College Park and the Paragon Too in the District of Columbia, said Motlagh told him he was afraid of being arrrested and asked whether Zolfaghari would be able to harbor him if necessary. Zolfaghari said he would.
Fareshta Ahrabi, who once had dated Zolfaghari and now lives with Motlagh, testified that Zolfaghari called her last year, saying, "When I get through with him Motlagh you won't want to have anything to do with him."
Testimony in the case concluded yesterday. Jurors are scheduled to hear final arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys today.
Lewis and Boardley are being tried separately from Motlagh but in the same courtroom. For the first time here, two juries were empaneled to hear the cases simultaneously.
Many anticipated problems with the double-jury procedure have not materialized. However, prosecutors will be required to make lengthy closing arguments twice.
Until now, the Lewis-Boardley jury has been sequestered, while Motlagh jurors have been allowed to return home each evening. They will be deliberating separately; should the Lewis-Boardley jury return a verdict first, jurors considering the Motlagh case may have to be sequestered also.