When Dr. Mehdi Saghafi’s dementia-plagued wife was placed under court-appointed guardianship by a local probate judge in Ohio, he never dreamed it would result in the division of their $8 million in marital retirement assets. But that’s exactly what happened.
Lorain County Probate Judge James T. Walther appointed a guardian of the estate and guardian of the person for Mrs. Fourough Saghafi, 85, and from there the couple, married 60 years, were allegedly forced to divorce.
Dr. Saghafi, 89, was then ordered to pay some $3 million not to his wife but to Zachary Simonoff, the court-appointed guardian of Mrs. Saghafi’s estate, based upon a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).
When the retired general surgeon challenged the order, Simonoff sued in federal court.
Although the Northern District Court of Ohio enforced the order, it declined to award attorney fees. Simonoff appealed, but a trio of Sixth Circuit federal appellate justices for the Ohio Northern District upheld the lower court’s decision.
“Whenever you defy a facially valid court order, you have some explaining to do,” wrote the panel of federal appellate judges in their decision. “But Saghafi does have an explanation. He maintains that the divorce proceedings were a fraud on the court, a sham. And Ohio-law authorities suggest that a judgment procured by fraud may be void.”
Federal appellate justices Jeffrey Stuart Sutton, Deborah L. Cook and Amul Thapar went on to state in their landmark ruling that they are unconvinced of Simonoff’s claim that [Dr. Mehdi] Saghafi’s legal positions are frivolous.
“The 6th Circuit ruling confirmed my client’s right to challenge a court order, which may have been obtained through abuses of judicial processes,” said Dr. Saghafi’s attorney, Charles Longo, said in a telephone interview. “The decision will have far-reaching negative implications for guardians and lawyers who improperly use guardianships as criminal enterprises to defraud the elderly and incompetent, which is a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute.”
Simonoff declined to comment.
As previously reported in PacerMonitor News, the Saghafi litigation is one among many complaints across the country alleging fraud in court-appointed adult guardianships of the elderly and people with disabilities. Accusations include cruelty, neglect, starvation, isolation from family, sexual abuse and financial exploitation.
Dr. Saghafi is continuing the litigation with a racketeering claim in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, where Judge Sherrie Miday has yet to rule on Dr. Saghafi’s Jan. 22 brief in opposition to defendant Zachary Simonoff’s Jan. 8 motion for a protective order.
“Any funds that may be in the personal account of Defendant Simonoff that could be traced to Plaintiff’s personal accounts and/or pension and profit sharing accounts must be disclosed,” wrote Longo in his opposing brief. “If Simonoff has transferred Saghafi assets to his personal account then it will bring into play the criminal RICO statute as well as other state and federal crimes.”
A professional forensic accounting expert alleges defendant Simonoff received $194,896.78 in guardian fees, according to court records.
Mr. Simonoff in court filings insists that he is innocent.
“Mr. Simonoff did not improperly distribute any funds awarded to or belonging to Fourough Bakhtiar [Saghafi],” wrote Simonoff’s counsel, Theresa Richthammer, in her Jan. 29 reply brief. “Requiring the filing under seal of Mr. Simonoff’s personal financial information will protect not only his interests and prevent unwarranted disclosure to the public but also the interests of his wife, Judge Lisa Sewnski, a Judge on the Lorain County Domestic Relations Court who is not a party to this case.”