PITTSBURG — After a three-week trial, a Danville lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for district attorney and her co-defendant were found not guilty of swindling an eccentric millionaire out of more than $100,000.
Elham Falahat, who ran for Contra Costa County district attorney in 2010, and her co-defendant Hamid Ben Maghsoudi were acquitted of grand theft by a county jury on Aug. 2. Filed in 2016, the charges accused the pair of taking advantage of a senile man named Andrew Gabor, who became a millionaire after his daisy wheel printer system invention was picked up by Xerox in the 1970s.
The case hinged on Gabor’s mental state when he paid tens of thousands of dollars to Falahat and Maghsoudi, with defense attorneys arguing that Gabor was a highly intelligent and eccentric man who appeared to be in control of his faculties. During the same period he paid Falahat and Maghsoudi, he also purchased a $450,000 Bentley and started working on a “sex chair” invention designed to help overweight people.
Roberto Dulce, a lawyer who represented Falahat, said his client’s biggest fault was “she genuinely cared so much for a client that she became a suspect in elderly fiduciary abuse.”
“A lawyer who looked beyond just getting her legal fees, what a concept,” Dulce said in a written statement to this news organization. Dulce’s co-counsel, Ashley Bargenquast, called Falahat a “wonderful woman” who has been “fully vindicated” by the verdict.
The California Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, did not return requests for comment. The office took over the case after Walnut Creek police, which led the investigation, identified a potential conflict of interest with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors argued that the pair took advantage of obvious signs that Gabor’s mental health was declining, and that they spoke to others who refused money from Gabor since they felt it was obvious he wasn’t fully coherent. The investigation was opened in 2014 after a bank employee became suspicious of money transfers from Gabor to Falahat and Maghsoudi and tipped off police, according to authorities.
The charges were filed in April 2016 when former District Attorney Mark Peterson — who beat Falahat and Dan O’Malley in the 2010 election — was still in office. During trial, it was revealed that Falahat texted Peterson during the investigation, inquiring why her bank account had been frozen.
Ironically, Peterson ended up with legal problems of his own a year later when he was charged with 13 felonies for spending about $66,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. The same day he was charged, Peterson resigned and pleaded no contest to felony perjury, was sentenced to probation, and the other charges were dropped. He was replaced by former judge Diana Becton, who is still in office.