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[whitespace] Generous Saratogan pleads no contest to theft, fraud

Saratoga--A Saratoga parent who last month made a generous offer to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission to build, manage and pay for an indoor gym for Saratoga has pled guilty or no contest to charges of welfare fraud and felony grand theft.

Nemat Maleksalehi, a Saratoga real estate magnate, collected some $212,000 in subsidies meant for those who can't afford to live in the county without federal assistance, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office.

Maleksalehi, 56, who has children in the Saratoga school system, became known to the commission at its Jan. 10 meeting when he presented a draft proposal for a state-of-the-art indoor sport and recreation center to be built on one of the city's existing parks.

Commission Chairwoman Judy Alberts at that time directed Maleksalehi to prepare a more detailed proposal for the gym for the commission's Feb. 7 meeting. She was later surprised to learn about the charges against Maleksalehi.

According to Cary Bloomquist, the city staff liaison to the commission, Maleksalehi has not submitted a revised plan and has not contacted the city by phone or in writing. Maleksalehi's name remains on the commission's Feb. 7 agenda.

"I feel very strongly ethically about keeping him on [the agenda] since we made a commitment to him last time," Bloomquist said. He could not anticipate at press time whether Maleksalehi will show up at the Feb. 7 meeting.

Maleksalehi's attorney, Ed Nino, said his client's Jan. 10 offer stands and that he plans to attend the meeting.

During a settlement conference Jan. 31, conducted by Superior Court Judge Thomas Hastings, Maleksalehi pled "no contest" to the charge of welfare fraud and two counts of grand theft, which means he chose not to contest the charges. He pled "guilty" to the two other counts of grand theft.

According to Deputy District Attorney Stephen Lowney, this move was somewhat surprising. The District Attorney's office was ready for a trial, he said. And Nino reported earlier to the Saratoga News that his client planned to enter a "not guilty" plea.

Nino would not comment on the change other than to say that Maleksalehi did not want his wife and his 78-year-old mother to have to go through a trial.

Maleksalehi also admitted to the four enhancements with which he was charged, one of which was bail enhancement because he was out on bail for a case of insurance fraud when he committed welfare fraud and felony grand theft, Lowney said. Three additional enhancements applied because Maleksalehi collected more than $150,000, Lowney said.

The welfare fraud charge stems from Maleksalehi arranging for the mother and the child of his alleged mistress to receive welfare benefits from 1990 to 1996. The grandmother, who received benefits because she had a dependent child living with her was supposedly living with the child in Cupertino. But the child lived with his mother in Palo Alto the entire time, Lowney said.

The counts of felony grand theft concern four of Maleksalehi's properties. The district attorney's office charged that Maleksalehi brought Iranian nationals seeking citizenship--mostly elderly women who could not read or write English--into the Housing Authority office to qualify them for federal Section 8 housing subsidies. He would interpret for them, help them fill out forms and agree to convert an apartment he owned into affordable housing for them. He would receive a monthly check from the housing authority, which administers the Section 8 program, but would actually rent the apartments to other people at the market price, Lowney said, and the Iranian Nationals would live elsewhere.

According to Deputy District Attorney Stan Voyles, Maleksalehi also pled guilty Jan. 31 to the separate charge of insurance fraud. Maleksalehi and his wife reported their Mercedes Benz stolen in 1992. Four years later, Maleksalehi he tried to dispose of the car by selling it, using the name of another person who was not living in the United States, saying that this person happened to just find the car, Voyles said.

In order to induce Maleksalehi's pleas, Judge Hastings promised that Maleksalehi would serve no more than three years in state prison. Maleksalehi will be sentenced sometime after March 9, the date his probation officer's report is due. At sentencing, the judge will decide if and how much Maleksalehi will have to pay back the county's housing authority and social services department, Lowney said. Maleksalehi posted a $300,000 cash bail, so some of that money might be used, if the judge decides, said Lowney.

Maleksalehi's wife, Maryam Boghratian, and his mother, Aghdas Maleksalehi, were co-defendants in the case, but once Maleksalehi decided not to contest his charges, Lowney dismissed the charges of grand theft against the two women. Now that Maleksalehi is out of the case, he said there would not be enough evidence against them.

"Both had a small role and without him [Maleksalehi], I don't think a jury would convict them," Lowney said.

Maleksalehi was also earlier charged with falsely claiming he planned to rent his home in La Selva Beach in Santa Cruz County to low-income tenants in order to qualify for $26,000 in subsidies from the Santa Cruz County Housing Authority, but the charges have been dropped.

Maleksalehi owns Indoor Sports Network Corp, a Los Altos-based nonprofit, and Housing Network, a firm that owns and operates apartments and office buildings in four states including California. Maleksalehi also goes by the names Matt Madison or Matt Malek.
Kara Chalmers

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