PROVIDENCE, R.I. – State Rep. Raymond Hull spoke to the state police detective in July. He says he remembers the officer’s first question so clearly, because it sounded so preposterous.
“He asked me, ‘Do you think this Nicholas Alahverdian is still alive?’”
Alahverdian, a critic of the state’s child welfare program who had pushed lawmakers like Hull to support reforms, died of cancer five months earlier, according to his widow and a widely disseminated email from the “Alahverdian Family Office.”
His announced death, at 32, came just two months after Alahverdian informed reporters at various media outlets that he had late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had weeks to live. His life as a crusader for children, now about to be cut short, was news that needed reporting, he insisted to a Journal reporter and editor.
But Alahverdian was also confronting another powerful force around that time, says Jeffrey Pine, a lawyer who had recently represented him: the FBI.
The agency was looking into a fraud complaint filed against him in Ohio, Pine says.
His former foster mother in Ohio, Sharon Lane, tells The Journal that Alahverdian had fraudulently obtained 22 credit cards and loans under her husband’s name and ran up debts totaling almost $200,000.
Ohio court records also show Alahverdian’s second wife was granted a divorce in 2017, after less than two years of marriage, with Alahverdian still owing her $52,000 from a loan.
Alahverdian, who Pine says was living in Ireland at the end of 2019, knew of the FBI’s interest in him. (Alahverdian had told the Journal he was living in an undisclosed country because his child-care advocacy from years ago had provoked threats.)
An FBI agent had called Alahverdian to discuss the fraud complaint, attorney Pine says. Alahverdian gave Pine the FBI investigator’s name “and I contacted him, just to confirm it.”
Any interest the agency had in arresting Alahverdian may have been complicated by him being overseas and the international cooperation required, says Pine, a former Rhode Island attorney general.
Todd Lindgren, an FBI spokesman in Cincinnati, would not confirm or deny the existence of “a potential investigation.”
Pine, who successfully represented Alahverdian when he allegedly failed to register as a sex offender, says the timing of events – learning about the FBI’s inquiry, Alahverdian’s sudden pronouncement of his terminal illness and then his swift death – left questions in his mind.
“The next thing I know he gets very, very sick with cancer and dies within weeks,” Pine says. “Do I think it’s possible he’s alive? Of course I do.”
He is not alone.
State police Lt. Col. Kevin Barry says a detective talked to Representative Hull, as well as other people, last summer as reports circulated that Alahverdian was still alive. The state police still had a warrant for him for allegedly failing to register in Rhode Island as a sex offender.
(Alahverdian was convicted in 2008 on two sex-related charges after an encounter in a stairwell with a fellow student at Sinclair Community College, in Dayton, Ohio, according to court documents.)
“Anytime there is an allegation that someone is still alive and we have an active warrant of someone being a sex offender violator, we are going to take that seriously,” Barry says. “Without definitive evidence that he was deceased we had to run that down.”
Hull says the detective, Conor O’Donnell, wanted to know how well the representative knew him and whether he thought Alahverdian was capable of faking his death. Hull said O’Donnell told him: “We think him to be alive.”
The question of his status has surfaced on the internet, too, where the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is questioning the accuracy of Alahverdian’s biography.
It has posted a warning at the top of Alahverdian’s page that reads: “The truthfulness of this article has been questioned. It is believed that some or all of its content may constitute a hoax.”
Alahverdian’s presumptive widow says all the speculation is disgraceful.
In a five-page email to The Journal she said, “Unless my husband was cloned and died in my arms and faked cancer diagnosis, treatment and heart disease/heart attacks for months before that, he passed away. In my arms.”
(The Journal is not using her name since she requested anonymity at the time she announced Alahverdian’s death, alluding to the same alleged threats he did.)
She said that if Rhode Island law enforcement “truly wants to help my family maybe they should investigate how Nicholas was beaten and forced to work without pay at gunpoint as a campaign manager in 2016 and was raped by a politician in 2002 and 2003, and all of the abuse he suffered on (sic) Rhode Island and when he was sent to two other states.”
Alahverdian’s allegations that he had been abused in out-of-state placement centers as a child in the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families garnered much media attention over the years, as well as compassion and demands for change.
His widow said her husband had been cremated and his remains scattered at sea.
She declined two emailed requests that she release a copy of his death certificate.
Questions about the accuracy of Alahverdian’s Wikipedia page began a few months ago when the blog site Wikipediocracy – which says it exists to expose “the torrent of misinformation” on the popular online encyclopedia – noticed changes being made to Alahverdian’s page, says Wikipediocracy blog team member Michael Cockram.
Anyone can make edits on Wikipedia’s open site but they must use an account. Cockram, who lives in England, says what raised a red flag with his team members was that someone attempted to replace Alahvedian’s photograph with a photoshopped image of someone else.
Cockram says the attempt was made by someone using an account created by Alahverdian.
Other edits were also made from other accounts previously established by Alahverdian, Cockram says.
Alahverdian’s widow charges that Wikipediocracy members themselves made changes to her husband’s page, seeding the allegation “that they suspect he is not dead.”
She says they threatened to further smear her husband’s reputation with more bogus edits to the Wikipedia page unless the Alahverdian family paid extortion money in Bitcoin currency.
“First they claim my husband did all of these edits on Wikipedia himself,” she wrote, “then we receive extortion demands to stop the untrue edits and claims on Wikipedia.”
Cockram says those allegations are “frankly, (expletive) crazy and obviously untrue.”
Cockram says his Wikipediocracy team received a long email from someone purporting to be Alahverdian’s widow and a lawyer, but who they believe was Alahverdian himself.
“He is clearly desperate to get his Wiki article and all mentions of the fake death deleted at this point,” Cockram says.
Says Alahverdian’s widow: “There are no words I can say to express my profound anger at those who are dishonestly speculating that my husband and the father of my children is actually alive when he waited to release his diagnosis hoping he would beat it but failed as many patients with non Hodgkin lymphoma do each year.”
In 2008, police in Dayton, Ohio, brought charges against Alahverdian – who then used the last name Rossi – alleging he had sexually assaulted a fellow student in a stairwell at Sinclair Community College, according to court documents.
The woman said he groped her and exposed himself. Rossi was found guilty of one count of “sexual imposition” and one count of public indecency, court records show.
Rossi filed a motion for a new trial “based on newly discovered evidence.” The evidence took the form of a Myspace blog posting “allegedly written by the victim … in which she admitted to having lied under oath in an attempt to deflect accusations of cheating and protect her relationship with her boyfriend,” say court records.
But during a Feb. 28, 2011, evidentiary hearing, the state countered Rossi’s new evidence claim with the testimony of an expert in computer forensics, a Dayton detective, on loan to the FBI.
The expert testified “with 90% certainty that the blog post had been altered or was completely fabricated.” He said “anyone familiar with the ‘cut,’ ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ functions of a computer with access to basic computer programs would have the capability to easily alter or fabricate a document” like the Myspace blog post.
Further he noted a discrepancy between the date of the posting and the corresponding day of the week – “a mistake that would not have been made by a computer, but rather only by human error.”
After the hearing, the judge denied Rossi’s motion for a new trial, saying the “newly discovered” evidence was “highly questionable (and) not credible.”
Alahverdian’s former foster mother Sharon Lane says: “Nick had the ability to pull the wool over so many people’s eyes. … When I look back, I can see a pattern but at the time we were living busy lives.”
Even after Alahverdian reached adulthood, he stayed with the Lanes for a time in Ohio, she says.
Her husband, Charles, thought highly of Alahverdian and “helped him out of his jams and getting into colleges.” Court records show Sharon Lane helped purchase a house for her foster son in Dayton prior to his second marriage, at age 28, in October 2015.
Seven months after the marriage, however, his wife filed for divorce, court records show. In the final judgment and decree of divorce, the court found “that defendant has been guilty of gross neglect of duty and extreme cruelty toward plaintiff.”
The court said Alahverdian had taken “all of the marital household goods and furnishings from the marital residence, in violation of the temporary restraining orders” when he left the Dayton area in July 2016.
It’s unclear if he paid his ex-wife back the $52,000 loan.
His widow did not respond to a Journal email requesting comment on the loan or the fraud allegations.
Divorce records show that Alahverdian persuaded his wife to lend him the money for one year, “which he claimed he needed to keep (the) Community Progress Institute afloat temporarily,” referring to a community service agency that Alahverdian was involved with.
In July, around the same time the Rhode Island State Police were asking questions about a man who had supposedly died five months earlier, Sharon Lane says she was contacted by Nick’s birth mother.
She wanted the Lanes to look into reports that Alahverdian had died.
“Once we did, we immediately knew that Nick faked his death,” she says.
She read all the glowing mentions of him in his posted obituary, the memorials. The language was so familiar. “He wrote everything,” she says in an email. “Good grief! Just like him! No mention of any of his past life.”
Lane says one of her daughters recently received an email from someone she’s convinced was Nick Alahverdian. The FBI is investigating, she says.
Says the former foster mother: “I doubt anyone in RI knew that Nick had this separate life.”
Follow Tom Mooney on Twitter: @mooneyprojo