Fugitive who faked his death and fled US is caught in Scotland

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NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – The remembrances poured in for Nicholas Alahverdian, saying that he had succumbed at 32 to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2020.

“His last words were ‘fear not and run towards the bliss of the sun,'” an online tribute to Alahverdian read.

There was an in memoriam citation with the signature of a congressman on official letterhead, even a death notice purportedly quoting the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island.

But his demise was greatly exaggerated, the authorities in two states said this week.

Alahverdian, a convicted sex offender wanted on a rape charge in Utah, was alive and not so well, prosecutors in Utah and the Rhode Island State Police said.

He was recently arrested in Scotland, according to the authorities in the United States, who said that Alahverdian, 34, had been hospitalised with Covid-19 in Glasgow and had at one point been placed on a ventilator.

He had been using the name Arthur Knight while living in Britain and eluding investigators, who said on Thursday (Jan 13) that they were now seeking to extradite him to the US on a rape charge that has been pending since September 2020.

The Providence Journal earlier reported Alahverdian’s arrest.

The case, which prosecutors said involved a sexual assault on a woman – whom Alahverdian had reportedly met on MySpace – in 2008 in Orem, Utah, had been sealed until recently.

The charge was filed seven months after he faked his death, said Mr David O. Leavitt, the chief prosecutor in Utah County, which includes Provo.

“We don’t make a practice of charging dead people,” Mr Leavitt said on Thursday, adding that Alahverdian could very well have known that “we were onto him”.

Mr Leavitt said that DNA from Alahverdian matched genetic evidence that had been taken from the victim.

But that rape kit, like a multitude of others sitting on shelves in the county, had long gone unanalysed, he said.

After being elected county attorney in 2018, Mr Leavitt said, he ordered that DNA evidence from scores of languishing rape kits be entered into a national database of registered sex offenders.

“We got a hit,” he said. “Suddenly, we had a suspect.”

SLEW OF ALIASES

Investigators said that the suspect, Alahverdian, had used a slew of aliases, including Nicholas Rossi.

He was convicted in 2008 of sexual imposition and public indecency under that name.

Those charges stemmed from an encounter between Alahverdian and another Sinclair Community College student in Dayton, Ohio, who told a campus police officer that Alahverdian had groped her and masturbated in front of her in a stairwell.

The conviction, which Alahverdian unsuccessfully appealed against, required him to register as a sex offender.

That victim had also met him on MySpace, which Mr Leavitt said had been a pattern.

“What we found was a trail of victims,” he said. “We knew that if we charged him and if that were public, that we’d never find him.”

In Glasgow, hospital employees were able to identify Alahverdian from photographs, according to investigators, who said that his fingerprints and DNA had been provided to Interpol.

Ms Laura Hamilton, a spokesman for the Crown Office, which prosecutes criminal cases in Scotland, said “Arthur Knight” had appeared in a virtual court hearing from Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Dec 23 in connection with the extradition proceedings.

Ms Hamilton said the Crown Office had not scheduled future court dates.

A spokesman for Police Scotland said the force had arrested a 34-year-old man on Dec 13 in Glasgow “in connection with an international arrest warrant”.

ONLINE TRIBUTE

The Rhode Island State Police and the FBI referred questions on Alahverdian’s current status to Mr Leavitt’s office, which said that it was not immediately clear whether Alahverdian was still hospitalised.

The online tribute to Alahverdian, which gave Feb 29, 2020, as the date of his death and clocked in at nearly 1,000 words, said that his “earthly remains were cremated with his ashes scattered at sea.”

“At the time of his passing, the room was filled with the sounds of the end credits for the 1997 film ‘Contact’ by composer Alan Silvestri, a film and score which held special meaning for Alahverdian,” the tribute read.

The movie, adapted from a novel by Carl Sagan, involves a possible message coming from a distant star system.

The tribute said that Alahverdian had earned acclaim as a child welfare reform advocate, drawing from his own experience of being raped and assaulted in Rhode Island’s child welfare system.

It quoted Mr Jorge O. Elorza, the mayor of Providence, remembering Alahverdian as a “a beloved community leader whose selflessness and lifelong contributions to the residents of the State of Rhode Island have earned him the unwavering admiration and respect of many.”

A spokesman for Mr Elorza did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

On a Facebook tribute page for Alahverdian, an in memoriam citation signed by Rep. Jim Langevin, Democrat-Rhode Island, is still prominently displayed.

According to Mr Langevin’s office, the citation, which includes the House seal, was requested by someone claiming to be a member of Alahverdian’s family.

An aide to Mr Langevin described it as a common courtesy for the office to accommodate such requests, though he said that had it known about Alahverdian’s background, it would not have granted it.

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