Was An 81-Year-Old Wife, Mother and Grandmother Abducted By Her Own Daughter or Rescued From a Bad Situation?

Estate of emergency

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It wasn't germane to the court, but it was sure as hell germane to the rest of the family. Their suspicions were coming true.

On Nov. 21, 2013, Fourough and Jaleh opened a joint bank account at Fifth Third Bank.

On Nov. 25, attorney Steven Sartschev, Fourough's longtime accountant, was appointed the guardian of estate by Judge James Walther.

On Nov. 26, a U.S. Treasury check for $6,555 addressed to Fourough Bakhtiar was deposited into the account (and $100 was taken out as cash).

On Nov. 27, $1,000 was withdrawn by Jaleh.

According to a notice of discovery filed in 2014, the joint account debit card was swiped at Trendy Wendy (a restaurant), Dunham's (a sporting goods store), Walmart, Finish Line, Toys R Us and Giant Eagle. The account was closed in March 2014.

Throughout, Sartschev, who was unavailable to speak with Scene for this story, ignored subpoenas for Fourough's communications and financial statements and the rest of the family remained in the dark.

Against all of those financial dealings, there was this unavoidable detail: Phillip Presutto pleaded guilty to theft and two counts of felonious insurance fraud in August 2014. He maintains a balance of more than $11,000 in unpaid costs with the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.

A year into everything, an impromptu March 2014 meeting between the family members and Fourough at the Lorain County Justice Center became a point of crystallization in the case, around which tempers flared more brightly in contrast. As the financial morass deepened, the family was elated simply to have a chance to see Fourough again. It was an unexpected bit of normalcy.

Fourough's grandchildren gathered around as the judge brought Fourough into the courtroom during an otherwise contentious hearing. Her sons —Dariush, Kourosh and Jamsheed —joined. The children laughed. They cried, hugged, reminisced. It had been nearly a year since Fourough's disappearance. She seemed happy, family members say. The judge even ordered pizza for everybody.

"There was an explosion of emotions," Jamsheed tells Scene. "I had not seen my mom by herself without being surrounded by the Presuttos and the attorneys — and everybody not letting us get close to her — in close to a year. It was a wonderful meeting for everybody."

Walther promised that additional visitation dates would be submitted by Fourough's attorneys in three days. Then five months passed by.

On Labor Day weekend in 2014, Walther permitted a visitation between Fourough and her grandchildren. Per demands set forth by guardian Zachary Simonoff, no adults or other attorneys were allowed. After much debate involving the concerns over leaving very young children alone in a restaurant with an elderly woman and an estate lawyer, the mother of two of the younger children was allowed to come.

The meeting was arranged at Aladdin's in Oberlin. It lasted for one hour, and, according to correspondence shared with Scene, the mood was tense.

Fourough's attorney, Stephen Wolf, entered the restaurant and sat at a table on the other side of the room, seemingly breaking the agreement that no other attorneys be present. Family members were caught off guard. Fourough refused to speak with the grandchildren. It was all very strange, very different from the family get-together over pizza.

"I had a short conversation with the older grandchildren," Simonoff wrote in the following days. "They were deeply hurt that the Ward would not speak to them. I told them that she expressed that she was angry that they had provided affidavits in the case against her wishes and that she could not trust them...I suggested that they concentrate on being grandchildren and let the parents fight this matter out.

"In order to carry out the court order, I have set up another visit for September 19, 2014 at 5 p.m.," Simonoff continued. "I believe that it will be a waste of time."

He never got to find out, though, as Judge James Walther barred visitation from then on.

March 2015. Jaleh Presutto is now sitting in a courtroom at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center, the same building where she was indicted on criminal charges in January: kidnapping (a first-degree felony), abduction (a third-degree felony), two counts of theft (third- and fourth-degree felonies) and telecommunications fraud (a third-degree felony). Fourough Bakhtiar is named as the victim in the kidnapping, abduction and theft counts.

A trial date is set for June 22.

Jaleh, unreachable for comment for this story, provided a statement through her attorney:

"Jaleh S. Presutto is falsely accused of kidnapping, abduction and theft related charges in Cuyahoga County. Jaleh looks forward to demonstrating her complete innocence of all charges to a Cuyahoga County jury later this year.  As you are aware, the charges against Ms. Presutto came about only after her father and brothers began repeatedly losing their respective legal positions, arguments, and cases in both Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court, Cuyahoga County Probate Court, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and Lorain County Probate Court.

"When they were unable to convince the Lorain County Prosecutor's Office that a crime was committed, they turned their collective attention and malicious intentions to pursuing venue and frivolous criminal charges in Cuyahoga County."

Jaleh needs money, though, as the simple matter of legal fees continues to mount. The estate of Fourough Bakhtiar is seen as a well for her defense. Fourough's attorneys insist that this money meant for the defense of Jaleh Presutto will "protect this Court's guardianship [of Fourough]." Jaleh's defense is integral to the well-being of her mother, court motions claim.

Shortly after the indictment, Jaleh was removed as her mother's guardian and ordered not to have contact with her. Attorney Zachary Simonoff was installed as the guardian. As Jaleh's criminal case has progressed, requests for legal defense funds were made.

During the March hearing, Judge Michael Jackson permitted Jaleh to return to life at her home with her husband and her mother. A Channel 19 cameraman followed her and an attorney out of the courtroom, a sign of what life is like now. The case, granted a few minutes on Channel 5 back in March, is slipping out of the two counties' courthouses and into the public light.

Members of the Saghafi family lingered outside that day, meeting quietly with their own attorneys and quelling the concerns of Fourough's grandchildren. It's a difficult matter to comprehend, Jamsheed Saghafi says. He had been close with his sister growing up.

"For me, this is real tragic," Jamsheed says. "No matter what happens, I've lost my sister, I've lost my mom. It's real tragic to me that she sat down and chose this path."

At the heart of the matter remains the question, answered and yet unanswered, of whether Fourough can make decisions for herself. Judge James Walther believes she can. He upheld Fourough's divorce order against her husband just a few weeks after she disappeared from her Seven Hills home. Fourough's attorneys call it a "rescue." The Saghafi family calls it an "abduction."

"Although the Court has declared her to be incompetent as a matter of law, the Court finds her to be very bright, articulate and determined," Judge James Walther wrote in a Feb. 9, 2015, order to proceed with the divorce.

The next hearing in the divorce case is scheduled for June 15 in Judge Leslie Celebrezze's courtroom.

That's three court proceedings going on at one time over this 81-year-old woman's future, and the future of her bank accounts. Everyone claims to be speaking in the best interest of Fourough, but it can hardly be claimed that any of them are.

Buried deep in the boxes of legal documents might be the only person who is: In her report, Diane Jancura writes that Fourough "prefers to live alone, not with her husband, sons or daughter," hence her recommendation that Fourough move to an assisted living home.

"My interview of Mrs. Bakhtiar...show[s] that Mrs. Bakhtiar is incapable of managing her own personal and financial affairs. I also believe that she is quite susceptible to undue influence and duress from almost any member of her family and will change her mind frequently as a result.

"Allowing Mrs. Bakhtiar the freedom to live apart from her husband. sons, and daughter, will, hopefully, provide her entire family with concrete proof of her abilities, and more importantly, her inabilities."

It's been nearly two years since Jacura filed her report with the court, and no one has come up with a better idea since.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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