Glendale Emerges Triumphant In Federal And State Courts
by Charles C. Bonniwell as reported in the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle January 2017
The extraordinary scorched-earth legal and public relations campaign by Mohammad Ali Kheirkhahi, his family members and the corporation named for his initials M.A.K. Investments LLC (M.A.K.) against the City of Glendale, its employees and elected officials has come to a sudden and shocking end. Kheirkhahi and his family members own Authentic Persian & Oriental Rugs at 550 South Colorado Boulevard as well as associated 3.8 acres of developable land between E. Virginia and Cherry Creek where they want to build a massive apartment high-rise. The high-rise would be in contravention of Glendale’s Master Plan and zoning laws as well as the apparent overwhelming sentiment of residents of Glendale and adjoining Denver neighborhoods.
On November 21, Federal District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson dismissed all the federal claims brought by M.A.K. against the City of Glendale and related entities. Colorado District Court Judge Charles Pratt had previously dismissed four sets of claims brought in state court by M.A.K. in different proceedings, but one claim remained relating to an alleged violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Act scheduled for trial this January.
On the eve of a highly expensive deposition scheduled in Houston, Texas, M.A.K.’s attorneys contacted Glendale’s City Attorney Jeff Springer stating that M.A.K. might be willing to dismiss this final claim provided Glendale waived any right to attorneys’ fees and costs relating to all the litigation. Glendale refused. M.A.K.’s attorneys were forced to file a Motion to Dismiss with Prejudice for their lawsuit noting Glendale reserved the right to seek attorney fees and costs against them.
It is believed that M.A.K. has spent somewhere between a half million and a million dollars in attorneys’ fees and costs and associated public relations expenses in its campaign against Glendale over the last 18 months without a single claim ever even going to trial. How a relatively small rug shop on Colorado Boulevard could possibly afford such a massive amount of expense in such a short space of time remains a mystery to many. What M.A.K., Kheirkhahi and his in-laws intend to do next is not known. Their actions over the last 18 months, however, have brought them the enmity of not only many of the citizens of Glendale but also residents of Denver and the entire Cherry Creek Valley.
The March On City Hall
It all began on May 12, 2015, when Kheirkhahi, his brother-in-law Saeed Kholghy, and his sister-in-law Nasrin Kholghy launched a wholly unexpected and unanticipated “shock and awe” march through the streets of Glendale ending at City Hall for a regularly scheduled Tuesday night City Council meeting.
Heading up the march along with the threesome was nationally feared paramilitary militia group “The Oathkeepers” who were an integral part of the Bundy Ranch standoff and the Ferguson, Missouri, fiasco. Joining them were hundreds of other extended family members and M.A.K. supporters. Minority and other citizens of Glendale who were simply anticipating attending a regular City Council meeting were forced to run a gauntlet of glaring and chanting Oathkeepers and other militant supporters to be able to get into City Hall itself.
Kheirkhahi had also engaged public relations firm Stratton Carpenter and Associates who convinced all the major Denver stations with camera crews to cover the meeting. The meeting for Kheirkhahi was orchestrated by Phillip Applebaum of the Virginia based Institute for Justice. Oathkeepers and other speakers declared that if the City Councilmembers did not immediately give in to the demands of Kheirkhahi and his family, they would have them all recalled from office.
The City Councilmembers and city staff initially reeled under the attack. All were at a loss over what was happening. The City had for almost two decades wanted to build an eating and entertainment district initially called “The Riverwalk” and later retitled the “Glendale 180 Project” as envisioned for in the city’s Master Plan. Kheirkhahi and the family had acquired the land in 2006 after reading an article in The Denver Post outlining the dreams and aspirations of the city to build the Riverwalk.
According to city officials, at all times prior to the “shock and awe” march, Kheirkhahi and family had supported the Riverwalk/Glendale 180 concept and they were integral in its planning. Glendale had asked M.A.K. what it thought its land was worth for the purpose of obtaining bonding for the project. At the May 12 meeting representatives claimed that the request was tantamount to a threat of condemnation which once again baffled city officials. The city repeatedly tried to assure M.A.K the city had no intention of condemning the M.A.K. land, but that appeared not to matter.
Thinking that M.A.K. simply wanted Glendale to buy the land at above market rate, the city gave M.A.K. a formal offer for $11 million and indicated a willingness to negotiate. M.A.K. summarily dismissed the offer and rebuffed any negotiations. It then began an avalanche of lawsuits in state and federal court with some of the highest priced lawyers, both locally and nationally, with reputations of never settling and virtually always taking cases to trial.
The Light Goes On
What M.A.K. and Mohammad Ali Kheirkhahi and family really wanted, according to the city, was finally revealed at the start of 2016 when they brought iconic Denver developer Dana Crawford and an all-star cast of consultants to Glendale City Hall for a meeting with staff that was openly recorded by the city. They showed pictures of massive, up to 60 story, high-end apartment buildings in Tehran, Iran, and Austin, Texas. (See “Wealth Rug Merchants Plans Exposed,” March 2016 Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle).
Crawford was recorded stating that the proposed building “could be just sensational and observable from almost the entire metropolitan area.” She appeared to believe the numerous lawsuits and negative publicity directed at the city made it uniquely amenable to M.A.K.’s grand plan stating that in Glendale, unlike Denver, you would “be able to do things that are not going to get people hysterical about blocking their views.” Another consultant, Bill James, deminimized the likely massive parking and traffic concerns on Colorado Boulevard stating that people have “been sort of seduced by the car — we’re moving away from that.”
Crawford went on to assure city officials not to worry that “there is, you know, there’s some sugar in it, a special sugar in it for the community . . . taking care of some that need a little care.” Consultant David Tryba pointed out with massive density the M.A.K land could be worth as much as $750 a square foot which translated to $124 million for the M.A.K property. Considering that M.A.K. had bought the land for $6.5 million in 2006 the potential payday to M.A.K. was enormous. Glendale officials now believed they finally understood the purpose of the “shock and awe” march on City Hall, the unrelenting negative publicity campaign and the avalanche of extraordinarily costly litigation all orchestrated by Mohammad Ali Kheirkhahi and his family.
They believe the purported fear of possible condemnation was little more than a ruse to garner initial public sympathy. They surmise that Kheirkhahi knew that Glendale would not give in to the demands for super high density in contravention of city planning for at least the last two decades absent extraordinary pressure. That pressure would be accomplished through lawsuits from high-priced attorneys and a sophisticated, and at times stealthy, P.R. campaign which would threaten to destroy the reputation of the city and individual members of the City Council as well as members of city staff.
The tape of the meeting with Dana Crawford was obtained by the Chronicle from Glendale pursuant to a Colorado Open Records request and posted on the website of the Chronicle. The tape turned many prior supporters of M.A.K. against them including the Editorial Board of The Denver Post, as well as, the local television stations. What M.A.K., Kheirkhahi and his Kholghy in-laws were really up to became apparent to almost everyone.
Local citizens and neighborhood groups began to attend Glendale City Council meetings demanding that Glendale hold firm and not give in to the demands of M.A.K. (see “Glendale Residents and Denver Neighborhoods Pour Into Council Meeting To Oppose ‘Death Star,’” May, 2016 Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle). M.A.K.’s inchoate building plan started to become known locally as the “Tehranian Death Star.”
Nothing, however, seemed to phase M.A.K. whose only response was to turn up the heat even more. Jeanne Price, a Denver blogger, suddenly appeared at Glendale City Council meetings to excoriate city staff and City Council members claiming they were engaging in unlawful conduct. She requested thousands of pages of city documents pursuant to the Colorado Open Records Act which she hoped could be used to bring claims or charges against individuals. (See “Persian Rug Merchants Have Denverite Jeanne Price Digging Hard For Dirt” February 2016 Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle).
What M.A.K. had not counted on was how resolute Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon could be. Dunafon finally had enough of Price and exposed that much of what Price was claiming at public meetings was patently and demonstrably false. (“Jeanne Price Exposed — Tapes Caught Her Allegedly Dissembling in Front of City Council” November 2016 Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle).
But the documents dug up by Price were apparently being used also by other outlets to defame City Council members. On February 6, 2016, Colorado Ethics Watch filed an Ethics Complaint against Mayor Mike Dunafon and later M.A.K.’s lead attorney Russell Kemp of the law firm Ireland, Stapleton, Pryor & Pascoe P.C. filed an Ethics Complaint against then-Councilman Jeff Allen. Both claimed that the individuals should not have voted on certain different matters. Both complaints were eventually found to be frivolous and without any basis but both complaints had their intended effect of unfairly harming the reputations of the councilmen involved.
The Ethics Complaint against Mayor Dunafon was put out on the Associated Press wire and picked up nationally in papers across the United States. Dunafon noted after the Ethics Complaint against him was dismissed as frivolous that although the accusation went out nationally his exoneration was picked up by no one.
Enter The FBI
Even more ominously persons associated with M.A.K. also allegedly went to the Denver office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to claim that any opposition in Glendale or Denver neighborhoods to its plans for a massive high-rise was a form of “Islamophobia.” The United States Department of Justice under Attorney General Loretta Lynch was then engaged in an extensive campaign to intervene in local municipal zoning decisions on behalf of landowners wanting to build mosques. Moreover, it is believed that M.A.K. sought investigations against local Glendale officials and elected office holders asserting corruption based in large part on the discredited allegations of Jeanne Price among other claims.
The Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle began to receive panicked calls from individuals who were quoted in the paper in opposition to M.A.K.’s apartment project. They were being harassed by a thug-like private investigator from Tennessee, by the name of Charles Johnson. He had attempted on a Saturday night to gain entrance to the apartment complex where Glendale City Clerk Sherry Frame lived. Various individuals filed harassment complaints with the Denver and Lakewood police against Johnson. Johnson would later claim he was under contract with a female writer/journalist whose name he would not reveal. Persons associated with M.A.K. including Jeanne Price vehemently denied that they had hired Johnson.
Johnson was arrested by the Glendale P.D. when he later returned from Tennessee to harass and intimidate readers of the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle. He was charged with acting as a private investigator in Colorado without a license. Johnson had on him three current driver’s licenses from three different states and it was discovered that he was not even registered as a private investigator in Tennessee.
To the astonishment of all, the Denver FBI then demanded that Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler dismiss all charges and quash all warrants against Johnson “for reasons that can’t be disclosed.” (See “Phony P.I. — FBI Mole Or Worse? All Charges Dismissed Per FBI” June 2016 Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle).
D.A. Brauchler refused to do so unless the FBI demanded the same in writing which he made public thereby disclosing that Johnson’s real employer was the FBI Fox 31 News Denver also discovered during an interview with Chronicle columnist and 710 KNUS radio host Peter Boyles that the Chronicle’s offices were under surveillance by a cameraman in a car. Moreover, citizens who filed complaints against Johnson were hauled before the FBI where it was revealed that the FBI was monitoring Boyles’ daily radio show. The matter reminded many of the Scott Lee Kimball case where a local FBI operative tortured and murdered at least five women from Glendale and elsewhere all while under the control and protection of the Denver branch of the FBI.
The Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Office, Thomas P. Ravenelle, was subsequently removed from his position and the constant camera surveillance of the Chronicle’s offices ceased. Moreover, it is doubtful that the new Attorney General replacing Loretta Lynch will continue the DOJ’s foray into local zoning matters under the guise of combatting Islamophobia. But many feel that the threat of the local FBI against anyone in Denver and Glendale residents who opposed Mohammad Ali Kheirkhahi and M.A.K. may potentially continue for a long time.
If anyone anticipated that M.A.K. or Kheirkhahi or his in-laws would offer an olive branch to anyone they attempted to destroy and/or defame they would be disappointed. Nor is there any acknowledgment of the economic harm the avalanche of dismissed lawsuits caused to the City of Glendale and its businesses and the proposed Glendale 180 Project.
As with all prior legal losses, M.A.K. claimed victory through family spokesperson Nasrin Kholghy with an email to the Chronicle which stated in part:
“In a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Colorado blight law and its notification process, a second judge recently ruled that M.A.K. could file a suit if the City of Glendale ever tried to condemn. These two court decisions greatly boosted M.A.K.’s confidence that the cloud of condemnation has finally been removed.
“We still believe that Colorado law should be changed so that private property owners are adequately informed of the impact of a blight findings on their property. When private lands can be seized after a finding of blight and there is no individual remedy, due process and adequate notification requirements should be guaranteed.”
However, Glendale City Attorney Jeff Springer of the law firm Springer and Steinberg stated to the Chronicle: “The City of Glendale respects the right of citizens to unfettered access to the courts to air grievances and to pursue legitimate appeals. On the other hand when lawsuits are filed with ulterior motives or as a means to obtain leverage and when the claims are frivolous and groundless that is not consistent with obtaining justice and due process. The city is exploring its options in seeking reimbursement for its substantial costs and attorneys’ fees in defeating the claims filed by M.A.K.”
Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon in turn noted: “This is not just a win for the businesses and citizens of Glendale, but a win for all communities in the state . . . What is unfortunate is the tremendous cost and waste to a community in defeating a scorched-earth campaign by a greedy and unscrupulous few in a town that otherwise has an enormous number of really caring and giving individuals who want to do positive things that benefit everyone.”