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Former Oregon DOC Food Manager Abandons Wife to Federal Prosecution; Herding Sheep in Iran While on the Lam

Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) Food Services Administrator Farhad “Fred” Monem and his wife, Karen, accepted over $1.3 million in bribes and kickbacks in the worst public corruption scandal in Oregon’s history. [See: PLN, Aug. 2008, p.1].

While contemplating a plea bargain that required significant prison time, Fred fled on July 1, 2007, abandoning his teenage son and wife of 25 years – a wife who would then be forced to suffer the consequences of their crimes alone.

On November 19, 2008, Karen Monem pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for setting up three bank ac-counts in her mother’s name to launder the bribery payments. She hid $163,000 in the accounts, making deposits under $10,000 to avoid triggering bank reporting requirements.

As part of her plea, Karen agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their continuing investigation. She also agreed to forfeit $700,000 to the federal government that was seized from the Monems’ home and bank accounts, plus three vehi-cles. Oregon received half of that amount, another $163,000 from the sale of two vacation homes, and half of Fred’s ODOC retirement account.

Additionally, a Los Angeles food broker and three of its employees who had supplied the kickbacks agreed to pay Oregon $540,000. The state also won a $4.5 million default judgment against Fred. The judgment included $386,000 which constituted all of Monem’s ODOC salary during the time the bribery scheme was ongoing. It is unlikely that any of that judgment will be collected.

Fred was born in Iran but his father snuck him out of the country in 1979, when he faced execution for deserting from mandatory military service in the Shah’s army. He spent the next 28 years in the United States.

During Karen’s November 29, 2008 plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani revealed that Fred had “hopped the border” into Canada with the assistance of a brother who lived in Montreal. From there, he made his way back to Iran for an inglorious homecoming. “It is the understanding of the FBI that Fred Monem has been herding sheep in Iran,” Cardani revealed. “We are confident he is there. He refuses to return voluntarily to face the charges.”

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 and has no extradition treaty. “By the standards of the judicial system he is a fugitive. Does that mean we’re done with him because he’s somewhere we can’t get a hold of him, right now?” asked Special Agent in Charge Kenneth Hines. “No, we’re not done with him. ... If he winds up in a place where we can get a hold of him, he’ll come back and he’ll face justice.”

Cardani refused to provide specifics about Monem’s whereabouts or the nature of any contact U.S. authorities have had with him. Yet he is optimistic about Monem’s return. “He has allowed his wife to suffer through her case alone. Five of the six defendants have now reached plea agreements with the government,” Cardani said. “Fred is the only defendant left out there. I’m hopeful that Mr. Monem will do the right thing and come back to face the charges.”

But Fred had not done “the right thing” by the time his wife was sentenced to one year in federal prison on February 13, 2009. “Essentially, your husband, the coward, is throwing you and your son under the proverbial bus,” said U.S. Dis-trict Court Judge Ann Aiken during Karen’s sentencing hearing.

Karen wept as she told the judge that after Fred fled, their son began suffering from psychiatric problems linked to the onset of schizophrenia. He was hospitalized for nine days and was scheduled to enter a long-term treatment program. “I’m just afraid if he loses me, he’ll have a total relapse. That is my biggest concern because he’s lost everything,” Karen stated.

Judge Aiken acknowledged that the scandal had created many victims, including the state, the Monems’ son and Karen herself. Even so, Karen bore responsibility for “a huge violation of trust,” said Aiken. “You need to be held account-able because you know what? You know better.”

Cardani recommended a 12-18 month prison sentence because Karen “indulged herself in the proceeds of the kickback scheme. ... She took full advantage of these proceeds by enjoying vacations, driving in high-end vehicles, boating and attending sporting events, all paid for with kickback monies.” He accused the Monems of living “a very lavish lifestyle.” Yet Cardani also acknowledged that Karen had “been behaving well since the time this was found out.”

Karen’s attorney, Paul Ferder, asked the judge to impose probation rather than prison time, characterizing her as a “minimal participant” in the bribery scheme. She was under the domination and control of her husband, who expected her to behave in the tradition of Middle Eastern women, Ferder argued. She was “a kept woman” who “did what she was told to do.”

Aiken sentenced Karen to one year in prison but delayed a decision about when she must surrender to authori-ties until September 2009. The delay suggests the possibility that Karen’s prison sentence could change if Fred vol-untarily returns to the U.S. from Iran. “I hope, for your son’s sake, he will do the right thing,” said Aiken. Thus far, however, the prospect of serving time in federal prison has not enticed Fred to turn himself in.

The four food brokers who paid the kickbacks, Douglas Levene, Michael Levin, William Lawrence and Howard Roth, all pleaded guilty and began cooperating with prosecutors in 2007. Each faces a maximum of 13 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, but are likely to receive less severe penalties. Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for June 18 and July 1, 2009.

Meanwhile, Monem has been featured on America’s Most Wanted and is included on the FBI’s wanted fugitives list. A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction – which amounts to 196,310,000 in Iranian rials.

Sources: The Oregonian, Statesman Journal, Associated Press,

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