LONDON (AP) — An American fugitive accused of faking his own death to avoid a rape charge in Utah can be extradited to the U.S., a judge in Scotland ruled Wednesday, calling the man “as dishonest and deceitful as he is evasive and manipulative.”
The wanted man known in Scotland as Nicholas Rossi has fought his return since being arrested in December 2021 at a Glasgow hospital, where he was being treated for COVID-19. He repeatedly appeared in court — and in several television interviews — in a wheelchair using an oxygen mask and speaking in a British accent. He insisted he was an Irish orphan named Arthur Knight who had never set foot on American soil.
But Judge Norman McFadyen of Edinburgh Sheriff Court had previously dismissed the fugitive’s claims of mistaken identity as “implausible” and “fanciful” after the man said he had been framed by authorities who tattooed him and surreptitiously took his fingerprints while he was in a coma so they could connect him to Rossi.
“I conclude that he is as dishonest and deceitful as he is evasive and manipulative,” McFadyen said. “These unfortunate facets of his character have undoubtedly complicated and extended what is ultimately a straightforward case.”
McFadyen said Rossi had presented unreliable evidence and he was not “prepared to accept any statement of fact made by him unless it was independently supported.”
Scottish government ministers will review McFadyen’s ruling to determine whether to issue an extradition order.
U.S. authorities said Rossi is one of several aliases the 36-year-old has used and that his legal name is Nicholas Alahverdian, who faces a 2008 rape charge in Utah.
Alahverdian is charged with sexually assaulting a former girlfriend in Orem, Utah, according to the Utah County prosecutor’s office. The office said it found complaints alleging Alahverdian abused and threatened women in other states.
Authorities in Rhode Island have said Alahverdian is wanted there for failing to register as a sex offender, though his former lawyer there, Jeffrey Pine, said the charge was dropped when he left the state. The FBI has said he also faces fraud charges in Ohio, where he was convicted of sex-related charges in 2008.
Alahverdian, who grew up in Rhode Island, was an outspoken critic of the state’s Department of Children, Youth and Families. He testified before state lawmakers that he was sexually abused and tortured in temporary shelters by employees and clients and eventually shipped out of state to facilities for troubled youths.
Three years ago, he told media in Rhode Island he had late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had weeks to live. An obituary published online claimed he died Feb. 29, 2020.
About a year later, Rhode Island state police, along with Alahverdian’s former lawyer and his former foster family, cast doubt on whether he had died.
Pine, the former Rhode Island state attorney general, who represented Rossi on the misdemeanor sex offender registry charge, said he had no doubt the man claiming to be Knight is his former client. He also said he believes he suffered some kind of abuse in the foster care system.
“I have a feeling there’s more than a kernel of truth to his story,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “But I think anyone who fakes his own death is going to have his credibility questioned.”
Rossi fired six lawyers in Scotland and had tried unsuccessfully to dismiss his latest attorney, Mungo Bovey, who sought to delay proceedings Wednesday.
Bovey argued that extraditing Rossi would be a “flagrant breach” of his human rights.
In a video link from jail, the man known in the U.K. courts as Rossi was doubled over and claimed to be sick. He did not answer when asked if he was Rossi.
The judge said he had appeared voluntarily, but in an outburst, the man said guards used physical force to put him before the camera and he called the judge “a disgrace to justice.”
The prosecutor has said the inmate did not suffer from any condition that would prevent his extradition.
During a hearing in June, the jailed man said the muscles in his legs had atrophied so much that he needed a wheelchair and couldn’t lift his arms over his head.
Psychiatrists who examined him found no signs of acute mental illness and a doctor questioned his need for a wheelchair, saying his legs were strong and athletic. Dr. Barbara Mundweil said she had seen video of him kicking a prison officer in the face.
Former Rhode Island state Rep. Brian Coogan said he had grown to like Alahverdian so much when he worked as a teenage page in the Statehouse that he considered adopting him at one point.
But a family court judge talked him out of it, saying the boy was a “monster” who would ruin his life. When Alahverdian tried to reconcile years later and told him he was dying, Coogan said he didn’t believe it and called him a con artist.
He was overjoyed to learn of the ruling.
“I pumped my fists and yelled as loud as I could and burned the back of my throat,” Coogan said. “It’s been a long time I’ve been waiting for this kid to come to justice.”
Pratt reported from Boston.