Just weeks before Taherah Ghassemi disappeared from Baton Rouge, she received more than $1 million in a divorce settlement, vastly increasing the Wal-Mart employee’s wealth practically overnight.
Ghassemi, a 54-year-old Iranian-born U.S. citizen who was reported missing after her car was found torched early Sunday morning in north Baton Rouge, spent the past decade involved in a bitter marital dispute with her former husband.
When the case finally settled in February, she was awarded $1 million with payment due almost immediately, another $115,000 to be divided among a dozen payments and two houses — one in Baton Rouge and one in Lafayette, according to settlement documents filed in the 19th Judicial District Court.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office would not comment about whether Ghassemi’s recent acquisitions could in any way be connected to her disappearance. However, a spokeswoman said Thursday detectives are concerned foul play could be involved in her disappearance, and authorities are actively looking for her.
Hamed Ghassemi, Taherah Ghassemi’s son, said Thursday he could not speculate as to what caused his mother to disappear, except to say he still believes she’s alive and he hopes she returns soon.
“It’s just a mystery,” he said. “I know that she’s alive. I know she’ll come home.”
Despite the sudden increase of his mother’s wealth, Hamed Ghassemi said, she did not flaunt it. She did not wear fancy jewelry or carry expensive purses, he said.
And the 2004 Jaguar she drove wasn’t worth more than a few thousand dollars, he estimated.
“My mother was not the type of person who would cause any kind of harm to any person,” he said. “She was not a flashy person.”
Attempts to reach Hamid Ghassemi, Hamed Ghassemi’s father and Taherah Ghassemi’s ex-husband, were unsuccessful on Wednesday and Thursday. Messages left for him at his two Baton Rouge car dealerships, Import One and Import One Elite, both on Airline Highway, were not returned. A message left with his attorney also was not returned.
Hamed Ghassemi said he is not close with his father; however, he said the two spoke earlier this week. Hamid Ghassemi offered to help in any way he could to aid in the search of his ex-wife, Hamed Ghassemi said, and offered prayers for her as well.
Hamed Ghassemi, 37, said his mother’s friends — some of whom she worked with at a Wal-Mart in Denham Springs — have shown overwhelming support for his mother since she disappeared.
The son said Taherah Ghassemi was last heard from Saturday night when she sent him a text message about 8 p.m., and he responded saying he’d be home late.
When he returned later that night to the home where he lived with his mother, he said, she was not there. But he assumed she must have gone to Denham Springs to stay with a friend, he said, because she sometimes did that before workdays.
By the time Sunday night rolled around and he had not heard from her, he said, he began to worry. The son said he called Wal-Mart and they told him she had made it to work Sunday, temporarily assuaging his fears.
But when he went to the store Monday morning having still not heard from his mom, he said, he learned his mother actually had never showed up for work on Sunday. He said he soon reported her missing to authorities, who eventually determined it was her car that was found torched on Chalma Avenue about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.
An assistant manager at the Wal-Mart in Denham Springs deferred all comments to the company’s corporate communications. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said Thursday no one was available to comment on the matter.
Investigators are trying to piece together what happened between when Taherah Ghassemi was last heard from and when the remains of her car were found Sunday morning.
“Nobody has any clues,” Hamed Ghassemi said.
The son said he came to the United States from Iran about 20 years ago. His father had come in the 1970s to earn an education, and it wasn’t until about 2005 that Taherah Ghassemi made her way to Louisiana from Iran.
Taherah Ghassemi filed for divorce from her husband soon after she arrived in the Baton Rouge area. In court filings, she said her husband was “married” to a different woman.
Hamid Ghassemi claimed the marriage was invalid in the U.S. because Taherah Ghassemi was his first cousin and because the U.S. did not have diplomatic relations with Iran. While a Family Court judge ruled in his favor, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the lower court decision, validating the marriage.
The state Supreme Court denied on at least two occasions requests made by Hamid Ghassemi’s attorneys for reviews of the 1st Circuit rulings on the case.
The divorce proceedings ended in February with the settlement, although at least one property dispute that didn’t come up until after the settlement still needs to be resolved. Although Taherah Ghassemi received slightly more than $1 million in the settlement, she was forced to pay at least $200,000 in legal fees to cover the cost of a decade of litigation, court records show.
Hamed Ghassemi said his parents’ divorce was just one of several taxing events he’s dealt with in the U.S. He said he was robbed at gunpoint in 2005, then “jumped” in early March in a parking lot in the Sherwood Forest area.
Now he’s hoping and praying that his mother will return home safely, he said.
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