All Nicholas Alahverdian ever wanted was to be newsworthy.
He pursued that dream relentlessly over most of the last two decades, building relationships with reporters and politicians in Rhode Island by sharing tales of torture that he said he endured as a kid lost in the child welfare system.
His stories always grabbed attention. Journalists on deadline turned to him for quotes about work as an advocate, lawmakers took credit for introducing bills to reform the system, and Alahverdian was always willing to talk on the record.
So when a woman claiming to be his wife sent an e-mail to every news outlet in the state announcing that he had died of cancer in February 2020, the story wrote itself: A local advocate whom everyone in the local media knew was gone too soon.
Accolades poured in from politicians. The state House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing condolences. Local news outlets ran appreciations. The Associated Press ran a story based on information from “an obituary,” which was picked up by the national media.
Except, law enforcement officials say, Alahverdian was not just a relentless local advocate. He was a con artist on the run from authorities in multiple states. He was notorious for inflating his resume.
And, it turned out, he was not dead.
The 34-year-old was found in a hospital in Scotland last month, where he was being treated for COVID-19, and was arrested in connection with a 2008 sexual assault case in Utah. The case had been closed for years, but in 2018, a rape kit from the 2008 case was processed and the DNA profile came back as a match to a different sexual assault case in Ohio in which Alahverdian was a suspect. Around this time, he allegedly fled the United States to avoid arrest in Ohio in a fraud case, where he was accused of running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt under someone else’s name.
The Utah Department of Public Safety said in a press release this week that Alahverdian “was a suspect in a number of similar offenses in Utah and throughout the United States.”
After faking his death, he appears to have been living in Scotland under the assumed name of Arthur Knight, one of many aliases he has used over the years. Authorities in Utah said he has also been known as Nicholas Rossi, Nicholas Alahverdian Rossi, Nicholas Edward Rossi, Nicholas Alahverdian-Rossi, Nick Alan, Nicholas Brown, and Arthur Brown.
In Rhode Island, we knew him as Nicholas Alahverdian (which was his father’s last name) and Nicholas Rossi (his birth name).
I met him when I just was beginning my career in journalism, and still earning most of my income as a bartender. He came into the Gregg’s on North Main Street in Providence late one Saturday night with a woman and ordered a mojito that I didn’t know how to make.
I remember thinking that he might make a good source. He was around my age, seemed smart, and claimed to have relationships with all the major politicians. He also had a horrific personal story to tell about his experience as a kid with the Department of Children, Youth and Families — one of those, “if this is true, they’ll make a movie out of it” scoops that reporters dream about.
At one point, he filed a federal lawsuit against DCYF claiming he was forced into “a myriad of abusive and negligent shelters, group homes, residential treatment facilities, and night-to-night placements where he was consistently and deliberately tortured, beaten, raped, threatened, exploited, commodified, victimized, and terrorized.” He claimed to have been sexually assaulted at the age of 14, while working as an aide at the Rhode Island State House.
He would latch on to reporters, calling and texting about stories, always seeking to be quoted. He came across as annoyingly persistent, perhaps desperate, but I often answered the phone. Even now, we still have no proof that his claims about the DCYF system were false, especially since the agency settled the case.
There were other red flags, though.
He was arrested about 10 years ago in New England for failing to register as a sex offender after the 2008 case in Ohio. He attempted to sue the accuser and the state of Ohio; both cases were dismissed. He’d also disappear for months, sometimes years, at a time, before popping up again with a new story to tell, begging to be quoted or interviewed on television.
The cycle would repeat itself over and over. Journalists would feed the beast that is the news cycle, and Alahverdian would get his attention fix.
I hadn’t heard from Alahverdian in at least a year when I was received an e-mailed press release on Jan. 10, 2020, claiming that he was diagnosed with late-stage non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There was no way to prove that he was ill, but it wasn’t at all surprising that he’d be seeking coverage of his impending death. Nearly two months later, reporters across the state received another announcement claiming that Alahverdian had died, and that his ashes had already been spread out at sea.
Bostonglobe.com ran an Associated Press story about Alahverdian’s death, but soon pulled the story down after I pointed out that something was suspicious. All of the information about his death came in a press release from an unknown person. Who was seeking the coverage if he was dead? Yes, he received a lot of attention from the local media. But he wasn’t actually famous beyond Rhode Island, and little to none of his advocacy had made national news. His death might be sad, but it wasn’t exactly a front page story.
Enter Louise, who claimed to be Alahverdian’s widow.
Minutes after the Globe removed the Associated Press story from its website, Louise sent a series of fiery e-mails to me and several top editors claiming “I am now weeping more than I ever have” and that “your reporters have made the healing process much worse by snuffing out Nicholas’ flickering flame while people are still mourning and grieving.”
The e-mails were sent using protonmail, an encrypted e-mail service, and though the e-mail address was always the same, the sender’s name alternated between “Alahverdian family” and “The Office of Nicholas Alahverdian.” Under Louise’s name, the signature read “Alahverdian Family Office, In memory of Nicholas Alahverdian, 1987-2020, Rest in Peace” and included a link to his website, which now promotes the “memorial” edition of his book.
An obituary posted on Everloved.com said his last words were “fear not and run toward the bliss of the sun.” It thanked a long list of people — including prominent Rhode Island politicians, local media outlets, and “all of Harvard University” —but did not identify his wife or children by name. The resolution read into the record at the Rhode Island State House soon after his death didn’t either, saying Alahverdian called his wife “my daisy.”
I agreed to a phone conversation with Louise, someone I had never met, and she called from a Google voice number. She had an English accent, and seemed to know a lot about me. She even mentioned my first meeting with Nicholas at Gregg’s 10 years earlier, even though she wasn’t either of the two women I knew he had married at different times in the US, and wasn’t the woman he was with that night at Gregg’s.
I explained that I needed more information to verify his death, like a death certificate. She told me that a church service had been planned for March 6, 2020, but refused to provide an address because she claimed the family was facing death threats.
After the call, Louise’s persistence in trying to get news coverage was eerily familiar. I have no way to know for sure who was e-mailing and calling me, but Louise and Nicholas shared the same media strategy.
Louise e-mailed and called several times a day, but I told her that COVID-19 was just beginning to hit Rhode Island, and that was going to dominate the news cycle for quite a while. I told her that I’d be glad to circle back in a few weeks.
“How will Nicholas’ death still be newsworthy after such a long time has elapsed?” she asked in another e-mail.
She forwarded my response to the Globe’s top editors. “Is this how the Boston Globe treats grieving widows whose late husbands are honored by the state House of Representatives and its Speaker with pending honors from the Senate and several Mayors? We have been waiting for an obituary for nearly two weeks. The way we’ve been treated by the Globe is not helpful in the grieving process,” she wrote. “See Dan’s insensitive message below.”
Alahverdian will return to the United States soon, as the Utah Department of Public Safety said it is working with federal and international agencies to extradite him. He’ll face at least one sexual assault charge, although he was “a suspect in a number of similar offenses in Utah and throughout the United States after the 2008 incident,” the department said.
Turns out, he’s getting his wish. He’s plenty newsworthy now.