JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was a romance that started at a local Starbucks and ended in financial ruin.
Fatemeh Jahromi, a native of Iran, spent nine years making a home for herself and her son in Jacksonville. The single mother worked in the alterations department at David’s Bridal for seven years, owned a home on Beach Boulevard, and watched with pride as her 14-year-old excelled in school.
But just two months after meeting a man she knew as Fred, it was all gone.
“I lost everything,” Jahromi says, sitting in the State Attorney’s Office next to her case investigator. “I lost my whole life.”
The man she now knows to be Friend Rizkkhalil won her over with persistence and promises. He was secretive, telling her he worked for the CIA. But he was also persuasive.
“He started to tell me 'you deserve to get a good life, I know you had a hard life',” she recalls. “And at that time, I trusted him.”
Rizkkhalil also grew close to her son, whose trust in him just furthered her own.
“She was alone, she had a 14-year-old child which needed a father, and she met this fellow who appeared to be a nice decent guy,” says John Zipperer, investigator with the State Attorney’s Office. “It’s a common thing. There are bad people in the world that take advantage of someone with a void in their life.”
According to the narrative of Rizkkhalil’s arrest warrant, he promised to marry Jahromi. He also began planning a November vacation for the three of them to reunite with her family in Iran, and meet his alleged relatives in Turkey. But first, he told her, she’d have to sell her house.
The proceeds of the sale – some $60,000 – went into Jahromi’s account. But Rizkkhalil explained they would need to transfer most of that to another account to purchase a new, shared condo.
That money disappeared. So did the moving truck with all of Jahromi’s belongings. And as a final insult, Rizkkhalil called Jahromi’s job and said she was quitting.
“Oh yes, he’s definitely a con artist,” says Zipperer. “I believe there are other victims who have not come forward, whether they are too embarrassed or are not aware what he’s done is a crime.”
Fatemeh has since gotten a job at Wal Mart and has been living with a succession of friends. The financial loss has been devastating, Fatima says, but she is just as shaken her son’s sense of displacement.
“I wish I was alone,” she says. Instead, she tries to absorb some of her son’s grief.
“He is scared right now,” she sobs. “At Christmastime, he was crying, and said ‘Mama, last year we were at our house.’ I said, ‘I know, but right now we are out.’” She adds, “It’s a very hard life.”
Investigators believe Rizkkhalil acted alone, but that this is not his first scam. Zipperer says Rizkkhalil faced charges in Colorado and Nevada. He also says he heard a similar complaint in Jacksonville in 2016, though the scam didn’t get as far.
Getting other victims to come forward is one reason Fatima agreed to tell her story. But while she’d like to see Rizkkhalil caught, she says she will never understand his motives.
“I don’t know how he feels right now,” she muses. “He’s not human. He’s not human, really.”
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