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Lottery winner's in-law had IRS woes

Thursday, January 10, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Jason Meisner and Annie Sweeney

The father-in-law of Urooj Khan — the million-dollar lottery winner who died of cyanide poisoning weeks later — allegedly owed more than $120,000 in back taxes, a debt that led the Internal Revenue Service to place liens on Khan's Far North Side house almost two years ago, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Khan's father-in-law, Fareedun Ansari, was living at Khan's residence with his daughter and son-in-law when Khan was fatally stricken, according to Ansari's criminal defense attorney. The Cook County medical examiner's office initially found that Khan died of natural causes, but after a relative raised concerns, extensive toxicological tests showed he died of lethal levels of cyanide. Police and prosecutors are investigating his death as a homicide.

The IRS filed liens against Khan's West Rogers Park residence in February and March 2011 as part of an effort to collect $124,000 from Ansari in allegedly unpaid taxes related to a small business, records from the Cook County recorder of deeds show.

James Pittacora, who represents Ansari, said his client had operated a business in New Jersey that Khan had financed but that Ansari had since returned to Chicago. He said the two were "very close."

"They had a very good relationship, and he and his daughter are devastated" by Khan's death, Pittacora said.

Pittacora said detectives called Ansari shortly before Christmas asking to speak with him about the death but have yet to interview him.

Ansari's daughter, Shabana, who is Khan's widow, also has hired a criminal defense lawyer, who told the Tribune on Tuesday that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and had fully cooperated.

The mystery surrounding Khan's death sparked international media interest after the Tribune first reported on the investigation in a front-page story earlier this week.

While a motive has not been determined, Chicago police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune. He died before he could collect the winnings in a lump-sum payment — about $425,000 after taxes.

Authorities on Wednesday moved toward exhuming Khan's body in order to perform an autopsy and learn more about how he died. Cook County prosecutors are drafting court papers and expect a judge to hear the matter Friday at the Daley Center courthouse, said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.

The exhumation could take place as soon as next week, according to sources familiar with the process.

On Wednesday, Khan's sister and her husband spoke out for the first time to the Tribune about the pain they have been quietly enduring since learning weeks ago the shocking revelation that Khan was fatally poisoned.

"There is a way to go, a natural way," said his brother-in-law, Mohammed Zaman, 46. "We are born, we die. Not homicide. I don't want to see him a victim."

Zaman and his wife, Khan's sister, Meraj Khan, won custody of Khan's 17-year-old daughter from his first marriage as part of a court case involving Khan's estate. A probate court judge in that case has ordered that the lottery winnings be held by a bank until it is decided how the money should be divided among Khan's heirs.

Khan's wife has been approved as the administrator of the estate, which in initial estimates was pegged at just over $2 million, including the lottery winnings, according to probate court records.

In the interview in the family's North Side home, Meraj Khan and her husband recalled her brother as a generous, kind man who loved to host parties for his extended Chicago family. Zaman said Khan donated to an orphanage in his native India and even offered one of his Chicago condos to a stranger who needed a place to stay while looking for a job.

Khan would often arrive at birthday parties for youngsters in the family and pretend to have forgotten gifts, only to retrieve bags filled with presents for everyone after the cake was cut.

Zaman said that before his death, Khan had asked to host the Bismillah, a Muslim religious ceremony to mark a child's introduction to Islam, for the couple's 6-year-old son.

Meraj Khan said her brother would often pop over to her home — just blocks from one of his three dry cleaning businesses — unannounced and with coffee for them to share.

Khan had devoted much of his life to running his businesses, including rental properties on the city's North Side. But he also found time to play cricket at Warren Park and was passionate — and fiercely competitive — about playing table tennis, they said.

The couple also said Khan was healthy before he died and was happy even before winning the lottery.

Tribune reporters Jeremy Gorner and Matthew Walberg contributed.




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