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Judge terminates deportation effort

An immigration judge on Thursday terminated deportation proceedings against professional poker player and local businessman Shahram “Shawn” Sheikhan, halting for now attempts to remove the Iranian citizen from the United States over a 1995 conviction involving charges of sexual battery and annoyance or molestation of a child.

U.S. Immigration Court Judge Harry Gastley said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hadn’t provided adequate documentation about the California conviction for him to determine whether Sheikhan had committed a deportable offense.

“We are hopeful that this is the end of the battle,” said Luther Snavely, Sheikhan’s immigration attorney. “This is a very old situation, and the facts do not justify removal.”

Federal authorities were looking to deport Sheikhan, 38, because of the 1995 misdemeanor conviction in Contra Costa County, Calif.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has an ongoing initiative called Operation Predator that targets individuals, including foreign nationals, who prey upon and sexually exploit children, an ICE spokeswoman said.

Court documents indicate that the government believed Sheikhan was “subject to removal from the United States” in part based on a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows deportation for conviction “of two crimes involving moral turpitude not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct.”

But specific details about Sheikhan’s conviction were sparse on Thursday, and Contra Costa County officials told the Review-Journal that they don’t keep misdemeanor case files for more than 10 years.

Attorneys for the Review-Journal on Thursday successfully fought to have Sheikhan’s immigration hearing, which had been closed, open to the media.

Gastley said he was unable to tell by the documentation provided by the government exactly what Sheikhan had been convicted of and how, whether by jury, bench trial or plea.

Sheikhan served nine months in jail and five years of probation for the 1995 conviction, immigration officials said.

Snavely would not comment on specifics of the California case, but said Sheikhan, a legal U.S. resident, has always maintained his innocence.

David Chesnoff, another Sheikhan attorney, said allegations in that case were “blown out of proportion.” He would not be more specific.

Immigration officials became aware of Sheikhan’s conviction during a background check after he applied for U.S. citizenship.

They arrested Sheikhan at his Las Vegas home on Aug. 30, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

He was held for more than a week at the North Las Vegas Detention Center before being released on a $10,000 bond.

Sheikhan is known for his sometimes confrontational attitude at the poker table and for his verbal sparring with another player, Mike Matusow, at the 2005 World Series of Poker.

Sheikhan owns six local Diversity shops that sell tattoos, piercings, clothing and other items.

He was born in Iran but came to the United States when he was 9, according to court documents.

He has been a legal permanent U.S. resident since 1983, is married to a U.S. citizen and has a 9-year-old daughter.

The Department of Homeland Security may appeal Gastley’s decision before Dec. 17, the judge said. Attorneys for the department declined to comment on Thursday.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0285.

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