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A man faked his own death to avoid rape charges in Utah, police say. Now he’s stating in court that he’s someone else

It was supposed to be a routine court appearance this week for Nicholas Rossi, who is facing a rape charge in Utah.

Rossi appeared via video Tuesday from the Utah County jail, his face partially hidden under an oxygen mask and his voice barely audible. When the judge asked him, “Are you Mr. Rossi?” he mumbled a different name in what sounded like a British accent.

The suspect then identified himself as Arthur Knight Brown and gave a date of birth that differed by a year from the one listed in court records. He used the British date format that starts with the day, followed by the month and the year.  

When a prosecutor told the judge that Rossi “has not admitted his name or birth date accurately,” Rossi responded, “Objection, my lady, that is complete hearsay.”

It’s the latest episode in the increasingly bizarre saga of a man authorities say has used false identities, fled the country and attempted to fake his own death to elude prosecution for sexually assaulting multiple women.

After he was arrested in 2021 in Scotland, Rossi described himself as an Irish orphan who had never visited the United States. But investigators say he’s an American who posted his own fake obituary and fled to Ireland and Scotland to avoid rape charges in Utah.

A Scottish court ruled in August that Rossi could be extradited to the US. The 36-year-old, also known as Nicholas Alahverdian, arrived in Utah this month to face charges stemming from a 2008 alleged rape in Orem, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. He’s also facing a separate rape charge in Salt Lake County.

A prosecutor in Scotland said Rossi has used at least 10 aliases and has been known to speak in British, Irish and American accents, depending on which identity he’s using at the time.

Rossi appeared in court in Utah without an attorney, and it’s unclear whether he has legal representation in the US. CNN has reached out to an attorney listed in court documents.

His attacks followed a pattern, authorities say

Investigators in Utah pursued Rossi’s extradition from Scotland ater he was charged with incidents of sexual assault in Salt Lake and Utah counties.

He’s also been convicted of sex offenses in Ohio and there have been police reports of possible harassment, sex assault and kidnapping in other states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, according to a 2020 declaration of facts by a Utah state investigator seeking an arrest warrant for Rossi.

Rossi speaks during a virtual court appearance Tuesday in Salt Lake City. He denied being a rape suspect and gave his name as "Arthur Knight Brown." - KSTU/Pool/AP
Rossi speaks during a virtual court appearance Tuesday in Salt Lake City. He denied being a rape suspect and gave his name as "Arthur Knight Brown." - KSTU/Pool/AP

His attacks followed a pattern, the investigator said in court filings. Rossi met the women online, convinced them to meet somewhere alone and initiated inappropriate contact, court documents said. If the woman tried to leave, he would threaten suicide or force a non-consensual encounter, the documents said.

In 2017, authorities in Utah began reviewing old sexual assault kits and discovered a DNA profile from the 2008 rape case matched one from a sexual assault case in Ohio. The suspect was identified as Rossi, court documents said.

Around that time, investigators also discovered that Rossi had fled to Dublin, Ireland.

An online obituary claimed he died in Europe

In January 2020, Rossi petitioned the Rhode Island Courts for a “reduction in sex offender registry level,” which would remove his photo and information online, according to a court filing. He had been convicted of public indecency and sexual imposition in Ohio, and was required to register as a sex offender, court documents said.

Weeks after the petition, an obituary appeared online saying Nicholas Alahverdian had died and his cremated remains were scattered at sea. But the source of the obituary was not mentioned, and “officers have not located any official death notification,” the court document said.

Four months later, an email with an encrypted address claiming to be from the Alahverdian Foundation was sent to the Rhode Island Police stating that Rossi had died in Eastern Europe, court documents said. It did not provide any specifics.

“The emails and the obituary were all written in a similar manner to previous written communications sent by Nicholas Rossi prior to his purported death,” the 2020 court document said. “There is a generally held belief between the different states involved that Nicholas Rossi is alive and attempted to fake his death.”

The FBI pinpointed Rossi’s whereabouts in 2021 after searching his cell phone records and iCloud, according to The Providence Journal in Rhode Island. He was arrested while hospitalized in Glasgow, the Journal said.

Investigators have not released many details on how they figured out Rossi was at a hospital in Scotland.

“We are not going to answer the questions of how we found him, as that would expose investigative techniques,” Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said in a statement after his arrest. “We will respond that we found him through diligent investigative efforts, which we passed on to Interpol authorities, who located him in Scotland.”

He’s accused investigators of taking his fingerprints at the hospital

For nearly two years, Rossi has denied that he is a rape suspect or even that he is Nicholas Rossi. He says he’s a victim of mistaken identity.

But Norman McFadyen of Edinburgh Sheriff Court in Scotland has said that Rossi’s fingerprints match those provided by US law enforcement and that he has distinctive tattoos that match descriptions given by witnesses in the US.

Rossi has accused investigators of obtaining his fingerprints through a health service worker when he was hospitalized with coronavirus at a Glasgow hospital in October 2021. He also alleges he was tattooed while in a coma at the hospital, allegations McFadyen has called “implausible and fanciful.”

Nicholas Rossi leaves court in Edinburgh, Scotland, after his extradition hearing in June. He described himself as an Irish orphan who had never visited the US. - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Nicholas Rossi leaves court in Edinburgh, Scotland, after his extradition hearing in June. He described himself as an Irish orphan who had never visited the US. - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“Our office is grateful for the significant interagency collaboration of law enforcement to bring this suspect to justice,” Leavitt, the Utah prosecutor, said in a statement in January 2022.

In Scotland, Rossi often appeared in court via video, saying he was not well enough to attend in person. He’s also gone to court in a wheelchair and wearing an oxygen mask, but a doctor at the Edinburgh prison where he was held said she had no concerns over his health.

At Rossi’s 2022 bail hearing in Edinburgh, a prosecutor said his name is Rossi and that in the US he spoke with an American accent. The prosecutor added that Rossi got married in February 2020 — around the time his obituary posted online under an alias — and his wife’s family knew him as Nicholas Brown, a man who had an Irish accent. At a hospital in Glasgow, he was listed as Arthur Winston Brown and spoke in an English accent, the prosecutor said.

“He appears today as Arthur Knight but has previously been identified by medical professionals and civilians as Nicholas Rossi,” the prosecutor told the court. Rossi then shouted from the dock, “That’s not true.”

Last year, Rossi’s attorney in Scotland said his extradition to the US would serve as a “flagrant breach” of his human rights.

Rossi’s next hearing in Utah is set for January 26.

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