El Cajon councilman accused of beauty pageant fraud files cross-complaint against contestants

El Cajon Councilman Bessmon “Ben” Kalasho.
(Karen Pearlman / San Diego Union Tribune)

An El Cajon councilman being sued for fraud and defamation involving a beauty pageant that he runs is counter-suing his accusers, saying he has been victimized by their unfounded charges.

The attorney for Bessmon “Ben” Kalasho, who was elected to the El Cajon City Council in November, said the plaintiffs provided no direct evidence that Kalasho was behind photographs online that had the face of former Miss Middle East Zhala Tawfiq pasted onto a naked woman.

“Perhaps, however, the individual who posted the supposed falsified nude pictures of [Tawfiq] was someone of her own culture, who took exception with her holding the Kurdish flag upside down at the pageant, which is a well-known disrespect to one’s country,” the cross-complaint states.

Jimmie Parker, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tawfiq and other plaintiffs, rejected the assertions in the cross-complaint and said it was improper.


“The cross-complaint filed by Mr. Kalasho is completely unfounded and is a continuation of his harassment of my clients,” Parker said. “This countersuit is worthy of sanctions, and we will seek them accordingly.”

Tawfiq was stripped of her title midway through her yearlong reign as Miss Middle East because of a dispute with Kalasho, who runs the pageant. She claimed the beauty contest and crown were a farce.

Kalasho claimed Tawfiq breached her contract. He also has denied all of the other allegations in the lawsuit, including the claim that he promised pageant contestant Paris Kargar that she would win the crown if she agreed to spend the night in his hotel room.

“Surprisingly, after what Plaintiff Kargar allegedly experienced, including a supposed offer of sexual intercourse for the crown, she later attended a function hosted by both defendant Bessmon Kalasho and defendant Jessica Kalasho,” the claim states, referring to the councilman’s wife.


Kargar also accused Kalasho of improperly commenting on her appearance during a pageant rehearsal.

In a lawsuit filed in May, Bessmon and Jessica Kalasho and two organizations the councilman founded were accused of creating fake social media accounts to criticize Tawfiq. The complaint later was amended to include Kargar’s allegations and claims that Kalasho used fake social media accounts to criticize his adversaries.

One of the other defendants is San Diego attorney Lina Charry, who claimed she was targeted by Kalasho in an online poll after she prevailed in an unrelated lawsuit.

The fraud and defamation case against Kalasho alleged that fake profiles posted unflattering reviews of Charry’s legal work on the Facebook page of a Kalasho-founded nonprofit now called the Middle Eastern Chamber of Commerce.

In his cross-complaint, Kalasho said it is Charry who has an “obsessive fixation” on Kalasho, in part because she was not permitted to participate in the Miss Middle East contest for several years.

“Her reputation preceded herself,” the cross-complaint states. “That’s why. We wanted nothing to do with Lina Charry.”

The 21-page cross-complaint was filed in San Diego Superior Court on Friday. In addition to attorney fees and court costs, it seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.


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