Pair with Iranian ties get prison time for illegal surveillance of Iranian opposition groups in US: DOJ

Two men with Iranian backgrounds were sentenced to prison terms Wednesday after being convicted of conducting surveillance and collecting information about American citizens and U.S. nationals who are members of the group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, and Majid Ghorbani, 60, an Iranian citizen and resident of California, were handed prison terms of 38 months and 30 months, respectively, the DOJ said.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman sentenced Doostdar to 38 months in prison as well as 36 months of supervised release and a fine of $14,153. Ghorbani was sentenced to 30 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release.

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On Oct. 8, 2019, Doostdar entered guilty pleas to one count of acting as an agent of the government of Iran without notifying the attorney general and one count of conspiring to violate that statute, the DOJ said.

Two men with Iranian backgrounds were sentenced to long prison terms on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 for conducting surveillance and collecting information about American citizens and U.S. nationals who are members of the group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

Two men with Iranian backgrounds were sentenced to long prison terms on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 for conducting surveillance and collecting information about American citizens and U.S. nationals who are members of the group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

On Nov. 4, 2019, Ghorbani entered a guilty plea to one count of willfully violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) as well as Transactions and Sanctions Regulations.

“The defendants, working for Iran, gathered information on Americans that could then be used by the Iranian intelligence services to intimidate or harm them or their families. These prosecutions should serve as a reminder to anyone here working covertly for Iran that the American law enforcement will pursue you to protect this country, its citizens and the First Amendment principles upon which it was founded,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in the news release.

"The FBI will not tolerate surveillance being conducted here in the United States at the behest of foreign nations like Iran."

— Jay Tabb, executive assistant director, FBI's National Security Branch.

"The FBI will not tolerate surveillance being conducted here in the United States at the behest of foreign nations like Iran," said Jay Tabb, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch.

"Such activity is intimidating, particularly to individuals who exercise their constitutional rights to free speech and criticize the Iranian government. The FBI will continue to pursue such activity on U.S. soil and disrupt efforts by any individuals who take such actions on behalf of Iran," he added.

As part of his plea, Doostdar admitted under oath he traveled to the United States from Iran on three occasions in order to meet with Ghorbani and to provide direction for Ghorbani’s activities on behalf of Iran.  Prior to Doostdar’s first trip to the United States, his handler with the government of Iran identified Ghorbani by name, showed Doostdar a photo of Ghorbani, and told him where Ghorbani worked.

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During Doostdar’s first trip to the United States in July 2017, Doostdar met Ghorbani at Ghorbani’s workplace.  Doostdar admitted that, during a subsequent conversation, Ghorbani told Doostdar he was willing to work for the Iranian government in the United States.

On Sept. 20, 2017, Ghorbani attended a New York City rally organized by the MEK. At the rally, U.S. citizens denounced the Iranian regime and Ghorbani photographed attendees, including MEK leaders.

In December 2017, during Doostdar’s second trip to the United States as part of the conspiracy, Doostdar met with Ghorbani and collected the rally photographs from Ghorbani, the DOJ reported. In the photographs, MEK leaders were depicted. In addition, handwritten notes were included which identified the individuals and listing their positions in the group.

Testifying under oath, Ghorbani admitted to attending the September 2017 MEK rally and to photographing and gathering information on rally attendees to provide to Doostdar and ultimately to individuals in Iran.  Doostdar paid Ghorbani $2,000 for his work, which Doostdar admitted had been provided by Doostdar’s Iranian handler, the news release reported.

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During the December 2017 trip, Ghorbani and Doostdar also discussed Ghorbani’s planned trip to Iran in March 2018, where Ghorbani offered to provide an in-person briefing on rally attendees during this trip.

Later in December 2017, Doostdar traveled to Iran with the photographs and handwritten notes provided by Ghorbani, the DOJ said.

In May 2018, Ghorbani traveled to another MEK rally -- this time in Washington, D.C. -- where he again collected information on participants critical of the Iranian regime.  Following that rally, Doostdar admitted he and Ghorbani spoke by telephone and discussed ways Ghorbani could use to provide the information collected at that rally to Doostdar in Iran.

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Doostdar also admitted during his travel to the United States to provide Ghorbani with help collecting information on U.S. citizens on behalf of the Iranian regime, he communicated with his Iranian government handler through another co-conspirator, the DOJ said. Doostdar’s handler relayed instructions and encouragement and answered Doostdar’s questions that came up during his mission in the United States.

The investigation was conducted by FBI field offices in Washington and Los Angeles, the news release said.  The case is being prosecuted by the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice.