Two Men Accused of Spying for Iranian Regime Plead Guilty

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
November 6, 2019 Updated: November 6, 2019

Two Iranian men have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from surveillance activities on behalf of the Iranian regime, according to the Justice Department (DOJ) on Nov. 6.

Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, and Majid Ghorbani, 60, have pleaded guilty to charges related to spying and collecting identifying information of American citizens and members of a group that held activities denouncing the Iranian regime, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), in the United States. The MEK are made up of individuals who had opposed the 1979 Iranian Revolution and were exiled from Iran.

Doostdar, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who was born in Long Beach, California, pleaded guilty 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 on Oct. 8. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. Meanwhile, Ghorbani, an Iranian citizen and a resident of California, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and faces a maximum of 20 years.

“The defendants both have admitted to conducting surveillance and collecting identifying information for the Government of Iran about Americans, and in particular, individuals who were exercising their First Amendment rights to oppose the Iranian government,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a press release.

“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable governments like Iran that would threaten and intimidate Americans who criticize them,” he added.

Doostdar, who resides outside the United States, began his surveillance activities in 2017. He alleged carried out surveillance activities on the Rohr Chabad House, a Jewish institution located in Chicago in July 2017, where he photographed security features surrounding the facilities, according to a criminal complaint (pdf).

He admitted to investigators that he traveled to the United States from Iran to meet Ghorbani, who was working in a Persian restaurant in Costa Mesa, California, on three occasions. During those meetings, he provided Ghorbani with instructions for Ghorbani’s activities on behalf of the Iranian regime, the DOJ said.

He first met Ghorbani in 2017 at his workplace, according to an FBI agent. Ghorbani later told Doostdar that he was willing to work for the Iranian regime.

In September 2017, Ghorbani attended a MEK rally in New York City to take photographs of the attendees, including leaders of MEK, and make hand-written notes identifying the individuals.

During Doostdar’s second trip to the United States, he met with Ghorbani to collect the rally photos and notes and to discuss plans for Ghorbani to travel to Iran to provide an in-person briefing on rally attendees.

FBI agents found the photographs, USB drives, and a receipt for $2,000 in Doostdar’s luggage during a search at the airport en route to Iran in December 2017, according to the criminal complaint. Doostdar had paid Ghorbani $2,000 for his work, which he admitted came from his handler in the Iranian regime.

Ghorbani continued his work in May 2018, attending another MEK rally in Washington, the 2018 Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights, to collect information. Doostdar admitted that he spoke to Ghorbani on the phone following the rally to discuss methods Ghorbani could use to provide information collected at that rally to Doostdar in Iran.

The pair were arrested in August last year.

“This case highlights our efforts to pursue those who threaten national security and disrupt foreign governments that target U.S. persons,” said Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Doostdar is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 17 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, while Ghorbani’s sentencing is expected on Jan. 15 next year.

The United States and the Iranian do not have diplomatic relations, according to the State Department. Iran does not have an embassy in Washington.

Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.