Orange Countians Accused of Spying or Bucking Sanctions for Iran

This region has suddenly become a hotbed for spies for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A hearing is set for Sept. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Ahmadreza Doostdar, 38, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen born in Long Beach, and Majid Ghorbani, 59, who has lived and worked in Costa Mesa since he arrived in the U.S. in the mid-1990s, are accused of acting as illegal agents for Tehran.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 22, federal prosecutors learned a judge had unsealed a 23-count grand jury indictment that alleges Johnny Paul Tourino, 64, of Dana Point, participated in a conspiracy to procure and illegally ship export-controlled computer servers to Iran.

Doostdar allegedly conducted surveillance in July 2017 on Rohr Chabad House, a Jewish student center at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, where his brother Alireza is an asssistant professor of Islamic studies. The surveillance is claimed to have included security features around the Jewish student center, according to the feds.

Ghorbani, who became a legal permanent resident of the U.S. in 2015, denies the government’s case against him. He allegedly photographed protesters at a September 2017 Mujahedin-e-Khalq rally in New York City against the current Iranian government. The MEK, which is outlawed in Iran and had been listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department from 1997 through 2012, seeks the Iranian regime’s overthrow.   

The federal indictment claims that after Doostdar returned to the U.S. from Iran in late 2017, he paid Ghorbani about $2,000 for 28 photographs shot at the MEK rally. Hand written annotations on the prints identified individuals in the photos, according to the court documents.

Among those targeted, the government claims, was Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of National Council of Resistance of Iran-U.S. in Washington, whose revelations about Iran’s nuclear sites in August 2002 triggered the first inspections in Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Jafarzadeh was spotted at the MEK rally.

Ghorbani is also claimed to have attended last May’s MEK-affiliated 2018 Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington, where he appeared to photograph certain speakers and attendees. Doostdar allegedly called Ghorbani on May 14 to discuss secret ways to get the information collected at the convention to Iran. Federal prosecutors say that under a federal warrant, investigators listened to multiple calls between Doostdar and Ghorbani.

The indictment charges both with knowingly acting as agents of the government of Iran without notifying the U.S. attorney general, providing services to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions and conspiracy. They were arrested on Aug. 9. 

Ghorbani, who pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, was deemed a serious flight risk by prosecutors, and U.S. Magistrate Michael Harvey of the District of Columbia ordered the defendant be held until trial. Judge Harvey cited the alleged use of code names, countersurveillance tactics and “tasking” orders to infiltrate the MEK as “hallmarks of state action.” Ghorbani faces up to 35 years in federal prison if convicted.

In the indictment unsealed in the federal court in Santa Ana, Tourino and his company Spectra Equipment, Inc., are accused of smuggling, conspiracy, money laundering and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which controls and restricts the export of certain goods from the U.S. to foreign nations.

Between January 2014 and July 2017, Tourino, Spectra and at least two others purchased and sent computer servers to Iran without obtaining licenses from the U.S. government that are required under IEEPA, according to the indictment.

The servers had commercial as well as military or strategic applications, and due to the latter they were controlled by the Commerce Control List for anti-terrorism and national security reasons, the government claims.

Tourino is accused of falsely telling the manufacturer that the computer servers were intended for Kuwait and Slovenia, when he knew they were intended for Bank Mellat, an Iranian financial institution, according to the indictment.

Arrested on Feb. 7, Tourino was released on bond. He pleaded not guilty at his March 12 arraignment. His trial is currently scheduled for March 5, 2019. A conviction on all 23 charges could set him up for fines as high as $13.25 million and a sentence of up to 430 years in federal prison.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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