Woman Sentenced to 48 Months in Prison for Conspiring to Violate U.S. Sanctions Against Iran
A California woman was sentenced on April 7 to four years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by providing services, including financial services, to Iran and the Government of Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran, and for structuring.
According to court documents, Niloufar Bahadorifar, aka Nellie Bahadorifar, 48, of Irvine, pleaded guilty on Dec. 15, 2022, before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams, who imposed the sentence.
“The Government of Iran has shown that it will take extreme measures to silence dissidents and critics around the world exercising their lawful rights, including through the use of violence on U.S. soil,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “We hold accountable an individual who violated U.S. sanctions by providing financial assistance that ultimately supported a failed kidnapping plot directed by the Iranian government, underscoring the Department’s commitment to bringing to justice those who criminally aid the Iranian regime.”
“Niloufar Bahadorifar provided financial support to a brazen plot intended to kidnap an Iranian human rights activist living in the United States whom the Iranian Government has sought to silence for years,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “Efforts by malign foreign governments to stifle free speech and peaceful protest by means of intimidation or repression cannot be tolerated. The right to free speech is a core fundamental principle of American ideals, and this office is proud to protect that right with every means at our disposal.”
“Simply put, the defendant provided assistance to individuals who tried to help kidnap a journalist living in New York, who has criticized the regime in Teheran,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “This case demonstrates that the government of Iran will continue to target dissidents and reach beyond their borders, violating U.S sanctions and national security, but more importantly threaten the personal safety of individuals living in our country. The FBI will continue to shield those who are targeted and aggressively pursue anyone who attempts to circumvent our laws and will leverage all our authorities to protect the right to free speech.”
According to the indictment and other documents in the public record, as well as statements made in public court proceedings:
For years, the Government of Iran has targeted a prominent Iranian dissident living in New York City (the Victim). The Victim is a journalist, author and human rights activist who has publicized the Government of Iran’s human rights abuses and suppression of political expression. Beginning in at least 2020, Iranian intelligence officials and assets, including co-defendant Mahmoud Khazein, plotted to kidnap the Victim from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence the Victim’s criticism of the regime. As part of that plot, on multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021, agents of the Government of Iran procured the services of private investigators to surveil, photograph, and video record the Victim and the Victim’s household members. These agents of the Government of Iran, including Khazein, procured the surveillance by misrepresenting their identities and the purpose of the surveillance to the investigators and laundered money into the United States from Iran in order to pay for the surveillance, photos and video recordings of the Victim.
Beginning in approximately 2015, Bahadorifar, a U.S. citizen residing in California and originally from Iran, provided financial and other services, including access to the U.S. financial system and U.S. financial institutions, to Iranian residents and entities, including to Khazein. Bahadorifar, who is not charged with participating in the kidnapping conspiracy, provided financial services that ultimately supported the plot. Among other things, Bahadorifar caused a payment to be made to a private investigator for surveillance of the Victim on behalf of Khazein. Bahadorifar’s payment obscured the origin of those who had hired the private investigator, who surveilled the Victim without knowing it was on behalf of Iranian intelligence services. At no time did Bahadorifar obtain permission from OFAC to provide services to Iran.
Beginning in approximately 2019, Bahadorifar also structured cash deposits totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. In total, Bahadorifar structured at least approximately $476,100 in more than 120 individual deposits. All but two of the deposits were less than $10,000.
The FBI New York Field Office Counterintelligence-Cyber Division and the New York FBI Iran Threat Task Force investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, the FBI Los Angeles Field Office and the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Lockard, Jacob H. Gutwillig and Matthew J.C. Hellman for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Christopher M. Rigali of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.