A Costa Mesa man pleaded not guilty this week to charges of monitoring a Jewish center in Chicago as well as American members of an Iranian opposition group as an agent of Iran.
A U.S. judge Tuesday ordered Majid Ghorbani, 59, held until trial, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Ghorbani, an Iranian citizen and permanent U.S. resident, was arrested Aug. 9 along with co-defendant and dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, 38. Both were indicted Monday on charges of acting as agents of Iran, conspiracy and violating U.S. sanctions.
U.S. Magistrate Michael Harvey of the District of Columbia said Ghorbani’s case bore “hallmarks of state action.”
The judge cited the alleged use of code names, countersurveillance tactics and “tasking” orders to infiltrate the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or People’s Mujahideen of Iran, a dissident group that seeks regime change in Iran.
Though the defendants are not charged with espionage, prosecutors told the court that they intend to use information obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which allows collection of electronic communications overseas. Ghorbani’s home and Doostdar’s luggage were searched surreptitiously, and U.S. authorities recorded conversations the men conducted on pay phones and in their vehicles, the Post reported.
In a statement Tuesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a Paris-based group linked to MEK and two of whose members allegedly were targeted by the operation, called the defendants Iranian Intelligence Ministry agents.
“The Iranian Resistance once again reiterates the need to prosecute and expel all the regime’s Intelligence Ministry and Quds Force agents and all known and undercover agents and mercenaries who pursue the regime’s plots in the U.S. and Europe,” the group said.
In a hearing in federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said Ghorbani poses a serious flight risk and that his charges carry a maximum of 35 years in prison if run consecutively, the Post reported.
Ghorbani’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Mary Petras, denied that he is a flight risk, saying he has lived in the United States for 20 years since immigrating with his parents, sister and brother. He lives with his younger brother and was a waiter at the same restaurant for a decade, she said.
Petras noted that Ghorbani’s daughter and her fiancé were in the courtroom after traveling from their home in California to support her father.
According to authorities, Doostdar entered the United States in about July 2017 to gather intelligence about targets considered enemies of the Iranian government, and made contact with Ghorbani.
Prosecutors allege Doostdar paid Ghorbani $2,000 in late 2017 after Ghorbani turned over photographs of demonstrators at a Sept. 20 rally in New York City against the Iranian government. An FBI affidavit said Ghorbani traveled to Iran to conduct an “in-person briefing” in March and discussed covert methods to provide photos he took of an Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington, D.C., on May 4.
Both events were supported by MEK, which was listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group from 1997 until 2012.
However, Petras said Ghorbani is accused of taking “photographs of two events” and “two known individuals” with information that is available on the Internet, the Post reported.
Petras said there is no evidence that Ghorbani traveled to meet with any agent of the Iranian government.