One Iranian and two Canadian nationals have been charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot.
According to court documents, from December 2020 through March 2021, Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, and Adam Richard Pearson, 29, conspired with each other in a plot to murder two residents of the state of Maryland. The defendants, one of whom is based in Iran, used an encrypted messaging service called “SkyECC” to recruit individuals who would travel into the United States to carry out the killings, to discuss the identities and locations of the would-be victims, to plan logistics and mechanics of how to carry out the murders, and to negotiate payment for completion of this “job” in Maryland. The intended victims of this plot, who at the time resided in Maryland, had previously fled to the United States after one of them defected from Iran.
Concurrent with today’s indictment, the Treasury Department took action against Zindashti’s criminal network that targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime. Pursuant to today’s designations, Zindashti and several of his key associates are prohibited from engaging in any transaction or dealing that involves a U.S. person or occurs in the United States.
“To those in Iran who plot murders on U.S. soil and the criminal actors who work with them, let today’s charges send a clear message: the Department of Justice will pursue you as long as it takes – and wherever you are – and deliver justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“As alleged, Mr. Zindashti and his team of gunmen, including a Minnesota resident, used an encrypted messaging service to orchestrate an assassination plot against two individuals,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger for the District of Minnesota. “Thanks to the skilled work of federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents, this murder-for-hire conspiracy was disrupted and the defendants will face justice.”
“Today’s charges show a pattern of Iranian groups trying to murder U.S. residents on U.S. soil,” said Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “Mr. Zindashti and his accomplices’ alleged plot is reprehensible, and the FBI will not tolerate such acts against U.S. residents, and we will continue to pursue these individuals until they are brought to the U.S. to face justice.”
As alleged in the indictment, between December 2020 and January 2021, Zindashti and Ryan communicated about “jobs,” “equipment,” “tools” and plans to “make some money.” In January 2021, they discussed a job in the United States, with Ryan noting that doing a job in the United States was challenging, but that he “might have someone to do it.” That same day he messaged Pearson about a “job” in Maryland. Pearson stated, “shooting is probably easiest thing for them,” and that he was “on it.” Ryan recommended “2 guys go with proper equipment.” Pearson said he would encourage the recruits for the job to “shoot [the victim] in the head a lot [to] make example” and that he would tell them “we gotta erase his head from his torso.”
On or about Jan. 30, 2021, Zindashti messaged Ryan on SkyECC seeking an update on the job. Ryan responded that he was getting “things in order” and that he would need money. A few days later, Zindashti told Ryan that Zindashti’s organization was ready to move forward. Zindashti and Ryan then agreed on a $350,000 payment for the “job,” in addition to $20,000 to cover expenses. After Zindashti introduced Ryan to Co-Conspirator 1, Ryan responded: “We have a 4 man team ready.”
Over the days that followed, Ryan and Co-Conspirator 1 continued to correspond on SkyECC about the plot. Specifically, Co-Conspirator 1 sent Ryan information about the would-be victims, including their photographs and images of a map that highlighted the victims’ known address. In or around March 8, 2021, Co-Conspirator 1 facilitated a $20,000 payment to Ryan for purposes of covering travel expenses associated with the plot.
All three of the defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. Pearson is also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and one count of possession of a firearm by an alien unlawfully in the United States.
Zindashti currently resides in Iran. Ryan and Pearson are currently incarcerated in Canada on unrelated offenses.
The FBI is investigating the case with valuable assistance from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Winter for the District of Minnesota, Trial Attorney Menno Goedman of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, and Trial Attorney Joshua Champagne of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law