Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Two men have pleaded guilty to charges of spying on members of an Iranian dissident group and Israeli-Jewish groups in the United States on behalf of the Iranian government, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
According to the Department of Justice, Majid Ghorbani, an Iranian citizen and California resident, pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of violating sanctions. Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, pleaded guilty Oct. 8 to one count of acting as an illegal agent of Iran and one count of conspiracy to work as an Iranian agent.
The charges stem from Doostdar, 39, using Ghorbani, 60, to surveil and collect information about U.S. citizens and nationals who are members of Mujahedin-e Khalq, a group created by Persians exiled from Iran for opposing the 1979 revolution, according to the complaint.
"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," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. "The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable governments like Iran that would threaten and intimidate Americans who criticize them."
According to Doostdar's criminal complaint, he began planning the operation as early as March 2017 while in Iran.
In July of that year, he made his first of three trips to the United States during the operation, and he flew to Chicago, where he visited several Jewish centers which he photographed. He then traveled to Costa Mesa, Calif., where he met Ghorbani for the first time.
They had several meetings that month, during which Doostdar employed "intelligence tradecraft and ran surveillance detection routes before, during and after" these meetings to avoid detection, the complaint said.
In his affidavit, Doostdar admitted that Ghorbani had told him he was willing to work for Iran against the United States.
In September, Ghorbani attended a MEK rally in New York City, where he photographed attendees, including members of the dissident group.
Doostdar then made his second trip to the United States that December when he allegedly paid Ghorbani $2,000 for 28 photographs apparently "surreptitiously" taken of people at the rally accompanied by hand-written notes of their names and positions.
Ghorbani then attended another MEK rally, in May 2018, in Washington, D.C., and again took photographs and collected information on Iranian dissidents before speaking with Doostdar over the phone over methods to send the information to Iran, the complaint said.
The two were arrested on Aug. 9, prosecutors said without elaborating.
"The Iranian government thought it could get away with conducting surveillance on individuals in the United States by sending one of its agents here to ask a permanent resident with conducting and collecting that surveillance," said U.S. District of Columbia Attorney Jessie K. Liu. "This case highlights our efforts to pursue those who threaten national security and disrupt foreign governments that target U.S. persons."
Doostdar is to be sentenced Dec. 17 and Ghorbani is scheduled for Jan. 15.