Jan. 16 (UPI) -- A U.S. district judge has sentenced two Iranian men to prison for convictions of spying on Iranian dissidents and Jewish groups in the United States for the Middle Eastern country, prosecutors said.
Judge Paul L. Friedman on Wednesday sentenced dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, to 38 months in prison with 36 months of supervised release and fined $14,153 on one count of acting as an Iranian agent and one count of conspiring to work as an Iranian agent, which he pleaded guilty to on Oct. 8
Friedman sentenced Majid Ghorbani, 60, an Iranian citizen and Californian resident, to 30 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release after pleading guilty Nov. 4 to one count of sanctions violations.
"The sentences in this case illustrate the high cost to those who act as agents of the Iranian government in the United States or provide services that benefit the government of Iran, especially when those activities target the free speech and peaceful assembly rights of people in the United States," U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu said in a statement. "We will continue to thwart efforts by foreign governments to endanger our national security and to stifle the freedoms that all Americans cherish."
The sentences come after the men pleaded guilty to conducting surveillance and collecting identifying information for Iran about U.S. citizens and nationals who are members of Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e Khalq in New York City.
According to court documents, Doostdar used Ghorbani to collect information on the individuals, which he would then take back to Iran.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said that this case is proof Iran is targeting U.S. citizens to silence those that oppose its regime.
"The defendants, working for Iran, gathered information on Americans that could then be used by the Iranian intelligence services to intimidate or harm them or their families," he said in a statement. "These prosecutions should serve as a reminder to anyone here working covertly for Iran that the American law enforcement will pursue you to protect this country, its citizens and the First Amendment principles upon which it was founded."
Alireza Jafarzadeh, who is named in the complaint as a subject of the pair's spying conduct, told UPI in a statement that the sentencing of these two men is a good first step, but more needs to be done to thwart its spying network.
"Terrorism is a survival tool for the Iranian regime to eliminate members of its main opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq and its parent collation, the National Council of Resistance of Iran," said Jafarzadeh who is the deputy director of that organization's Washington office.
He said the United States needs to identify and dismantle the entire network of the Tehran regime within its borders and "prosecute its members, who use different guises, posing as academics, experts and commentators to push the mullahs' narrative and its surveillance of Iranian opposition members in the United States."
According to the criminal complaint, Doostdar began planning the operation in March 2017 while in Iran and visited Chicago that July where he photographed several Jewish centers before traveling to Costa Mesa, Calif., where he met Ghorbani.
That month, the pair held several meetings, during which Doostdar said in his affidavit that Ghorbani told him he was willing to work as an Iranian spy.
Ghorbani then attended a MEK rally in September where photographed rally attendees, including the dissident group's leaders.
Prosecutors said Doostdar then made a second trip to the United States in December where he collected 28 photographs from Ghorbani that included hand-written notes identifying who was in the pictures and their positions within the MEK. Doostdar then paid Ghorbani $2,000 for his work.
Ghorbani then attended a Washington, D.C., MEK rally in May to take photographs and gather information about the attendees, the complaint said.
The charges were the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI's Washington and Los Angeles Field Offices, the Department of Justice said.
"The FBI will not tolerate surveillance being conducted here in the United States at the behest of foreign nations like Iran," said Jay Tabb, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch. "Such activity is intimidating, particularly to individuals who exercise their constitutional rights to free speech and criticize the Iranian government."