Iranian drug dealer, 2 Canadians federally charged in murder-for-hire plot

Federal authorities said Naji Sharifi Zindashti's criminal network targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists.

Left: Adam Richard Pearson/2021 mugshot from Sherburne County Jail; Right: Naji Sharifi Zindashti/FBI

An Iranian drug dealer and two Canadian men, one a Hells Angel and the other living illegally in Minnesota, have been charged in federal court with conspiracy to use interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota announced charges last week against Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Patrick John Ryan, 43, and Adam Richard Pearson, 29, saying they conspired with each other and other unnamed co-conspirators in a plot to murder two residents of the state of Maryland.

Court documents say that Zindashti, who is based in Iran, orchestrated the plot with an unnamed co-conspirator, also in Iran, to kill the two intended victims residing in Maryland, at least one of whom had previously defected from Iran.

From December 2020 through March 2021, Zindashti communicated with the co-conspirators through the use of an encrypted messaging service called “SkyECC” to recruit individuals to carry out the killings in the United States, plan logistics and mechanics of how to carry out the murders, and to negotiate payment for completion of this “job” in Maryland.

The co-conspirator communicated with Ryan, who court documents say is a resident of Canada and a full patch member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, and tasked him with assembling a team of gunmen to travel to Maryland to commit the murders.

Pearson, a resident of Canada living illegally in Minnesota while using an alias, communicated at length with Ryan using SkyECC about the plot to murder the victims. Tools, equipment, participants, and fees were discussed in the communications. Ryan also described to Pearson that the job needed “to be over kill lol.” Pearson then suggested that he would encourage his recruits to shoot the victims in the head with at least “half the clip” and that he would tell his contacts to “erase his head from his torso.”

After Zindashti communicated with Ryan on Jan. 30, 2021, indicating a readiness to move forward, a payment of $350,000 plus $20,000 in travel expenses was agreed upon. Ryan communicated to a co-conspirator that “we have a 4 man team ready.”

A co-conspirator sent the names of a man and a woman, along with maps highlighting the victims’ known address in Maryland.

In addition to the murder-for-hire conspiracy charge, Pearson is additionally charged with counts of possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice and 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 U.S. Attorney’s press release states that Zindashti’s criminal network targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime. The U.S. Treasury also took a separate action last week to prohibit Zindashti and his associates from engaging in any transaction or dealing that involves a U.S. person or occurs in the United States.

“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. “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.”

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

 

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.