Three men – an Iranian and two Canadian nationals – were indicted on Monday after allegedly conspiring together to pay for and execute a murder-for-hire scheme against two people in Maryland.
The Department of Justice announced the indictment against 49-year-old Naji Sharifi Zindashti of Iran, 43-year-old Damion Patrick John Ryan of Canada, and 29-year-old Adam Richard Pearson, also of Canada, who allegedly conspired with each other between December 2020 and March 2021 to kill two Maryland residents who previously fled from Iran.
The men allegedly used the encrypted messaging service “SkyECC” to hire individuals to travel to the U.S., carry out hits, discuss identities and locations of potential victims, plan logistics and mechanics of how to carry out the murders and to negotiate payments for completing the job in Maryland.
“Today’s charges show a pattern of Iranian groups trying to murder U.S. residents on U.S. soil,” Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said. “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.”
The DOJ alleges that Zindashti and Ryan discussed a job in the U.S. in January 2021, with Ryan claiming he “might have someone to do it,” though it would be challenging.
The same day, Ryan messaged Pearson about the “job” in Maryland. Pearson told Ryan, “shooting is probably easiest thing for them,” adding that he was “on it,” the DOJ said.
During the interaction, Ryan suggested two guys go “with proper equipment,” and Pearson said he would have the recruits shoot the victim in the head “a lot” to make an example, also stating, “we gotta erase his head from his torso.”
Later that month, Zindashti reached out to Ryan on SkyECC asking for an update and was told he was getting things in order and that he would need the money. Ryan and Zindashti reportedly agreed on $350,000 to complete the job, plus another $20,000 for expenses.
Zindashti introduced Ryan to a co-conspirator, which rounded out the team to consist of four people.
That same conspirator sent Ryan information about the possible victims, the DOJ said, including photographs and a map highlighting the addresses of the victims.
On or around March 8, 2021, the co-conspirator provided the $20,000 payment to Ryan to cover travel expenses.
All three men are charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities to commit murder-for-hire. Pearson has also been 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 U.S.
Both Ryan and Pearson are currently incarcerated in Canada on unrelated charges, while Zindashti resides in Iran.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said.
The investigation into the matter is ongoing, and is being conducted by the FBI with help from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Along with the indictment, the DOJ said the Treasury Department took action against Zindashti’s criminal network targeting Iranian dissidents and activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime.
Zindashti and several key associates of his are also prohibited from engaging in transactions dealing with, or involving U.S. individuals or that take place in the U.S.