An Iranian drug trafficker allegedly plotted with two Canadian members of the Hells Angels to murder people in Maryland in early 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice said Monday.
The targets of the murder-for-hire plot, while not identified in newly unsealed court documents, include a man who defected from Iran and a woman with whom he fled to the U.S.
An indictment details how Naji Sharifi Zindashti and an Iranian co-conspirator allegedly used an encrypted messaging service to develop the plot, starting in December 2020.
Zindashti, who goes by the nicknames “Big” and “Big Guy,” is a narcotics trafficker and part of a criminal network directed by Tehran to target Iranian dissidents and activists, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Prosecutors say Zindashti and his co-conspirator contacted B.C.-based Hells Angels member Damion Patrick John Ryan, who hired Adam Richard Pearson, a Hells Angels affiliate and fugitive who was then living under a false name in Minnesota.
The indictment says the pair discussed gruesome details about how to kill the Iranian defector.
Pearson wrote that he would “make sure I hit this guy in the head with at least half the clip” and “erase his head from his torso,” prosecutors say.
The allegations, which have not been proven in court, say Zindashti agreed to pay US$350,000 for the killing and another US$20,000 to cover expenses. Pearson and Ryan said killing the woman would cost more.
Prosecutors say the messages between the co-conspirators included information about the two targets and maps showing their home address.
The $20,000 payment was made in March 2021, prosecutors say. The indictment does not detail how the plot was thwarted.
Ryan, Zindashti and Pearson are charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in a murder-for-hire in the U.S.
Ryan, 43, is a full-patch member of the Hells Angels who is in a Canadian jail for unrelated offences, U.S. prosecutors say.
The RCMP arrested him in February 2023 after searching an Ottawa home and finding a dozen illegal handguns, which were imported from the U.S. along with ammunition and prohibited high-capacity magazines. He was charged with a number of weapons offences at the time.
The U.S. government said Ryan allegedly has ties to criminals in the U.S., Canada and Greece. The RCMP said in 2023 he was a member of a Greek chapter of the Hells Angels.
Pearson, 29, was arrested by the FBI in Minneapolis in July 2021 and was extradited to Canada in early 2022, where he was charged with the 2019 murder of an Alberta man. He is still in jail.
The U.S. government alleges Pearson was also affiliated with the Hells Angels. He’s charged with possession of a firearm by a fugitive from justice.
The U.S. and U.K. have also sanctioned Zindashti and people in his network for carrying out “numerous acts of transnational repression including assassinations and kidnappings across multiple jurisdictions in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime’s perceived critics,” according to a press release from both countries.
“Iranian security forces protect Zindashti and his criminal empire, enabling Zindashti to thrive in the country’s drug market and live a life of luxury while his network exports the regime’s repression, carrying out heinous operations on the government’s behalf,” said a U.S. Treasury Department statement.
The U.S. Treasury Department identified the unnamed Iranian co-conspirator in the indictment as Nihat Abdulkadir Asan, a close associate of Zindashti who plays a key role in logistical planning.
The department also said Zindashti’s network has been linked to killings in Canada, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Zindashti is not named on a publicly available list of Iranian people and entities sanctioned by Canada. Global Affairs has been asked for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.