Two Canadian members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang plotted with an Iranian drug trafficker to kill a pair of dissidents who were living in Maryland, the Justice Department and federal officials said Monday.
Naji Sharifi Zindashti, aka “Big Guy,” who has ties to Iran's intelligence services, had been communicating with Damion Patrick John Ryan for a month about various "jobs" when, in January 2021, he brought up "a specific job in the United States," according to a federal grand jury indictment.
Ryan, who was contacting Zindashti through an “encrypted communication service,” said that it would be "challenging" but that he "might have someone to do it," the indictment says.
That day, the indictment says, Ryan reached out to Adam Richard Pearson, who said he'd need two to three people, including a driver, and "may charge over $100,000 for the job."
Ryan replied that he would "get u what you want" but stressed that it needed to be "over kill lol," U.S. officials said.
According to the indictment, Pearson promised to deliver that gruesome message, allegedly saying he would encourage the recruits for the job to “shoot [the victim] in the head a lot [to] make example” and "We gotta erase his head from his torso."
In the end, neither of the Iranian dissidents lost their heads or their lives.
“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,” Andrew Luger, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said in a statement. “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.”
Zindashti, who officials think is in Iran, Ryan and Pearson are each charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
Pearson, who was living illegally in Minnesota at the time of the alleged plot, is also 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.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have identified Pearson and Ryan as members of the Hells Angels, which has Canadian chapters that the Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies consider an organized crime organization.
Both are in prison in Canada "on unrelated offenses," the Justice Department said.
The men used a service called SkyECC to communicate, the feds said.
Sometime around Jan. 30, 2021, Zindashti messaged Ryan for an update in the alleged murder-for-hire plot, the indictment says. Ryan allegedly responded that he was getting “things in order” and that he would need money.
Officials say that several days later, Zindashti told Ryan that his organization was ready to move forward and that they agreed on a $350,000 payment for the “job,” plus $20,000 more to cover expenses.
It was at that point, U.S. officials allege, that Zindashti introduced Ryan to Co-Conspirator 1, whom the indictment identifies only as "a resident of Iran."
“We have a 4 man team ready," Ryan responded, according to the document.
In a separate news release, the Treasury Department identified the Iranian alleged to have worked with Ryan as a Zindashti associate named Nihat Abdul Kadir Asan, "who has played a pivotal role in logistical planning for many of the network’s operations, including the network’s plot to assassinate individuals in the United States."
Over the next few days, Co-Conspirator 1 supplied Ryan with information and photographs of the targets, who are a man and a woman, and discussed the price for the double hit, according to the indictment.
"When RYAN told Co-Conspirator 1 that two targets would cost more than one, Co-Conspirator 1 assured RYAN that this was not a problem," the indictment says.
In March of that year, Ryan got a first payment of $20,000 "for the purpose of covering travel expenses associated with the plot to murder the victims."
The Treasury Department has taken "action against Zindashti’s criminal network that targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime."
The Justice Department said in a statement, "Zindashti and several of his key associates are prohibited from engaging in any transaction or dealing that involves a U.S. person or occurs in the United States."
Iran's Foreign Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Iran has a history of assassinations and abductions around the world, and it has, at times, recruited local criminals to carry out the killings, according to U.S. and European governments.
In 2018, an Iranian man who had lived a quiet life as an electrician for years in the Netherlands was gunned down in broad daylight in Almere, east of Amsterdam.
The victim turned out to be Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, 56, who had been sentenced to death in Iran after he was accused of planting a bomb at the Islamic Republic Party’s headquarters in 1981, killing 73 people — including many senior political figures.
The Dutch government alleged that the Iranian regime was behind the fatal shooting.
Iran denied any role in the killing and has denied being behind other suspected assassinations.
Last year, federal prosecutors charged three members of an eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran’s government with conspiring to assassinate Masih Alinejad.
Alinejad is a journalist and dissident with a large online following who has long been a thorn in the side of the regime.