Founder and CEO of Iranian Financial Services Firm Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Violate U.S. Sanctions

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald today announced the sentencing of Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, to 23 months in prison for his role in conducting financial transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Shahidian, who pleaded guilty on June 18, 2018, was sentenced today before Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Shahidian, a citizen of Iran, was arrested in London, England on Nov. 11, 2018, and, on May 15, 2020, was extradited to the United States.

“Shahidian lied to U.S. suppliers, illegally transferred funds from Iran, used fraudulent passports and ids, and established a business whose entire purpose was to circumvent U.S. sanctions and to enable others to do the same,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Today’s sentence should discourage other would-be sanctions violators from following in Mr. Shahidian’s footsteps.”

“Mr. Shahidian was the founder and CEO of a financial services firm that employed fraudulent tactics designed to circumvent United States sanctions lawfully imposed on the Government of Iran. Such actions are criminal and threaten our national security interests,” said U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald. “In Iran, based on his illegal business, Mr. Shahidian had been a high-profile executive and a millionaire. He is now a convicted felon who has lost everything. This prosecution holds Mr. Shahidian accountable for his crimes and sends a broader message to others considering violating sanctions laws that there are serious consequences for doing so.”

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that those who try to willfully violate U.S. sanctions against Iran will be held accountable,” said Michael Paul, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office. “The FBI and our worldwide partners will continue to identify, investigate and pursue those who perpetrate these deceptive criminal schemes with a deliberate disregard for our nation’s safety and security.”

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, PAYMENT24 was an internet-based financial services company with approximately 40 employees and offices in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan, Iran. The primary business of PAYMENT24 was helping Iranian citizens conduct prohibited financial transactions with businesses based in the United States, including the unlawful purchase and exportation of computer software, software licenses, and computer servers from United States companies. According to PAYMENT24’s website, the company charged a fee to circumvent “American sanctions,” and claimed to have brought in millions of dollars of foreign currency into Iran.

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian, the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of PAYMENT24, co-conspirator Vahid Vali, and other individuals violated the restrictions on trade and exports from the United States to Iran. On its website, PAYMENT24 sold a package to assist its Iranian clients with making online purchases from United States-based businesses, which included a PayPal account, a fraudulent “ID card and address receipt,” a remote IP address from the United Arab Emirates, and a Visa gift card. The PAYMENT24 website also offered its clients advice on how to create accounts with a foreign identity and how to avoid restrictions on foreign websites, including advising clients to “never attempt to log into those sites with an Iranian IP address.”   

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian admitted to making material misrepresentations and omissions to United States-based businesses regarding the destination of the United States-origin goods. In order to accomplish the transactions, Shahidian obtained payment processing accounts from United States-based companies like PayPal using fraudulent passports and other false residency documentation to falsely represent that his customers resided outside of Iran. Shahidian admitted to opening hundreds of PayPal accounts on behalf of his PAYMENT24 customers who resided in Iran and to unlawfully bringing millions of U.S. dollars into the economy of Iran. As noted in recently unsealed court documents in the Northern District of California, Shahidian’s payment services were used to register domains targeted for seizure based on their association with Iranian Cyber Influence Operations.

Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), unauthorized exports of goods, technology or services to Iran, directly or indirectly from the United States or by a United States person are prohibited.

This case was the result of an investigation conducted by the Minneapolis Division of the FBI. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the United States Department of Justice National Security Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are grateful for the substantial assistance provided by law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom, including in particular the National Crime Agency and the London Metropolitan Police, in connection with the arrest and extradition in this matter.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy C. Rank and Charles J. Kovats of the District of Minnesota and Trial Attorney David Aaron of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case.

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    In U.S GAO News
    The Departments of Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Interior (Interior), and Education (Education) administered at least 38 grant programs from fiscal years 2015 through 2018 that could have helped prevent or address delinquency among Native American youth. These agencies made about $1.9 billion in awards to grantees through these programs during this period. These agencies incorporated almost all of the leading practices GAO identified for performance measurement or program evaluation when assessing the performance of selected grant programs. For example, HHS's Administration for Children and Families (ACF) incorporated 13 of the 14 leading practices for performance measurement but did not fully assess grantee data reliability for one of its programs. By developing a process to assess the reliability of grantee data contained in the annual performance reports that tribal recipients submit, ACF could obtain further assurance that it has an accurate representation of grantee performance. GAO also found that Interior's Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) did not conduct formal data reliability checks on performance data that grantees report and did not always collect performance reports from grantees in a timely manner for one of its programs. By developing a process to assess the reliability of a sample of grantee performance data and taking steps to alert grantees when they are late in submitting performance reports, BIE could better ensure that grantees are complying with the terms and conditions of the grant program and better understand how the program and its grantees are performing. Officials in all 12 interviews with tribes or tribal consortia GAO interviewed cited risk factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency in their communities. Number of Interviews in Which Tribal Officials Cited Risk Factors Contributing to Juvenile Delinquency Note: The figure includes the most common risk factors tribal officials cited for juvenile delinquency. While tribal officials cited restrictions placed on federal grant funding, difficulty communicating with program staff, and challenges hiring and retaining staff as barriers to implementing federal programs, they also identified promising practices, such as executing culturally relevant programs, for preventing or addressing juvenile delinquency. Federal and other studies have noted that exposure to violence and substance abuse make Native American youth susceptible to becoming involved with the justice system. GAO was asked to examine federal and tribal efforts to address juvenile delinquency and the barriers tribes face in doing so. This report examines (1) federal financial assistance targeting tribes that could prevent or address juvenile delinquency; (2) the extent to which federal agencies assess the performance of selected grant programs and incorporate leading practices; and (3) the juvenile delinquency challenges tribes report facing. GAO identified relevant grant programs during fiscal years 2015 through 2018—the most recent data available when GAO began the review. GAO analyzed documents and interviewed agency officials to determine how they assessed grant program performance and conducted interviews with 10 tribes and two tribal consortia to discuss challenges with delinquency. GAO is making three recommendations, including that relevant HHS and Interior offices develop a process to assess the reliability of tribal grantee performance information and that an Interior office take steps to alert grantees that are late in submitting progress reports. Interior concurred with the two recommendations. HHS disagreed with GAO's recommendation. GAO clarified the recommendation to HHS and continues to believe it is warranted. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin, (202) 512-8777, or GoodwinG@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Seeks to Shut Down Fraudulent Chicago-Area Tax Return Preparer
    In Crime News
    The United States has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, seeking to enjoin a tax preparer from South Chicago Heights, Illinois, from preparing federal income tax returns for others.
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