President Obama offered clemency to seven Iranians charged with violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran as part of a historic prisoner agreement with Iran that freed four Americans Saturday, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
The Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, were imprisoned or were awaiting trial in the United States. The U.S. government dismissed charges against 14 other Iranians, all outside the United States, after assessing that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful, according to a U.S. official.
The official also said that Iran has committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the location of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran more than nine years ago.
Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency released names of the seven individuals. The Department of Justice declined to confirm their identities.
Joel Androphy, an attorney for one of the Iranians — Bahram Mechanic — said his client was offered a full pardon. Androphy also worked closely with the attorneys for two of the other men who were pardoned, Tooraj “Roger” Faridi and Khosrow Afghahi.
The three men are Iranian American businessmen who were indicted last year and accused of illegally exporting microelectronics to Iran that could aid the country’s nuclear program.
“They’re ecstatic,” said Androphy. He said the men were told Wednesday that Obama was pardoning them. Mechanic and Afghahi were being held without bail in a federal detention facility in Houston. Faridi, who lives in Houston, was not in custody, Androphy said.
The released Iranians were on a long list that Tehran initially gave the U.S. government early in the negotiations, a list eventually whittled down to the seven, according to a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters under a condition of anonymity set by the administration.
The official said Obama insisted that none of the individuals be “people who have been prosecuted for offenses related to terrorism . . . or violent crime.” All, the official said, were convicted or accused of “crimes related to violating our trade embargo or sanctions.”
The April 2015 indictment against Mechanic, Faridi and Afghahi, for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, alleges that the men and their Houston-based company, Smart Power Systems, were members of an Iranian procurement network operating in the United States.
The men, who pleaded not guilty and said their business consisted of buying parts in other countries to build surge protectors for computers, were charged as part of a larger scheme involving individuals and companies in Turkey and Taiwan. They had not yet gone to trial.
“They feel victimized by the government,” Androphy said. “People should be happy that both countries did the right thing by releasing people that were unfairly confined.” He said his clients were “victims of disputes between countries, not people who’ve committed any horrific crimes.”
Androphy said his clients, who were born in Iran and naturalized more than five years ago, are now free to travel and would remain in the United States with their families.
Mechanic will drop his lawsuit against the United States for unlawfully seizing his business in Tehran, and he plans to travel to Iran to continue his business there, Androphy said.
Another Iranian who is part of the deal is Nader Modanlo, a Montgomery County businessman who prosecutors said used his aerospace expertise and connections with Russia to help Iran launch a satellite for the first time.
Modanlo, a U.S. citizen born in Iran and living in Potomac, was sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison for conspiring to illegally provide satellite-related services to Iran, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iran trade embargo. Modanlo, then 52, was also convicted of money-laundering and obstruction of bankruptcy proceedings.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said at the time that, partly as a result of Modanlo’s actions, an Iranian Earth-observation satellite equipped with a camera was launched into space from Russia on Oct. 27, 2005.
“Modanlo violated the law by helping Iran launch communications satellites,” Rosenstein said. A jury convicted Modanlo, finding that he illegally facilitated a satellite deal between Iran and Russia and received a $10 million brokering fee.
“Mr. Modanlo has been fighting to clear his name for nearly a decade,” Modanlo’s attorney, Lucius Outlaw III, said after the trial in federal court in Greenbelt. “Unfortunately, the fight will have to continue.”
Also in 2013, Rosenstein announced that Ali Saboonchi, then 32, a U.S. citizen living in Parkville, Md., had been indicted on charges of conspiring to export and exporting U.S.-manufactured industrial products and services to Iran. In a five-count indictment, Saboonchi, who has been imprisoned in Petersburg, Va., was charged with creating a business, Ace Electric, for the purpose of obtaining goods to be sent to Iran.
An attorney now representing Modanlo, Kelly Kramer, declined to comment.
Outlaw, who now represents Saboonchi, said in an e-mail about 6 a.m. Sunday that Saboonchi has been released. He and another attorney, Elizabeth Oyer, said in a statement: "Ali Saboonchi is a beloved and hard-working family man and American. He was born in the U.S. and is proud to be raising his young family here. His arrest and incarceration were devastating to his many friends and family. Ali is thrilled and grateful for his release and return to his family. Ali's release shows that he poses no danger to the American people. He has a bright future ahead."
Another Iranian national who was granted clemency is Nima Golestaneh, 30, who pleaded guilty in December to charges of wire fraud and unauthorized access to computers related to the October 2012 hacking of a Vermont-based engineering consulting and software company.
Golestaneh conspired with others to hack the network and computers at Arrow Tech Associates to steal company software and business information, according to the plea agreement. Golestaneh acquired servers in other countries for his co-conspirators to use remotely to launch computer intrusions into companies, including Arrow Tech.
The seventh Iranian is Arash Ghahreman, 45, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former Iranian national who was convicted in April by a federal jury in San Diego of violations of U.S. export and money-laundering laws linked to his involvement in a scheme to purchase marine navigation equipment and military electronic equipment for illegal export to Iran.
“The defendants used a front company to illegally send U.S. goods and technologies, including those used in military applications to Iran,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin said after the conviction.
Ellis M. Johnston III, Ghahreman's attorney, said Ghahreman was released from a federal prison camp about 6 a.m. Sunday. Johnston said Ghahreman — who was not pardoned but had his sentence commuted — plans to spend some time with his aunt and her family on the East Coast, reunite with his girlfriend on the West Coast and "hopefully visit his elderly parents in Iran, whom he hasn't seen in years since this case began."
"Mr. Ghahreman and his family are extremely relieved by his release," Johnston said in an email. "For my part, I'm obviously happy for Mr Ghahreman's release; he's a very kind, considerate man who poses no threat to the United States and who, if given the chance despite his felony conviction (which still stands because he wasn't pardoned; his sentence was only commuted), will succeed professionally here, abroad, or wherever he chooses."
The attorneys for Ghahreman, Saboonchi and Mechanic said Sunday they were still sorting out what they were going to do following their release early Sunday. But the attorneys said the three men have put down roots in the United States and likely would stay.
Oyer, Saboonchi’s attorney, said her client has a wife and young son in the Parkville area and that he would likely want to complete a PhD program in electrical engineering that he began at Morgan State University before he was arrested. She said Saboonchi’s sentence was commuted ,and she was unsure how that affected the felony conviction on his record.
Androphy said Mechanic intends to go back to work for his Houston-based company Smart Power, though he noted that Mechanic also has a company in Iran.
Johnston said his client, Ghahreman, is “a U.S. citizen who has lived and worked in the U.S. for the last decade and most recently obtained a masters degree from SUNY Maritime College just before his trial began. So he does have strong ties to this country, a strong work history as a project manager in shipyards, and hopefully can continue to find opportunities here in the U.S. despite his felony conviction.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Houston lawyer Joel Androphy represented Bahram Mechanic, Tooraj “Roger” Faridi and Khosrow Afghahi. Androphy represents only Mechanic.
Karen DeYoung and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.