A former University of Miami professor, his wife and sister face federal charges related to purchasing DNA sequencing equipment from U.S. manufacturers and shipping it illegally to Iran, prosecutors said.
Mohammad Faghihi, 52, his wife Farzeneh Modarresi, 53, and his sister Faezeh Faghihi, 50, appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday and were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and conspiracy to commit money laundering, as well as several other charges.
The family operated a Florida company called Express Gene, whose court documents revealed it received nearly $ 3.5 million in wire transfers from accounts in Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Turkey and in the United Arab Emirates.
The transfers were sent between October 2016 and November 2020 and some of that money was used to buy DNA sequencing equipment from US manufacturers to ship to Iran without a license, despite sanctions against Iran, said. investigators.
Each gene sequencing machine cost $ 200,000.
Mohammad Faghihi (left), 52, his wife Farzeneh Modarresi, 53, and his sister Faezeh Faghihi (right), 50, appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday and, according to court records, all three were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and conspiracy to commit money laundering, as well as several other counts
The former professor has also reportedly been in contact with the Revolutionary Guard Corps – a US-designated terrorist organization that purchased several genetic testing machines from Express Gene – but Faghihi’s defense attorney downplayed any connection between his client and a terrorist group and said Faghihi was not trying to fuel a conflict with the United States
According to prosecutors, in February Mohammad Faghihi almost got away with the crime when he arrived at Miami International Airport from Iran and lied to customs and border officials, their saying that he did not practice his profession or carry out research in Iran. .
“He was literally about to board a plane on Monday when he was arrested,” Federal Prosecutor Michael Thakur said at a hearing, as reported by Miami Herald.
Thaker requested Faghihi’s detention on the basis of a risk of flight to his home country, Iran.
According to the Miami Herald, the former professor was also in contact with the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated terrorist organization that purchased several genetic testing machines from Express Gene.
Faghihi’s defense attorney downplayed any connection between his client and a terrorist group and said Faghihi was not trying to fuel a conflict with the United States.
Instead, the defense attorney claimed, Faghihi lived in Pinecrest, Florida and was a world-renowned scientist trying to help save humanity, as reported by the Miami Herald.
As airport officials searched Faghihi’s luggage, CBP officers reported finding 17 vials of unknown biological substances (pictured) covered with ice packs and hidden under bread and other food.
Although Faghihi told border officials the opposite, he was the director of a laboratory at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, which also bore his name: Dr Faghihi´s Medical Genetic Center
But officials said Faghihi was the director of a laboratory at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, which also bore his name: Dr Faghihi’s Center for Medical Genetics.
While searching Faghihi’s luggage, CBP officers reported finding 17 vials of unknown biological substances covered with ice packs and hidden under bread and other food.
During the four years, Faghihi also worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami.
During his tenure as a professor – from 2013 to 2020 – he was the principal investigator of several grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Officials said that Express Gene and Faghihi received large deposits of international threads during this period and that Faghihi did not make the required disclosures to the university or NIH.
Online court records do not list lawyers for Faghihi or his family.
Judge Jonathan Goodman ordered Faghihi’s detention before his trial, according to the Miami Herald.
Goodman said Faghihi “was surely aware of the need” for a license from the Treasury Department to illegally ship gene sequencing equipment to Iran. He also said he had “multiple ties” with residents of the Middle Eastern country and communicated personally with a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Faghihi and his wife both worked at the University of Miami. Faghihi was an assistant professor in the school’s psychiatry and behavioral sciences department (pictured)
Faghihi’s wife was also a former University of Miami employee and was arrested along with her husband on Wednesday for the crime.
Modarresi’s defense attorney argued she should get bail before trial due to her close ties to the Miami community, but Thakur argued they may flee to Iran before their next court appearance. the tribunal.
As reported by the Miami Herald, the judge ruled that Modarresi was a flight risk although Faghihi’s sister was not because she is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Faezeh was ordered to be confined to her home with an electronic monitor. She also had to hand over her passports and it is not yet clear whether the sister will be able to post her bond.
According to the Miami Herald, the judge set the terms for a personal guarantor of $ 3 million, with a deposit of $ 300,000, and a corporate guarantor of $ 1 million, which requires another deposit of $ 150. $ 000.
The deposit of $ 150,000 is not refundable.