A Mesa tailor admitted guilt Monday in federal court to trying to smuggle an illegal immigrant from Iran across the U.S.-Mexico border.
FBI agents arrested Zeayadali Malhamdary and raided his shop May 26 after an undercover investigation found he tried to obtain Mexican visas for Iranians so they could fly into Mexico and then cross the border.
Malhamdary, a Christian, has admitted to friends he crossed the Mexico border illegally in 1998 to escape religious persecution in Iran, whose official religion is the Shiite branch of Islam. He was granted refugee status in February 1999, according to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, and has since established a tailor shop in Mesa.
Under the plea deal, sentencing will be up to the judge, although the document does not state a particular range. Had Malhamdary been convicted at trial he could have gone to prison from five to 35 years.
“He’s not guilty,” said Phoenix resident Mary Metzger, a friend from his Chandler church. Metzger said she believes Malhamdary accepted the plea deal because the alternative was too risky.
According to the plea deal, Malhamdary admitted that around September 2004, he began negotiating with someone to bring a group of Iranian nationals to the U.S. He eventually agreed to supply authentic Iranian passports to the person, who turned out to be an undercover agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, and he would arrange to have the Mexican visas placed into the passports so the Iranians could fly into Mexico.
Malhamdary admitted that he went to Iran in March 2005 and returned with three passports, which he gave to the agent.
“I knew that the Iranian nationals would be crossing the border illegally and intended to violate the immigration laws of the United States,” the signed plea agreement states.
Sentencing is set for Aug. 14.