United States District Court, District of Columbia
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge
the Government’s Motion to Introduce Evidence of Prior
Bad Acts; Denying Defendant’s Motion to Exclude
Shantia Hassanshahi is charged with one count of conspiracy
to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act,
50 U.S.C. § 1705, and the Iranian Transactions and
Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. §§
560.203–204, commonly referred to as the United
States’ trade embargo against Iran. The Government
alleges that Mr. Hassanshahi and a company he owns,
co-defendant Hasston, Inc., conspired with others known and
unknown to export “protection relays”-a type of
circuit breaker for use in electrical power grids-to Iran
without obtaining a license from the Office of Foreign Assets
Control (“OFAC”), located in the District of
Columbia, as required by federal law.
Government has provided notice of its intent to introduce
certain evidence of prior bad acts against the defendants
pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), and has moved to
introduce such evidence. Specifically, the Government intends
to elicit evidence that Mr. Hassanshahi had knowledge that a
license from OFAC was required to do business in Iran.
See Gov’t’s Mot. & Notice Intention
Introduce Evid. Prior Bad Acts, ECF No. 94 [hereinafter
“Gov’t’s Mot.”]. Separately, Mr.
Hassanshahi has moved to exclude certain documentary evidence
that the Government anticipates seeking to introduce at
trial. See Def.’s Corr. Mot. Exclude Docs.
Evidentiary Grounds, ECF No. 102 [hereinafter
foregoing reasons, the Court will grant the
Government’s motion to introduce evidence of prior bad
acts and deny Defendant’s motion to exclude evidence.
Hassanshahi is a dual citizen of Iran and the United States.
On January 9, 2013, following an investigation of over a
year, the Government filed a Criminal Complaint in this Court
against Mr. Hassanshahi and a warrant was issued for his
arrest. See Criminal Compl., ECF No. 1. On September
16, 2013, Mr. Hassanshahi was arrested at Los Angeles
International Airport (“LAX”), and on September
26, 2013, a Grand Jury returned an Indictment in this Court
against him and co-defendant Hasston, Inc., a company that
Mr. Hassanshahi owns. See Indictment, ECF No. 7. The
Indictment alleges that, beginning in or around March 2009,
Mr. Hassanshahi engaged in a conspiracy to export and cause
the exportation of goods and technology from Canada to Iran,
as well as related services from the United States to Iran,
without first obtaining the requisite license from OFAC,
located in the District of Columbia, and therefore in
violation of federal law. See Id. ¶ 1.
Specifically, the Government alleges that Mr. Hassanshahi and
Hasston, Inc. conspired to export “protection
relays”-a type of circuit breaker for use in electrical
power grids-from Canada to Armenia or Iraq. From those
countries, the relays would then be transported to customers
in Iran. See, e.g., Aff. Supp. Criminal Compl.
¶¶ 22, 26, ECF No. 1-1 [hereinafter
of the Government’s investigation, and prior to Mr.
Hassanshahi’s arrest, the Department of Homeland
Security’s Homeland Security Investigations division
(“HSI”) was alerted that Mr. Hassanshahi would be
returning to the United States through Los Angeles
International Airport (“LAX”) on January 12,
2012. See Id. ¶ 18. When he arrived, Mr.
Hassanshahi was referred for a secondary screening.
Id. ¶ 19. During that secondary screening,
United States Customs and Border Protection officers seized
several electronic devices in Mr. Hassanshahi’s
possession-including a laptop computer, multimedia cards,
thumb drives, a camcorder, SIM cards, and a cell phone.
Id. Those items were sent to Washington, D.C., where
HSI conducted a forensic examination of the laptop and
discovered numerous documents relating to Mr.
Hassanshahi’s apparent business activities in Iran.
Id. ¶¶ 19–20. Among those documents
was a PDF file of a September 19, 2011 letter on Hasston
letterhead and addressed from Shantia Hassanshahi to the
Iranian Minister of Energy, in which Mr. Hassanshahi asked
the Iranian government for payment for “protective
relays for transmission lines.” Id. ¶ 22
n.1; see also Def.’s Mot. Attach., Ex. D, ECF
No. 101-1 (reproducing translated copy of letter).
that time, the Government has also obtained e-mails sent by
or to Mr. Hassanshahi, or among his alleged co-conspirators.
In one e-mail, dated October 26, 2009, an individual named
“Mark Babaei” writes to a man identified as
“Shantia Haas, ” the latter of whom has an email
address listed as “email@example.com.”
See Def.’s Mot. Attach., Ex. C, ECF No. 101-1.
The Government contends that Mr. Hassanshahi used that e-mail
account during the time period relevant to this case.
See Revised Aff. of Joshua J. Akronowitz
¶¶ 15, 18, ECF No. 42-1. In the e-mail, Mr. Babaei
indicates that he has “talked with jabber, he is good
and is working to solve the problems and we hope up to
tomorrow night the goods will be in [sic] Iran border.”
Def.’s Mot. Attach., Ex. C. A second e-mail, dated
February 2, 2012, was sent from Mark Babaei to individuals
identified as “Aoub Shaban” and “Arash
Zandi, ” but not Mr. Hassanshahi. Id. Ex. E.
In that e-mail, Mr. Babaei states that he traveled to Armenia
to deal with a shipment of goods that was seized at the
Armenian border. Id. The e-mail states:
“Please tell Shantia that we didn’t let anything
be traced back to Canada and they didn’t even track
this to Canada.” Id.
letter, the Government has informed Mr. Hassanshahi’s
counsel that it anticipates introducing at trial the letter
to the Iranian Minister of Energy and these e-mails, and that
the documents are, overall, “representative of the
types of documents the government will seek to admit at
trial.” Def.’s Mot. Attach at 1–2. Mr.
Hassanshahi has moved to exclude these documents as
inadmissible hearsay, and he further claims that the letter
lacks authentication. See Def.’s Mot. at 6,
Government has also provided notice under Federal Rule of
Evidence 404(b) that it will seek to elicit evidence that
“defendant Hassanshahi previously attempted to do
business in Iran without the required license from the
government” and that he was “made aware that his
attempt to do business in Iran . . . violated [the] laws of
the United States.” Gov’t’s Mot. at 1. The
Government contends that Mr. Hassanshahi obtained this
knowledge after a California court ruled against him and two
other plaintiffs in a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs sought
to enforce a contract with a Chinese company. See
Gov’t’s Mot. at 2–3. In that case, the
plaintiffs alleged that the company, Tsann Kuen Enterprise
Co., Ltd. (“Tsann”), had granted them the
exclusive right to manufacture and sell Tsann’s
computers in Iran. See generally Kashani v. Tsann Kuen
China Enter. Co., Ltd., 118 Cal.App.4th 531 (2004);
see also Id. at 536 (noting that “Shantia
Hassanshahi” was among the three plaintiffs, and
listing counsel identical to Mr. Hassanshahi’s
California-based co-counsel in this case). After Tsann
purportedly ceased manufacturing computers or otherwise doing
business in that industry, see Id. at 536, 538, the
plaintiffs filed a breach of contract action, alleging that
Tsann had breached the parties’ contract without cause
and was liable for the damages plaintiffs incurred as a
result, id. at 538–39.
asserted that the contract was unenforceable as contrary to
public policy because it violated the Iranian Transactions
and Sanctions Regulations. Id. at 539. The trial
court agreed, and the California Court of Appeals affirmed.
Id. at 537. The appellate court explained that,
under the regulations, there exist “only two ways to
avoid the prohibitions on dealing with Iran: coverage under a
general license authorizing certain categories of
transactions and issuance of a specific license.”
Id. at 546 (citations omitted). The court noted that
the plaintiffs were United States citizens residing in
California and that the “express purposes of the
agreement were to supply goods, technology, and services to
Iran and even to sell products to the Government of
Iran.” Id. at 547. Furthermore, the court
stated that the plaintiffs “d[id] not contend that they
had obtained authorization for their activities pursuant to
any specific license.” Id. Accordingly, the
court concluded that plaintiffs’ anticipated
performance was “in clear violation” of the
Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations and,
therefore, the International Economic Emergency Powers
Id. at 548.
Hassanshahi’s motion to exclude evidence raised several
“preliminary” grounds for excluding the Rule
404(b) evidence. See Def.’s Mot. at 20. He has
since filed a formal opposition opposing the introduction of
any evidence under Rule 404(b). See generally
Def.’s Opp’n to Gov’t’s Mot. at 1, 4
(“Def.’s Opp’n”), ECF No. 114.
Court will analyze each item of challenged evidence in
Prior Bad Acts Evidence
Government seeks to introduce evidence that Mr. Hassanshahi
previously attempted to do business in Iran and was aware
that doing so violated the laws of the United States. The
Government contends that such evidence is admissible to show
Mr. Hassanshahi’s knowledge, intent, motive, and a lack
of mistake or accident.
front, the Court notes that the precision of its analysis is
somewhat frustrated by the Government’s failure to
articulate the specific evidence it seeks to introduce under
Rule 404(b)(1). The Government attached a certified copy of
the Kashani opinion to its notice, but did not
indicate whether it would seek to introduce the opinion in
whole or in part. In addition, the Government’s notice
did not clarify whether, or if, it would seek to offer other
evidence concerning the prior conduct that is discussed in
the Kashani opinion. This ambiguity led defense
counsel to assume that the Government seeks to introduce the
entirety of the opinion into evidence. See, e.g.,
Def.’s Opp’n at 1, 4. It was not until its reply
that the Government indicated that it plans to introduce only
the cover page and the first and last pages of the opinion.
See Gov’t’s Reply at 2, ECF No. 116. In
addition, the Government stated for the first time that it
intends to introduce a Letter of Intent describing the
transaction with Tsann and purportedly bearing Mr.
Hassanshahi’s signature. Mr. Hassanshahi had no
opportunity to respond to or dispute the letter of intent, so
the Court declines to consider it in this motion. The Court
will, however, consider the Rule 404(b)(1) issue, taking into
account the limited portion of the opinion that the
Government represents it will seek to introduce. That said,
while the Court finds below that the knowledge demonstrated
by the Kashani opinion ...