MIAMI – Prosecutors say a former University of Miami professor, his wife and his sister are facing federal charges related to purchasing genetic sequencing equipment from U.S. manufacturers and illegally shipping it to Iran.
Court records show that Mohammad Faghihi, his wife Farzeneh Modarresi and his sister Faezeh Faghihi made their initial appearances Tuesday in Miami federal court.
A criminal complaint says a Florida company operated by the family called Express Gene received numerous wire transfers from accounts overseas totaling almost $3.5 million between 2016 and 2020. The wire transfers came from various countries, including Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
According to federal prosecutors, some of the money received was used to purchase genetic sequencing equipment from U.S. manufacturers and ship them to Iran without a license, despite sanctions on Iran.
The person he allegedly sent the equipment to is a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, which was designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2019.
Prosecutors said the money was also used by Faezeh Faghihi and Modarresi to fund the 2019 purchase of the Express Gene property.
Furthermore, prosecutors said Mohammad Faghihi arrived to Miami on Feb. 20 from Iran and was “inspected” by Customs and Border Protection officers at Miami International Airport.
Prosecutors said Faghihi made false statements to officers, “including that he did not practice his profession in Iran or conduct any type of research in Iran.”
But according to the affidavit, Faghihi was the director of a laboratory within Shiraz University of Medical Science in Iran that was even named after him. It is called “Dr. Faghihi’s Medical Genetic Center.”
Prosecutors said 17 vials of unknown biological substances covered with ice packs and concealed beneath bread and other food items were also found in his luggage. They said they later discovered that one of the vials contained multiple sources of DNA, but that Mohammad Faghihi said it was only for one person testing for cancer.
Faghihi’s attorney, Saam Zangeneh, questioned an FBI agent during Tuesday’s hearing and said his client is a world-renowned expert on genetic sequencing.
His company is involved in COVID testing as well as genetic testing.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Faghihi was an assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine from around 2013 to 2020.
“During this period, he was the principal investigator on several National Institute of Health (NIH) grants awarded in February 2013, December 2016 and June 2017,” a news release from the DOJ stated. “It is alleged that Express Gene and Faghihi received large deposits from international wires during this period, but they were not disclosed as required to either UM or NIH’s financial conflict of interest reporting system.”
Mohammad Faghihi, his wife and sister are all charged with conspiring to commit an offense against the United States and conspiring to commit money laundering.
Mohammad Faghihi and Modarresi are also charged with the unlawful exports of goods to Iran, and smuggling goods out of the United States. Mohammad Faghihi and Faezeh Faghihi were charged with smuggling goods into the United States and making false statements, and Mohammad Faghihi was also charged with wire fraud.
A judge on Tuesday ordered that Faezeh Faghihi be held in lieu of a $3 million, 10% bond and a $1 million corporate surety bond, with home confinement and GPS monitoring.
Prosecutors, however, requested a stay on the bond, pending appeal. The judge granted the stay, giving the U.S. until next Tuesday to appeal.
Mohammad Faghihi was deemed a significant flight risk and is being held without bond.
He faces up to 63-78 months in federal prison if found guilty of conspiracy and 87-108 months imprisonment if convicted of money laundering.
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