A former pot grower and two of his high school friends kidnapped and tortured the owner of a flourishing medical marijuana dispensary before cutting off his penis after demanding he tell them where he buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors summarized their case in opening statements in the trial of Hossein Nayeri in a Newport Beach courtroom on Wednesday. He's charged with two counts kidnap for extortion, torture, aggravated mayhem, and burglary.
"There's no doubt the motive in this case was money — a million dollars," Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told jurors. "In fact, a million dollars the victim didn't have."
Nayeri's attorney Salvatore Ciulla said two other men who Nayeri went to high school with, Kyle Handley and Ryan Kevorkian, orchestrated the kidnapping.
"This case nothing is as it seems," he said. "This man right here, Hossein Nayeri, did not do it."
Handley was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his part in the case. Kevorkian is awaiting trial.
The case goes back nearly seven years.
Three masked men armed with a shotgun beat the victim while he slept in his Newport Beach home on Oct. 2, 2012, prosecutors said. His roommate was also kidnapped at gunpoint. She was not hurt.
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The victim's name was being withheld because he's a victim of a sex crime.
He was beaten so bad that he defecated in his pants, Brown said.
"Then they dragged him down the stairs, hitting his head on each step, thunk, thunk, thunk," she told jurors.
They continued beating him in the back of a van, hitting him with a rubber hose, burning him with a torch and shocking him with a Taser, while driving to the Mojave Desert.
Along the way, they demanded to know where the money was, which he denied having, Brown said.
He even offered tens of thousands of dollars in cash from his business, but it wasn't enough, Brown said.
When they stopped in the Mojave Desert, they dragged him out of the van, poured bleach on him to kill any DNA evidence, cut off his penis and left him for dead, Brown said.
The victim's roommate managed to free herself from the zip ties around her ankles and flagged down a deputy who happened to see her on the side of a road while he was on his way to work.
After the crime, Nayeri fled to his home country of Iran, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, Brown said.
Authorities were able to lure him out of the country using Nayeri's ex-wife Cortney Shegerian, who got him to leave Iran to visit her and his sister in Spain.
Shegerian, who authorities alleged was involved in helping Nayeri plan the kidnapping, has agreed to testify in exhange for immunity from prosecution, prosecutors said.
Nayeri was arrested as he got off a plane in the Czech Republic on a layover to Spain and eventually was extradited to Orange County.
While awaiting trial in this case in 2016, Nayeri grabbed headlines when he broke out of an Orange County jail and recorded it on contraband cellphone that his lawyer provided to NBC4.
Nayeri was captured in San Francisco and again returned to Orange County custody.
In a jailhouse interview, Nayeri denied the kidnapping and torture charges and told NBC4 his innocence will be proven in court.