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O.C. Iranian American released from prison in Iran

The Tustin resident, 71, was never formally charged but was accused of passing money to a group the government says is behind terrorist attacks. He says he thought he was just helping someone in need.

October 17, 2010|By Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Tehran — An Orange County Iranian American businessman was released from prison Saturday after 30 months behind bars, family members have confirmed.

Reza Taghavi, 71, left Tehran's notorious Evin Prison and reportedly plans to return to California within a week.

The Tustin resident was never formally charged or tried but was accused of passing $200 to a monarchist group called Tondar, which Iran says has been behind terrorist attacks. Taghavi said he gave the money unknowingly.

Taghavi's relatives in Tustin and the San Fernando Valley declined to comment Saturday, saying they didn't want to say anything until he was safely out of Iran. But a family spokesman, Richard Grenell, said that "it's a wonderful day for Mr.Taghavi's family and many friends."

"We are all anxious to have him back on American soil and anticipate that he will be home very soon," Grenell said, adding that a Los Angeles lawyer, Pierre-Richard Prosper, was instrumental in negotiating Taghavi's release. Prosper was in charge of the State Department's Office of War Crimes Issues under President George W. Bush.

Taghavi's wife, Mahnaz, met her husband at the couple's north Tehran apartment, ABC News' website reported.

"Two and a half years is a long time for a 71-year-old man to be in jail," Reza Taghavi told ABC. "I didn't do anything wrong; someone just asked me [to] take this money to help someone."

Taghavi was arrested in May 2008, amid a spate of arrests targeting Iranian Americans accused of trying to foment unrest in the Islamic Republic.

The State Department recently renewed an advisory warning American citizens, including dual nationals, against travel to Iran.

"Since 2009, Iranian authorities have prevented the departure of a number of Iranian American citizens, including journalists and academics, who traveled to Iran for personal or professional reasons, in some cases for several months," the travel advisory said. "Iranian authorities also have unjustly detained or imprisoned U.S. citizens on various charges, including espionage and posing a threat to national security."

Americans Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer were arrested last year after crossing into Iranian territory from Iraq on a hiking trip. Fattal and Bauer, who say they didn't mean to cross into Iran, are scheduled to stand trial early next month on espionage charges.

A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released on humanitarian grounds last month.

Taghavi told ABC News that he lived in a cell with 33 other prisoners sharing 16 beds. He said he spent his time reading books from the library and watching the TV show "24."

Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Phil Willon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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