Behind Manssor Arbabsiar's Plot to Kill the Saudi U.S. Ambassador

He thought he'd hired a hitman

Oct 22, 2012— -- Before becoming the centerpiece of an international murder-for-hire scheme involving an elite Iranian military unit and a Mexican drug cartel, Manssor Arbabsiar spent money on expensive cars, whiskey and women. Once he was even chased by his shotgun-wielding wife after she found him naked in bed with yet another woman.

"I have had so many girls," Arbabsiar, 57, told a psychiatrist during a jailhouse interview described in court documents. "So many that you couldn't count them. I never had one girl more than once."

The Iranian-born used-car salesman had lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, for much of his adult life. There he was known to bartenders simply as "Jack" because of his fondness for Jack Daniels whiskey and the $30 tips he left. He drove a Porsche 911 and a Mercedes.

"Girls love money and cars," Arbabsiar said. "That was my weakness."

It was, in fact, one of these women who put Arbabsiar in touch with a man in May 2011 who said he was a member of the Mexican drug gang Los Zetas. Arbabsiar went on to ask this cartel associate – actually a Drug Enforcement Agency informant – to kill the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Washington D.C. using explosives.

The United States arrested Arbabsiar in September 2011. Arbabsiar said he was working at the direction of his cousin, a general in Iran's Quds Force – the elite military unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In announcing the indictments against Arbabsiar and a second defendant, Attorney General Eric Holder said the two had "attempted to carry out a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government."

At the time, Iran denied the charges, and Middle East specialists also expressed skepticism regarding what appeared to be a risky and improbable plan.

On Wednesday, Arbabsiar plead guilty in federal court to two conspiracy charges and a murder-for-hire count. He could receive a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, Arbabsiar admitted he arranged a down payment of $100,000 to his Mexican contact and had intended to pay a total of $1.5 million for the hit on the ambassador.

Prior to his plea, Arbabsiar had been facing charges of conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, which if convicted, carried a life sentence.

According to The New York Times, the plea deal came a few days before the judge was set to consider a motion to throw out or suppress Arbabsiar's confession following his arrest on Sept. 29, 2011.

Court records show Arbabsiar's attorney, Sabrina Shroff, made the case that her client suffered from bipolar disorder when he waived his Miranda rights. Shroff cited two experts, including one Columbia University professor who said Arbabsiar was "likely cycling in and out of manic episodes" during the period immediately following his arrest.

A government-retained psychiatrist countered that Arbabsiar did "not suffer from bipolar disorder or any other mental illness."

The two psychological reports paint the most complete profile to date of how Arbabsiar, known for losing the keys and titles to cars, ended up in the middle of a bizarre terror plot.

The reports describe him as "narcissistic," "hypersexual," well-mannered and prone to "grandiose" statements. Arbabsiar refers to himself as a successful businessperson, better at deal-making than management. "I may be a little bit loco, but I am a good businessman," he said.

The accounts also pull back the curtain on what happened immediately following Arbabsiar's arrest, including his interrogation by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

On Sept. 28, 2011, after several months of meetings in Mexico and Iran, Arbabsiar flew to Mexico to serve as human collateral until half of the agreed payment from Iran was sent to the DEA informant posing as a drug cartel member.

Mexican authorities denied Arbabsiar entry into the country and the next day put him on a plane to New York. Undercover law-enforcement officials kept tabs on Arbabsiar while he was in the air.

During the five-hour flight Arbabsiar didn't eat, didn't watch the movie. He thought to himself, "I am finished." He thought about how his brother had told him not to go and wondered if his Mexican contact "Junior" had been in on it.

When he landed in New York, FBI agents escorted him to a hotel for questioning. According to prosecutors, Arbabsiar was read his Miranda rights and waived his right to appear before a judge.

For the next couple of days he was interrogated but gave up very few incriminating details. Then, when confronted with recorded telephone conversations between himself and the DEA informant in Mexico, Arbabsiar, the used-car salesman, did what he knew how to do best: He attempted to strike a deal.

"I know about making deals – I have done that all my life in the car business," Arbabsiar said, according to the government-retained psychiatrist. "Hell, if you want information, I will give you information. If you want addresses, I will give you addresses."

Arbabsiar surmised that since nobody had died as a result of his actions, he could provide information in return for leniency during his sentencing. On Oct. 1, two days after being arrested, Arbabsiar decided to go on the offensive, the government report shows.

During the previous sessions, before the interrogation began, the FBI agents would spend about 15 minutes talking to Arbabsiar about matters unrelated to the investigation while they had coffee and muffins for breakfast. Except on this day, Arbabsiar emerged from his room wearing only what appeared to be a towel or boxer shorts. "Let's sit down," he instructed the agents.

"My sense of this was that it was deliberate on his part and in my view was a bit of a power play," said Dr. Susan Brandon, a psychologist who was present during all of the post-arrest questioning.

"He was manipulating us," said one of the FBI agents who questioned Arbabsiar.

The tactic apparently did not work.

"If it happened again, I would say 'I am not going to tell you anything until I have an attorney,'" Arbabsiar said, according to the government report. "I am not going to give you free shit, this information is worth something – it is worth money."

Over the course of 12 days, Arbabsiar ended up providing agents information that authorities would later classify as "extremely valuable intelligence." On at least three occasions he called his handlers in Iran and spoke in prearranged code.

Then, worried he might be endangering his family, Arbabsiar decided to stop calling Iran. The authorities finally took him before a judge on Oct. 11, 2011.

Today, Arbabsiar spends his days in prison listening to the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, and ABBA. On occasion, he cries when thinking of how possibly spending 25 years in jail will separate him from his family – including his wife, son and newborn grandson.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for January of next year.