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

He thought he'd hired a hitman

ByABC News
October 22, 2012, 8:35 AM

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.