California jailbreak mastermind who climbed through plumbing shafts found guilty

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An inmate who orchestrated a daring, elaborate prison break in Southern California in 2016 was found guilty of escaping on Thursday but acquitted of kidnapping a taxi driver while escaping, authorities said.

The Orange County Superior Court jury also convicted Hossein Nayeri, 44, of Newport Beach, of stealing a van but acquitted him of kidnapping during a theft car and lesser felonies, prosecutors said in a statement.

On January 22, 2016, Nayeri and two other men broke out of the Orange County Central Jail Complex in Santa Ana, leading to a week-long manhunt.

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Using smuggled tools, they cut through a metal grille in their maximum-security dormitory cell and then climbed through plumbing shafts inside the walls to reach the roof, where they rappeled down five stories using a rope made of linens, according to authorities and a cellphone video captured by Nayeri.

The men later kidnapped a 72-year-old taxi driver without a license. The driver was sometimes held at gunpoint as he drove the men around. The men then stole a van, taking both vehicles and the driver away as they drove hundreds of miles north into the San Francisco Bay Area, authorities said.

Hossein Nayeri listens to a judge at his trial August 16, 2019 in Newport Beach, California. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP, file)

One fugitive, Bac Tien Duong, later feared the driver would be killed and fled with him back to Southern California, authorities said.

Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu were arrested in San Francisco the next day after a man recognized them from media reports, prosecutors said.

Duong was convicted of fleeing and kidnapping in 2021. Tieu is awaiting trial for the escape, prosecutors said.

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At the time of his escape, Nayeri was awaiting trial on charges that he and two friends kidnapped, tortured and mutilated a marijuana dispensary owner in 2012. The owner was kidnapped from a home in Newport Beach because robbers mistakenly believed he had $1 million buried in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said.

He was beaten with rubber hoses, shocked with a taser, burned with a blowtorch and finally his penis was cut off before the robbers fled, prosecutors said.

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Nayeri fled to Iran. But later he was caught in the Czech Republic and extradited. In 2020 he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Nayeri’s co-defendants were also convicted.

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