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Southern California Prison Mastermind Convicted

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — An inmate who orchestrated a daring, elaborate jailbreak in Southern California in 2016 was found guilty of the escape on Thursday but acquitted of kidnapping a taxi driver while on the run, said the authorities.

Jurors in Orange County Superior Court also convicted Hossein Nayeri, 44, of Newport Beach of stealing a van, but acquitted him of kidnapping during a carjacking and lesser offenses, the district attorney’s office 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, sparking a weeks-long manhunt.

Using smuggled tools, they cut through a metal grating in their high-security dormitory, then climbed through shafts in the walls to reach the roof, where they rappelled down five stories using a bedding rope, according to authorities and a cell phone video made by Nayeri.

The men later kidnapped a 72-year-old unlicensed taxi driver. The driver was sometimes held at gunpoint as he drove the men around. The men then stole a van and took both vehicles and the driver with them as they drove hundreds of miles north to the San Francisco Bay Area, authorities said.

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An escapee, 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 the next day in San Francisco after a man recognized them from media reports, prosecutors said.

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

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 abducted from a Newport Beach home because the robbers mistakenly believed he buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said.

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

Nayeri fled to Iran. But later he was arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited. In 2020, he was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

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Nayeri’s co-defendants were also convicted.

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