Accused killer Nima Momeni is set to appear in court in San Francisco on Monday for a preliminary hearing that could kick off high profile-murder trial.
The April slaying of Cash App developer Bob Lee has garnered international headlines and shone a spotlight on the private lives of wealthy tech executives, including alleged drug use and late-night partying. Monday's hearing follows a postponement and a change of representation for the accused, who is being held without bail in San Francisco.
Momeni was arrested April 13 at his Emeryville home, where investigators retrieved evidence before booking him into county jail on suspicion of a lone count of murder. At a subsequent press conference, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and San Francisco Police Chief William Scott shared additional details about the arrest, including that Momeni had known Lee. Jenkins called out speculative remarks about the investigation by people such as billionaire Elon Musk, who had blamed the killing on what he called rampant crime in San Francisco.
Prosecutors have said Momeni stabbed Lee in the Rincon Hill neighborhood on April 4, apparently after the two argued over Lee’s relationship with Khazar Momeni, his younger sister.
A social-media profile and other accounts have described Momeni, 38, as the owner since 2010 of Expand IT, a technology and cybersecurity firm.
In the wake of Momeni's arrest, San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston, who has frequently been a target on social media for his progressive views in favor of criminal justice reform, called for a public apology from those who rushed to judgment on the circumstances surrounding Lee’s killing.
“The people who tried to exploit this tragedy to stoke hatred of the poor should be ashamed,” Preston wrote. “Some public apologies are in order.”
On April 13, at a press conference announcing Nima Momeni's arrest, police announced they would execute search warrants of his Emeryville home. Two other warrants were served in San Francisco: one at the 1 Hotel at 8 Mission St., where Lee was staying, and another at the upscale Millennium Tower, where Khazar Momeni owns a residence with her husband, prominent San Francisco plastic surgeon Dr. Dino Elyassnia. The couple have joined other family members in support of the accused.
A longtime friend of Lee’s told police that he and Lee spent much of April 3 drinking with Khazar Momeni, according to court records. At some point, Lee and his friend went to the 1 Hotel and invited Khazar Momeni to join them. She declined.
Prosecutors say Nima Momeni questioned Lee about whether Khazar Momeni was doing drugs or “anything inappropriate” that day.
According to letters, Nima Momeni was 14 when he arrived in the United States with his sister and their mother, Mahnaz Tayarani. The trio was “shocked to suddenly be cut off from the environment” they had always known, Tayarani wrote in a letter to Judge Victor Hwang, asking for the release of her son on bail.
“We have been together our entire lives, from our years in Iran to our new life here in the United States,” his sister wrote. “Together with our mother, we are a very close family.”
Tayarani described a history of abuse at her husband's hands that led her to seek a new life abroad, eventually settling in the East Bay with help from a close family friend.
Lee, 44 at the time of his death, had lived in Mill Valley before moving to Miami. He was previously a Google engineer and chief technology officer for Square, which was renamed Block in 2021. There he was instrumental in the creation of Cash App, a service that quickly allows users to send and receive money. At the time of his death, he was the chief product officer of MobileCoin, a San Francisco-based cryptocurrency startup.
San Francisco police said officers responded to reports of a stabbing on Main Street near Harrison Street at approximately 2:35 a.m. on April 4. Officers found a man later identified as Lee suffering from stab wounds. He was transported to a local hospital, where he died.
Despite data showing that the killing was not indicative of a crime wave on city streets, a number of high-profile figures took Lee's killing as an opportunity to vent their concerns about public safety in San Francisco, placing blame on the city's Board of Supervisors as well as on the city's former and current district attorneys for being soft on crime. The recriminations mounted after video footage was released of Lee suffering from wounds and seeking help while wandering the city's East Cut neighborhood.
Nine days after the killing, Momeni was arrested.
According to autopsy results released May 2 by the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, several substances were found in Lee's system, including cocaine, ketamine and alcohol. They said Lee and Nima Momeni had been captured on video leaving the home of Momeni’s sister.
Prosecutor Omid Talai said May 18 that the fatal stabbing was premeditated. He said Nima Momeni took a kitchen knife from his sister’s home and used it to kill Lee at a secluded location. Talai maintains that DNA evidence clearly links Momeni to the knife, which was the same brand that his sister, Khazar Momeni, uses in her home.
UPDATE: San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harry Dorfman will preside over Monday's hearing. Dorfman sentenced serial stalker Bill Gene Hobbs in June.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang saw his name bandied about as a possible interim district attorney appointee in early 2022, alongside San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani, civil rights attorney Joe Alioto Veronese and former San Francisco prosecutor and recall spokesperson Brooke Jenkins, who later became the DA.
In recent months, Hwang has been assigned several high-profile cases, including the San Francisco home explosion that led to multiple charges against Darron Price, whose wife died after he allegedly caused the blast by manufacturing hash oil. Hwang also handled the arraignment of a hate-crime suspect who pleaded not guilty after allegedly firing blanks inside a synagogue, and he was behind the decision to keep a suspect in custody after he was accused of attacking an Asian American senior this month.
Nima Momeni switched lawyers in May, parting ways with attorney Paula Canny. He is now represented by Saam Zangeneh and Bradford Cohen, who are based in Florida. The two lawyers made names for themselves defending rappers in criminal cases. Upon taking Nima Momeni's case in late May, Zangeneh said the Momeni family reached out to him.
Cohen appeared on NBC’s The Apprentice during its second season in 2004 and was “fired” by Donald Trump, who hosted the show long before he was president. Cohen is said to have maintained a relationship with Trump throughout his presidency. He won rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black a reprieve from firearms charges in which they both faced potential prison time. While Zangeneh is not licensed to practice law in California, attorneys can ask for permission for an exception to represent a client.
In remarks last month, Zangeneh called for a clean break in discussions about his client, saying he would not answer any more questions about Momeni's former lawyer, Canny.
After Nima Momeni's first court appearance, attorney Paula Canny told authorities that Momeni was not a flight risk and there was more to the case that would eventually surface.
Canny is a well-known Bay Area defense attorney who represented figures including Barry Bonds’ training partner, Greg Anderson, when he refused to testify against the baseball player after he was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs Anderson had allegedly supplied. Back in 2012, Canny represented the wife of former San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in a spousal-abuse case brought against him. More recently, she represented a number of women inmates who sued California sheriff's departments for failing to provide them with adequate sanitary products.
Canny pushed back against reports that Momeni had been accused of domestic battery before Lee's killing. She also spoke plainly about her efforts to uncover the role of drugs in the killing. But Canny had to issue an apology after making a remark to reporters that Bob Lee was a "Walgreens of recreational drugs."
Canny quit the case May 30, citing a conflict of interest.
George Kelly can be reached at email@example.com