An Orange County woman was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of supervised release for aiding in a kidnapping plot that targeted a journalist and human rights activist at the direction of the Iranian government.

Niloufar “Nellie” Bahadorifar, 48, was sentenced last week, according to the United States Department of Justice.

Bahadorifar provided services to help fund the failed kidnapping, in direct violation of United States sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation.

The target of the attempted kidnapping was a journalist and author who lived in New York City and was an ardent critic of of the regime in Tehran. The Iranian government has “sought to silence” the unidentified victim for several years, the DOJ said.

Throughout the course of their kidnapping planning, Iran hired America private investigators to track and surveil the victim, as well as members of the victim’s family. They planned to kidnap the victim and return them to Iran, the DOJ said.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said the Iran government has shown that it will take “extreme measure to silence dissidents and critics around the world exercising their lawful right,” adding that Iran is not afraid to use violence on American soil.

Bahadorifar, a U.S. citizen living in Irvine who was originally from Iran, provided access to U.S. financial institutions to Iranian residents and entities, the DOJ said. One of those people she aided was Mahmoud Khazein, her co-defendant and one of the orchestrators of the kidnapping plot.

Bahadorifar paid the private investigators herself to surveil the victim in an attempt to help conceal Khazein’s involvement. In 2019, she also structured hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of payments into smaller transactions by using her access to the U.S. banking system. She made more than 120 deposits worth an estimated $476,100 — all but two of the deposits were less than $10,000.

She was arrested for her involvement in the plot and on Dec. 15, 2022, she pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, as well as for cash structuring. She was not charged for having a role in the attempted kidnapping.

Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said this case demonstrates just how far the Iranian government is willing to go to target dissidents, even reaching beyond their borders and violating sanctions to threaten Americans.

“The FBI will continue to shield those who are targeted and aggressively pursue anyone who attempts to circumvent our laws and will leverage all our authorities to protect the right to free speech,” Kohler said.