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Southern California jailbreak mastermind convicted

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

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 Jan. 22, 2016, Nayeri and two other men broke out of the Orange County Central Jail Complex in Santa Ana, prompting a weeklong manhunt.

Using smuggled tools, they cut through a metal grate in their maximum-security dorm cell, then climbed through plumbing shafts within the walls to reach the roof, where they rappelled down five stories using a rope made of bed linens, according to authorities and a cellphone video shot 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 along as they drove hundreds of miles north to the San Francisco Bay Area, authorities said.

One escapee, Bac Tien Duong, later feared that 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 kidnapped from a Newport Beach home because the robbers falsely believed he had buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said.

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

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

Nayeri’s co-defendants also were convicted.

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