Birth | Mahmoud Reza Banki was born in Tehran, Iran, to working class parents (his mother a school teacher and his father a businessman in the making).
High School | Reza graduates from high school in Iran and that same year writes letters to the top engineering schools in the United States, asking for application materials so he can be considered.
From the schools that respond to his request, many reject him because he is unable to take standardized tests (SAT, TOEFL, etc) in Iran. Purdue University (ranked 7th in engineering that year) is the highest ranked school that accepts him. Without any family or friends to rely on in the US, he leaves Iran for West Lafayette, IN, and starts college at Purdue.
College | Reza transfers to and graduates from University of California at Berkeley with a double major in Chemical Engineering and Applied Mathematics.
Postgraduate | Reza graduates with a PhD from Princeton University in Chemical Engineering (Biotechnology).
Publications | Reza publishes five articles and files for two patents based on inventions in his PhD thesis. He later publishes a biotechnology book based on his thesis.
Professional Career | McKinsey & Company, one of the most prestigious partnerships in the world, offers Reza a management consulting position in the firm’s New York Office. Reza works with the Fortune 500 client companies on a variety of management projects and is promoted to Senior Associate over a 3.5 year period. The clients he worked with were Fortune 500 companies, leading pharmaceutical, medical device, private equity and financial services companies.
01 . 2010
Arrest | Reza is arrested on January 7th, 2010, at around 6:45am and detained. This is the start of a legal ordeal that keeps him imprisoned for 22 months.
03 . 2010
Bail Denied | Three attempts at bail fail. Reza is not released on bail and has to defend against the charges from prison.
05 . 2010
Trial | A three-week trial starts. Reza is handcuffed and transported from the prison to the courtroom each day for the proceedings.
06 . 2010
Initial Trial Verdict | On June 4th, 2010, the jury finds Reza guilty on all five counts of the indictment on a lesser charge of aiding and abetting (helping others violate the sanctions). On June 7th, 2010, the jury gives a verdict on Reza’s assets, concluding that aside from one bank account linked to a $6000 transaction, they do not believe that the remainder of his assets is forfeitable. Judge Keenan overrules the jury’s forfeiture verdict (but not their guilty verdicts), explaining in an opinion that unlike the jury he believes this was a multimillion dollar offense, encompassing all of Reza’s assets. Judge Keenan shocks the defense by over ruling the jury and awarding the government and prosecutors all of Reza’s assets.
08 . 2010
Sentencing | At Reza’s sentencing, over 80 close family and friends fill the courtroom. A long sentencing memo with over 120 letters from professors, colleagues, friends, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, plead for leniency on Reza. Judge Keenan finds that Reza should be sentenced under the same category as if he had sold a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon to a rogue nation (such as Iran),but that he would offer leniency in light of the letters and the severe conditions of his pre-trial detainment. Reza is sentenced to 30 months in prison.
12 . 2010
Transfer from High Security to Prison | After 11 months of incarceration in high and maximum-security confinement (higher risk and violent offenders), Reza is transferred via the inmate transport system from a high-security detention center in New York to a minimum-security prison in California.
02 . 2011
Appeal Hearing | Second-circuit appellate court hears oral arguments on Reza’s case.
10 . 2011
Appeal Decision Released | Appellate court releases an opinion underscoring that Reza had not gotten a fair trial. This appeals court overrules and vacates the substantive counts against Reza based on errors at the trial. In overturning the substantive convictions the Second Circuit Appellate court ruled in Reza’s favor on the following grounds:
- Family monies (remittances) are not prohibited
- Judge had not instructed jury on the family money exception in the law
- Judge had not instructed jury on elements of money transmittal
- Rule of lenity favors defendant, Banki Reza has won appeal.
He is released from prison ten days later. By his release Reza has spent a total of 665 days in prison. The charges related to violation of the Iran sanctions are over-turned; he was wrongfully convicted of these charges; the very charges for which he was arrested; the very charges for which he was imprisoned.
02 . 2012
Appeal Opinion Revision | Upon the prosecutors’ request, the appellate court revises their initial opinion – allowing the prosecutors to re-try Reza on the same charges.
03 . 2012
Prosecutors’ Reaction | Prosecutors move for a retrial. Within weeks of this action, prosecutors approach Reza’s lawyer with an initial offer to settle the case, offering to drop all charges in exchange for his assets
06 . 2012
Charges Dropped | The government and prosecutors drop all charges against Reza. In exchange for Reza forgoing a portion of his assets, prosecutors forgo any criminal and civil claims against him and the case is formally closed.
07 . 2012
Final Court Hearing & No Prison Sentence Imposed | A final court hearing is held before Judge Engelmayer to correct the record. Reza receives no prison sentence; his 30 months sentence from two years back is changed to a sentence of zero months and zero supervised release. Reza no longer has a prison sentence on his record. With the closure of the case, Reza is finally free not just from prison and the legal ordeal but can also speak about his case without the threat of legal repercussions.
06 . 2014
MBA Graduation | After winning on appeal and release from prison, Reza struggles to find employment. He looks into academia as a means to re-enter the professional world and applies to 12 business schools within months after getting out of prison. Despite having had an outstanding academic and professional career prior to his prosecution all except for two schools deny him admission. Only one full-time program for masters of business administration (MBA) admits him: UCLA Anderson School of Management. Reza completes his MBA at UCLA Anderson in June of 2014.
Employment remains a challenge and he gets over a dozen job offers that are rescinded because employers are reluctant to take a chance on him; most corporations taut his over-qualifications but are uneasy with his wrongful imprisonment. Reza wonders what he could have done differently: having graduated from some of the best universities in the world, having worked at the top consulting firm in the world, and having won on appeal on a wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Reza gets a chance to speak at the TED conference at UCLA where he expands on his observations of the justice system in the US. Despite the difficulties, he continues to push ahead. In his words: “I’ve come too far to give up now.”