Last Defendant Pleads Guilty in Kidnap-Torture Case

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - The final defendant in the Newport Beach kidnapping and torture of a marijuana dispensary owner, who was sexually mutilated in the Mojave Desert, pleaded guilty today to a misdemeanor and was spared any more jail time.

Noami Josette Rhodus, 41, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was placed on three years of informal probation. She was given credit for a year and two weeks in custody.

As part of the negotiated plea deal, felony charges of kidnapping for ransom or extortion to commit a sex crime, aggravated mayhem, torture and burglary with a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury on a victim were all dismissed.

Co-defendant Ryan Anthony Kevorkian, 43, pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnapping and single counts each of burglary and assault with a firearm and was sentenced to 12 years and eight  months in prison in May of last year.

In October 2020, co-defendant Hossein Nayeri, 42, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Co-defendant Kyle Handley, 42, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in July 2018.

Nayeri and two other men broke into a Newport Beach home where the dispensary owner was renting a room about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 2, 2012.

The trio of masked assailants abducted the victim along with the homeowner, Mary Barnes, according to prosecutors. The man had a shotgun pointed in his face, and when he tried to push it away, the assailants began beating him, prosecutors said.

The man's name was not released because he is the victim of a sex crime.

Prosecutors said the culprits were motivated by a mistaken belief that the dispensary owner had buried about $1 million in the desert.

The assailants put the man and Barnes into a van and made a 90-minute drive to the desert, during which they whipped him with a rubber hose, scorched him with a blowtorch and poured bleach on him as they repeatedly demanded he reveal where he had buried $1 million, Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown said during Nayeri's trial.

The man said he didn't have that much money but he would be willing to take them to his medical marijuana dispensary and give them about $34,000, ``but that wasn't enough,'' Brown said.

In the desert, they stopped and took the victims out of the van and poured bleach all over the man, leading him to believe it was gasoline and that his assailants were going to ``light him on fire,'' Brown said. One of the men then took out a kitchen knife and slashed off the man's penis, which was never found, she said.

They left the knife, telling Barnes if she could find it, she could free herself before dying, Brown said.

After they drove off, Barnes nudged her blindfold off with her knees and managed to find the knife, which she used to undo the zip ties binding her feet, but she couldn't cut off the ones on her hands.

Unable to get her roommate free of his bonds, she ran barefoot about a mile through the desert to a highway, where a Kern County sheriff's deputy saw her and helped get the man to Antelope Valley Medical Center.

A break in the investigation came courtesy of a neighbor who saw a suspicious pickup truck near the victims' home about the time of the abduction and wrote the license plate number, which led police to Handley.

Handley, a marijuana grower who had sold product to the dispensary owner, had been a guest of the victim when he went on gambling trips to Las Vegas, but they had fallen out of touch, Brown said.

Handley went to high school in Fresno with Nayeri and other defendants in the case. A zip tie found at Handley's Fountain Valley home was linked to Kevorkian, Brown said.

Kevorkian and Rhodus cooperated with prosecutors and their plea deals had been expected.

Nayeri led Newport Beach police on a high-speed chase on Sept. 26, 2012, before getting away. The Chevrolet Tahoe used in the chase was still in the impound yard as police were investigating the abductions that occurred days later, Brown said.

Nayeri's then-wife, Cortney Shegarian, attempted to retrieve the vehicle, leading police to eventually persuade the then-law school student to cooperate with authorities.

Shegarian, who had been estranged from Nayeri's family, attended an uncle's funeral in Spain and re-established ties with his relatives in an effort to help authorities in a ruse to get Nayeri out of Iran, a country from which he could be extradited, Brown said.

The Iranian native, who grew up in Fresno, eventually agreed to get on a plane and was arrested in Prague in the Czech Republic.

After being arrested, Nayeri made headlines for staging a daring jail escape with two other inmates in January 2016 and remaining on the lam for eight days.

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