A businessman and self-proclaimed silent investor in San Diego’s legal marijuana businesses was arrested by FBI agents last week in an alleged murder-for-hire plot against his one-time business partner.
According to the criminal complaint, filed in federal court Monday, Salam Razuki and his associates, Sylvia Gonzalez and Elizabeth Juarez, had been plotting to kill Razuki’s former business partner Ninus Malan.
In 2014, Razuki was taken to court by the City Attorney’s office for operating unlicensed marijuana dispensaries and businesses in the city.
After Prop 64 passed, Razuki wanted to get into the legal marijuana industry but was concerned about having his name tied to those businesses. That’s why Razuki partnered with Malan, who agreed to be the public face of his marijuana businesses, as reported by NBC 7’s media partner Voice of San Diego.
But Razuki and Malan had a falling out earlier this year. According to court records, Razuki sued Malan, alleging Malan was not abiding by agreed-upon terms. Razuki claimed he had invested in several legal marijuana businesses in the city, including the Balboa Avenue Cooperative and Goldn Bloom dispensaries, according to court filings.
That led to the events that took place last month when FBI Agents allege Razuki, Gonzalez, and Juarez tried to pay a man to kill Malan. The defendants didn't know that the "hit-man" they were trying to hire was a confidential informant for the FBI.
According to the complaint, Razuki and Gonzalez told the informant to "shoot [Ninus Malan] in the face, take him to Mexico and have him whacked, or kill him in some other way”.
“They wanted to 'put the turkey up to roast before Thanksgiving,'" agents wrote in the criminal complaint, referring to the plot to kill Malan.
“I would love for him [Malan] to go to [Tijuana] and get lost,” Gonzalez allegedly told the informant at a meeting at The Great Maple restaurant in San Diego. “Just leave him over there."
In the criminal complaint, Prosecutors say Gonzalez offered the informant $2,000 for the murder.
On Friday, after the informant told Razuki that the job was done and Razuki paid him, FBI agents arrested Razuki, Gonzalez, and Juarez on charges of "conspiracy to kill, kidnap, man an individual" and a second conspiracy charge, related to the attempted kidnapping and murder of Malan.
Local defense attorney Guadalupe Valencia, who is not associated with the case, told NBC 7 Investigates the case against Juarez and Gonzales, as detailed in the complaint, is strong.
While defense attorneys might argue that Juarez and Gonzales did not really intend to have Malan killed, Valencia said, "The government's argument is going to be that they had extensive conversations about (the alleged murder attempt), they talked specifics, and they exchanged relevant information to carry out this plot."
Valencia said evidence in the complaint against defendant Razuki is not as strong. For example, the complaint notes that Razuki walked away from one of the conversations about the alleged plot. Valencia said Razuki's lawyer could argue that his client didn't understand what the other defendants were discussing or didn't believe that what they were saying was actually going to happen.
"He's got lots of different defenses, or excuses, or explanations, or whatever you want to call them, about this entire plot," Valencia said of Razuki.
The role of the confidential informant who posed as a hit-man will also be at issue in this case, Valencia said. Defense attorneys could argue that the informant originated the idea, pushed it forward and entrapped the defendants.
"Sometimes a confidential informant, in an effort to make money or reduce a criminal sentence (pending against them), will create a plot and let it cultivate, and then try and get credit for it (from prosecutors)," Valencia said.
He also said the case is an example of how business partners locked in a bitter dispute over money can lose their patience with the civil justice system and try to take "justice" into their own hands.
In this case, Valencia notes that the underlying financial dispute is still unresolved, while three of the four partners "are now in jail, facing substantially higher legal fees and bigger problems in their life. Violence is never a solution to problems."