Murder-for-hire trial of former founder Fereidoun 'Fred' Khalilian continued to June

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Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: April 03, 2024 09:36 PDT

The murder-for-hire trial of Fereidoun "Fred" Khalilian, the creator of the improbable and online-poker projects that never saw the light of day, has been postponed until June by presiding US District of Nevada Judge Richard F. Boulware. Boulware's recent order comes in consideration of the "ends of justice" and numerous motions and claims asserted by Khalilian's defense in the ongoing pre-trial phase of the case.

Khalilian was arrested last June in Las Vegas after allegedly soliciting a former bodyguard to murder Los Angeles-based filmmaker Juan Esco, who since 2019 has been assembling a reportedly unflattering documentary series about the life of Khalilian. Khalilian's decades of questionable business operations over nearly three decades have landed him in court on numerous occasions, though most of the cases were civil matters, often involving claims of fraud.

That changed last year when Khalilian allegedly hired Michael Sherwood to kill Esco, who continues work on what is likely to be a "Tiger King"-style documentary about Khalilian's many alleged misdeeds. Khalilian allowd himself to be interviewed by Esco for the documentary, then later leaned that Esco, who once worked for Khalilian, would be producing a damning expose. The mini-series will include a look into Khalilian's multiple failed attempts to become a major industry player in the online-poker and online-gambling worlds.

khalikian-murder-for-hire-2 A photo of the staged murder scene included in the probable cause affidavit. PokerOrg has obscured the graphic portion of this photo.

Sherwood, the former bodyguard, quickly notified Esco of Khalilian's murder-for-hire plans. The two agreed to stage a murder scene (photo at right), then notified the FBI. Within minutes of forwarding photos of the fake murder to Khalilian, Sherwood allegedly received two payments totaling $6,500 in exchange for supposedly carrying out the killing.

Last November, six months after the faked murder scene was staged, Khalilian was also charged with witness tampering after allegedly having associates contact Sherwood with offers of payment if he would recant his testimony about the plot against Esco. Khalilian, who continues to be held without bail after a judge ruled him to be an extreme flight risk, was also recorded trying to orchestrate the bribing of Sherwood while using a jailhouse phone.

Revised trial schedule includes June 17 opening of testimony

Judge Boulware's continuation, filed on March 20, moves the new start of the actual trial to June 17 in Las Vegas. The last rounds of motion filings, submission of exhibits, and jury selection begin in late April. Fereidoun had previously and successfully sought to have his trial moved forward, but the "ends of justice" designation makes it excludable from provisions of the Speedy Trial Act.

In recent months, Khalilian's defense counsel has filed and mostly lost several motions connected both to the case and to his ongoing pre-trial detention. The defense otions have included an attempt for a re-hearing on Khalilian's no-bond status, attempts to suppress certain evidence and testimony, and other matters.

One of the most intriguing defense motions offered to date is an attempt to bar some of the recordings captured by Esco in conversations between he and Khalilian. One recent defense assertion is that Esco, who as a former tech-based employee of Khalilian's has greater-than-average technical skills, could have somehow created "deep fake" recordings using Khalilian's voice that made many of the phone threats against Esco, and thus Khalilian might never have made the threats.

Federal prosecutors quickly responded to those assertions in a reply to the defense motion, noting that many of the recorded conversations involving Khalilian's threats were recovered and verified through independent means, and that others supplied by Esco were wholly consistent in nature and tone with already-authenticated Khalilian messages.

Prosecutors also noted Khalilian's occasionally violent history and threats in unrelated matters. Those included his attempted hostile takeover of Monster, the seller of popular music and recording products. Khalilian's brief time at Monster resulted in charges of fraud and restraining orders against him, where he made " threats of death, mutilation and threats to family" against Monster officials that were not dissimilar to recorded threats he made against Esco.

In responding to one of Khalilian's latest motions, prosecutors also noted, "Defendant also discussed killing another person he believed was working with Esco to harass him. Defendant said, referring to Esco and the second person allegedly working with him, 'one down, one to go.'" PokerOrg has learmed from a source with knowledge of the matter that the other person who Khalilian allegedly wished was "down" was a personal assistant to Monster CEO Noel Lee who may have been crucial in amassing evidence of Khalilian's misdeeds while at that company.

Blockchain Consulting Group distances itself from Khalilian

The most recent startup co-founded by Khalilian, Blockchain Consulting Group, has also changed course. The crypto-based entity with an affinity toward tribal-gaming crypto operations has rebranded itself as First Nations Technology

Khalilian was prominently featured as late as last fall among dozens of high-profile investors, advisors, and crypto gurus involved in the project. Khalilian's presence was scrubbed from the site last year, and most of the high-profile persons associated with the startup have also been removed from mention. It is not evident from the First Nations website whether the other people no longer mentioned remain with the company or have simply chosen to have a lower profile at this time.

Whether as Blockchain Consulting Group or as First Nations Technology, the crypto startup appears to have never issued any statement regarding the charges against Khalilian, whose primary role included searching for corporate investors.