One of the most controversial figures to emerge from the original mid-2000s televised poker boom, Shahram “Shawn” Sheikhan, is facing an April sentencing date after reaching a plea deal with federal authorities on drug distribution charges. Sheikhan’s guilty plea last June and his upcoming April 7, 2023 formal sentencing arise from his role in a group that supplied cannabis products and substances to unlicensed dispensaries in southern California.
Sheikhan rose to poker fame in 2005 when he made the final two tables of that year’s WSOP main event, where he participated in extended verbal sparring with another outsized poker personality, four-time WSOP bracelet winner Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. Sheikhan ended up placing 11th in that year’s main event for a career-best $600,000 score, while Matusow made the final but exited in a cooler hand in ninth place.
Sheikhan’s big WSOP payday represents 40 percent of his recorded tournament earnings of just over $1.5 million, though it did provide him some continuing fame in the game. Sheikhan was invited to play in the following year’s NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship, where he finished third, for $150,000. Sheikhan was also invited to and won a special “Trash Talkers” edition of Poker After Dark’s Season 2, where he earned another $120,000.
Plea deal in June 2022 for Sheikhan
Sheikhan and a co-defendant, Sabriana Williams, pled guilty on June 30, 2022 for operating an unlicensed and illegal cannabis-distribution business known as “Cannaland” from 2019 to 2022. Cannaland provided cannabis products to other unlicensed dispensaries in southern California, particularly in and around San Diego, and also served as a dispensary itself, with its own direct-to-customer business.
An extended federal and state investigation led to a raid on Sheikhan’s and Williams’ Cannaland outlet in Spring Valley, California, east of San Diego. In the April 2021 raid, agents seized over 3,000 pounds of marijuana that had a street value of more than $6 million. Agents also seized five firearms, and in the continuing investigation, asserted that Sheikhan and Williams “personally coordinated and facilitated the procurement of replacement firearms for the business’s armed security guards” while also continuing Cannaland’s operations.
The plea deal also specifically referenced a separate February 2022 incident in which more than 100 pounds of unlicensed marijuana was seized. Overall, the terms of the plea deal also required Sheikhan and Williams to acknowledge having distributed more than 3,000 kilograms — or over 6,600 pounds — of cannabis-containing products through the course of the multi-year Cannaland operation.
Authorities also discovered $109,000 in U.S. currency in a separate search on a San Diego high-rise apartment associated with Sheikhan. That money was forfeited as part of the plea deal, though Sheikhan faces a fine of at least $5 million as part of his April sentencing.
Sheikhan and Williams joined two other groups of illicit dispensary operators also snared in the southern California sweep, whose members have also reached plea deals with authorities.
Sheikhan faces five-year minimum sentence
According to a press statement issued in June by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Sheikhan pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Due to the volume involved he faces up to 40 years in prison with a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, in addition to the $5 million fine. Co-defendant Williams faces a 20-year maximum sentence.
Sheikhan, who was freed on public recognizance following the plea agreement, was originally scheduled to be sentenced on February 3 in a Southen District of California courtroom. However, his counsel, the elite Las Vegas law firm Chesnoff and Schonfeld, successfully negotiated for the delay to April due to “both Defendant Sheikhan and his mother having health issues that are being addressed.”
The defense’s request for a delay in sentencing also allowed extra time for submitting objections to information included in the court’s pre-sentencing investigation (PSI) of Sheikhan.
Sheikhan dodged deportation effort in 2007
Sheikhan has had a colorful legal history. In 1995, he was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery on a child under 18 years of age and was sentenced to nine months behind bars plus five years of probation. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security became aware of the Iranian native’s prior conviction and began deportation proceedings against him, though his attorneys successfully quashed those deportation proceedings later that same year. Sheikhan has been a resident alien since immigrating to the U.S. at age nine.
Besides his occasional flings with poker, Sheikhan has owned and operated a string of tattoo parlors and tobacco outlets throughout metro Las Vegas for many years. Speaking of flings, Sheikhan reappeared at the 2022 WSOP in early July, following his signing of the plea deal in the California case. Sheikhan made Day 2 of the 2022 WSOP main but did not cash in that event.
Featured image source: Haley Hintze