Feds: He Hired a Hit Man, Then the Hit Man Turned on Him

Fereidoun Khalilian, who claimed to be a prince, believed he had a filmmaker killed: indictment
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2023 10:00 AM CST
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Hired to kill a man, a bodyguard turned the tables on his boss, authorities say.   (Getty Images/Diy13)

A Florida man who claimed to be a prince and rubbed elbows with celebrities from Paris Hilton to Drake allegedly hired a hit man to kill a documentary filmmaker who planned to expose him as a fraudster. Fereidoun "Fred" Khalilian allegedly left several threatening voicemails for the filmmaker, Juan Esco, before offering a bodyguard $20,000 to kill him, per the Los Angeles Times. The bodyguard, Michael Sherwood, instead teamed up with Esco to fake his death, per the Washington Post. He sent Khalilian a photo of Esco lying in what looked like a pool of blood inside his Los Angeles apartment. Within a minute, Khalilian sent $3,000 to Sherwood, according to an indictment. It claims the 51-year-old ultimately paid out $12,500, including to individuals he believed disposed of Esco's body.

Khalilian—who worked with Hilton to open the now-defunct Club Paris in Orlando in 2005, per the Daily Beast—had met Esco in 2009. Esco took a job at Khalilian's telemarketing company, which was later raided by federal authorities and shut down, per the Post. Esco believed it was a fraud targeting the elderly. And he believed Khalilian, who claimed to be from various Middle Eastern countries, was a con man. But the extent of Khalilian's alleged frauds only became apparent more than a decade later. After a chance run-in with his former boss in 2019, Esco began digging into Khalilian's claims. He allegedly learned Khalilian had sold faulty gambling software to a Native American tribe for $9 million and instructed bodyguards to wear fake earpieces and Secret Service pins, per the Post.

When Khalilian caught wind of that, he asked Sherwood to intimidate and eventually kill the filmmaker, per the indictment. At a June meeting in Las Vegas, Khalilian, believing the job was done, allegedly told Sherwood that he'd bought a gun and planned "to kill him myself." Khalilian also spoke of needing to deal with another person he claimed was harassing him. "One down, one to go," he allegedly said. After his arrest in June, he allegedly had associates offer Sherwood $400,000 to change his testimony at Khalilian's murder-for-hire trial in a California federal court. A judge determined the California venue wasn't appropriate, and Khalilian is now charged in Nevada with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and conspiracy to witness-tamper. (More murder plot stories.)

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