Otay Book & Copies in Chula Vista was served with a search warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Jan. 19.
Owner Mohammad Rashidi said that about one dozen agents entered his business around 12:30 or 1 p.m., announced themselves and asked Rashidi for his cooperation.
Rashidi, 55, said he was not served with a search warrant upon officials entering the store, but only later after the investigation began taking inventory of the store, searching personal records and products; they left around 7 p.m.
Rashidi said officials asked him about a camera; he said he has no idea of its whereabouts to this day.
Some four or five years ago, Rashidi said he loaned approximately $20,000 via a company check to his longtime friend so he could purchase a camera.
Rashidi said he never saw the camera, but knew it was high tech.
The friend paid Rashidi back two to three weeks later. Shortly after, Rashidi said someone from the Department of Commerce called and asked him for the camera.
“It was a favor on my end,” Rashidi said. “I told them they need to talk with my friend.”
Rashidi said his friend offered to return the camera, but no one from the Department of Commerce called him back.
“I called also and they said to stop calling, ‘We know how to find you,’” Rashidi said.
Rashidi, who was born in Iran, moved here 30 years ago and has been an American citizen since the mid ’80s.
He took over ownership of the bookstore in 2003, which is located across the street from Southwestern College and recently reopened for the spring semester.
The store closure cost him around $10,000, he said.
Rashidi said he answered questions from an FBI agent and Department of Commerce official about his childhood to present day, for hours.
“This is very embarrassing for me,” Rashidi said. “I don’t blame them for doing their job. But I didn’t do anything wrong.”
According to the search and seizure warrant, Rashidi’s business was searched due to the belief of evidence for conspiracy to illegally export U.S. merchandise with knowledge that it would eventually be imported into “the embargoed country of Iran,” which is in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Under the act, which deals with unusual and extraordinary threats, penalties for unlawful acts including a person who violates, attempts to violate, conspires to violate, or causes a violation of any license, the person may incur a civil penalty not to exceed $250,000 or an amount that is twice the amount of the transaction with respect to the imposed penalty.
Under criminal penalties, a person who willfully commits, attempts to commit, conspires to commit or aids or abets in the unlawful act shall upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, be imprisoned for no more than 20 years, or both.
FBI spokesman Darrel Foxworth said the search and seizure was court ordered and is an ongoing investigation.
“No arrests or charges have been made or filed at this time,” he said.
Calls for comment were not returned by the U.S. Department of Commerce.