Nima Momeni and Khazar Momeni photos in high school year book
Photos of Nima Momeni and Khazar Momeni in their Albany High School yearbook.

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Nima Momeni, the man accused of killing Cash App founder and tech executive Bob Lee, was not quite the successful tech bro the early reporting on his life suggested. Instead, in interviews with two former professional relations, two former friends, an ex-girlfriend, and other sources, the 38-year-old Momeni emerges as a man living on the edge, his business struggling at times and his personal life unraveling as his drug use persisted.  

Momeni’s associates maintain that he had a fascination with weapons while a former girlfriend, online forums and police records show that he could be abusive with women. 

Paula Canny, the lawyer who will defend him in court, denied the allegations about her client. “I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “I don’t think that he had a drug problem, a serious drug problem. Based on the info that I have, I certainly wouldn’t classify him as a drug addict.”  

Regarding accusations of his treatment of women or other abusive behavior, Canny said: “I don’t know how to react to that, either; that’s not my experience of Nima.”

She added that “everybody has enemies,” and that perhaps people had come to tarnish Momeni’s name after learning of his alleged involvement in Lee’s killing. 

That incident took place in the early hours of April 4, after Momeni and Lee left the Millenium Tower, where Momeni’s sister, Khazar, lives with her husband. The two men left together around 2 a.m. in Momeni’s white BMW, drove to a secluded part of Main Street and exited the car. It was then, the district attorney alleges, that Momeni stabbed Lee in the heart, dropped the four-inch kitchen knife at a nearby fence, and sped off, leaving behind a fatally wounded Lee.  

While Momeni has yet to enter a plea and Canny maintains he will plead not guilty, sources say that Momeni confronted multiple challenges in his own life, that his accomplishments were exaggerated, and that his business did not always run smoothly — a development that friends blamed on his drug use. 

Momeni had “a massive drug problem that made him unable to reason and speak,” said one friend, who, like many for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity. The friend said Momeni blew off attempts by friends to intervene. “This is one of those things where [we’d say], ‘Nima, you’re cool, we love you, but you don’t make full sentences.’” 

Momeni’s early life 

Momeni, his sister, Khazar, and their mother, Mahnaz, emigrated from Iran in 1999 when Momeni was about 14 years old and his sister was 13. After a brief stint in Europe, they traveled to the United States on a tourist visa, and immediately began the asylum process, Canny confirmed.

“What the family endured in Iran and escaped from was horrific,” said Canny, who declined to elaborate. 

Momeni’s father, a dentist, remained in Iran when the rest of the family fled. An ex-girlfriend close to Momeni said that the family may have left because of the father’s abuse. 

“He expressed extreme hate for his dad,” said Momeni’s former girlfriend, who said that Momeni told her that his father was physically abusive. “I definitely think that that created a monster.” 

After coming to the United States, the two siblings attended Albany High School in the East Bay, and their mother worked toward becoming a dental hygienist. 

Alex Pourshayegan, whose children attended the same schools as the Momenis, described Momeni as a normal child. Pourshayegan’s wife ran a store in Albany, Nik Market. While he attended high school, Momeni worked there for some years.

They were a “nice family, a hard-working immigrant family, all of them,” Pourshayegan said. “They worked a lot to get to where they’re at, and they started with near zero.”

By all accounts, Momeni and his younger sister, Khazar, born just 11 months apart, were in the same grade, and were extremely close. 

“I don’t know who Nima considered his closest group, besides his sister,” Momeni’s former good friend said. “He would do absolutely anything for her and she would do anything for him.” 

Momeni knew Lee through his sister, Khazar. Khazar and Lee had known each other for several years, according to Canny and a police witness. Another source close to Lee said the tech executive met Khazar at the Battery, an invite-only social club near the Embarcadero that costs $2,800 annually and hosts events for members, like wine tastings, an après-ski party, and burlesque bingo.

The DA’s filing on the case indicates that it may have been Lee’s relationship with Khazar that led Momeni to confront Lee on April 3. In that encounter, Momeni demanded to know whether his sister had been taking drugs, according to a witness interviewed by police investigators. Lee assured Momeni, the witness said, that nothing inappropriate had happened.

Youthful IT entrepreneur 

After leaving high school, Momeni attended Laney College in Oakland for some time, but does not appear to have received a degree there. Though he listed himself as having attended the University of California, Berkeley, on his Linkedin page, the school has no record of his enrollment.

Nevertheless, by the time he turned 26 in 2010, Momeni had started Expand IT, a company that provided IT services to clients around the Bay Area. 

“He kind of had the ‘Coming to America’ sort of story of getting here,” said Laurin Leske, an old friend of Momeni’s from Burning Man who also briefly worked for Momeni in 2012. Momeni’s approach was one of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, he said. 

Leske, who also stayed at Momeni’s home while between jobs, remembered Momeni as very dedicated and focused on work in those early years. 

“He would be there for clients, like, 24/7,” Leske said. 

photo of the bridge and a small circular photo of a man.
Nima Momeni’s Linkedin profile.

Another former professional acquaintance, Chris Byrne, said that Momeni was on call to maintain Byrne’s company’s network several years ago. “I found him to be very pleasant and good at what he did for us.” 

Pourshayegan, too, described Momeni as capable and successful, saying Momeni had worked as his IT administrator from around 2013 to 2016 at Ace Glass Company and “modernized my business.”

“We have our servers, computers, website — everything that has to do with networking, he was in charge, and he was very good at it.”

At some point, Momeni outgrew the job at Ace Glass, Pourshayegan said. “He got too busy. He had much bigger fish to catch, much bigger clients.”

Poursheyegan, who last spoke to Momeni some four months before his arrest, characterized Momeni’s business as “thriving,” saying Momeni had bought “nice cars, nice toys, a boat, a motorcycle, all the toys that a young man wants.” 

“The last conversation he and I had was, he was asking me and my wife about buying a ranch,” Poursheyegan added. “He wanted to buy a ranch, because he loved country living. He’s a city boy with a country heart.”

During his successful years, Momeni also made some political campaign contributions, although his allegiance veered wildly between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. In the 2016 presidential campaign, he gave $3,742 to Sanders and other Democratic causes. Then, in 2020, he backed Trump, ultimately giving $3,929 to Trump and the Republican party, according to the Federal Election Commission.

A troubled executive by middle age   

Eventually, however, Momeni’s company appears to have run into trouble. 

The former friend who, like Leske, was intimately familiar with Expand IT, said that by 2016 the company was a “hilarious shitshow.” Momeni’s drug use, he said, got in the way of the business.  

“He couldn’t keep anybody and not end up chewing them out for something they didn’t know — I saw it as mostly his fault,” the friend said of Momeni’s attempts to hire more employees around 2016. 

These troubles appear to have continued and, by 2023, it’s unclear if Momeni had any full-time employees. Calling his business number after his arrest yielded a phone tree of different options — all spoken by Momeni’s voice.

Canny, for her part, said that Momeni had several contractors working for him at Expand IT. 

His relationships with women

Leske said he only knew Momeni “as a very peaceful, kind person; he’d make me meals and we’d have hot tub and hookah.”

Leske and his wife, Jenna, lost touch with Momeni after he stopped coming to Burning Man and have not seen Momeni for several years. “He stopped hanging out with the people who were more positive influences in his life,” Jenna Leske said. 

Upon learning of Momeni’s arrest for Lee’s killing, the Leskes said they were shocked, but sources who knew him more recently described a troubled Momeni — and were less surprised.  

When it came to relationships with women, his former girlfriend and police records show, Momeni could become a different person. 

“He was not nice behind closed doors,” a woman who dated him said. “Called me probably the worst names I’ve ever been called.” 

Though he was kind initially, she said Momeni became verbally and emotionally abusive as she got closer to him, and that he could be threatening and possessive. He would get upset when she spoke with other men, she said. And, while their arguments did not escalate to physical violence, she said she believed they would have if she hadn’t left. 

Others say he did become physically abusive. 

Police records show that a woman staying at Momeni’s Emeryville home in August 2022 called the police after Momeni allegedly grabbed and pushed her. 

“She believes that he may be bipolar, because one minute he will be fine and the next he will go off for no reason,” read the Emeryville police officer’s report, though bipolar mood changes generally take place over days or weeks. Momeni was cited in the incident for battery, but was never charged.  

The former girlfriend said, “I honestly think that he’s scary, and I always thought he was scary — after I got to know him.” 

Momeni’s phone number also appears on a website commonly used by sex workers to warn one another of dangerous or problematic clients. The comments are anonymous and cannot be verified, but comments left about the phone number associated with Momeni appeared long before he became a public figure — as far back as 2017, and as recently as December, 2022. 

Reviews left to Nima Momeni’s phone number on a site known to be used by sex workers.

Reviews call the person associated with the phone number unsafe, violent and armed. 

“Dangerous — uses a lot of coke, erratic in behavior, possessive, heavily armed,” reads one review from October, 2017, followed by: “Cheap, boundary pusher.” 

“Definitely a boundary pusher and rough 🚫 snatched me by the hair after I said not to,” reads another review from August 2022. 

A fascination with guns and drugs

Two sources — one close friend and the former girlfriend — said Momeni kept “ghost guns:” Untraceable firearms that can be assembled at home. 

“He loved his guns. He talked about his guns all the time,” said a woman who previously dated Momeni and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He was a fan of violence.” 

She said that Momeni also kept “lots of knives.” 

Another of Momeni’s former friends remembered a party when Momeni and friends shot off his ghost guns to celebrate. 

“I don’t think he’s ever owned a firearm, I just think that’s not true,” Canny said, adding that she did not know for sure. “Based on what I know, I believe there was nothing of any evidentiary value found when the police searched Nima’s apartment on the night they arrested him.”

Mission Local is informed by a knowledgeable source that Momeni legally owns a shotgun. 

It was the drugs, however, that friends said were Momeni’s biggest problem, adding that he used drugs like cocaine daily. 

“That’s all he — he didn’t even go one day without that,” said his girlfriend from several years ago. 

At one point, according to a friend, Momeni wanted to go to Burning Man but had a suspended license. He purportedly paid someone in cocaine to drive him there. 

“He did like cocaine a bit,” said Leske, his friend from Burning Man who said he last saw Momeni around 2016. But Leske said he “didn’t see anything more than the regular Bay Area executive sort” of cocaine use.  

Man on a boat
Nima Momeni on a boat.

A former acquaintance said that Momeni struck him as reckless, remembering a time when Momeni drove his boat — one of which is named The Momeni, per state records — erratically in the bay. “He had no idea what the fuck he was doing,” the acquaintance said, adding that in the encounters they shared, there was “something there that’s not clicking” when it came to other people’s safety.

This acquaintance added, however — as did several sources Mission Local spoke with — that Momeni was a “very generous, giving person” who would buy pricey wine and food for his guests in an attempt to “be a good host.”

For Poursheyegan from Albany, who has continued to see Momeni over the years, the alleged crime and drug use came as a surprise. Though he said as a teenager Momeni occasionally smoked marijuana, he knew of no other illicit activities and no history of violence. 

“He’s very kind-hearted, and there is no way that you could categorize him as someone who could plan to harm anyone,” he said. “This is a shock to all of those people that know Nima. I do not know Nima as a violent person.”

Lydia Chávez and Joe Eskenazi contributed to this report.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

Joe was born in Sweden, where the Chilean half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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13 Comments

  1. Good research, Mission Local.

    Ghost guns, paying people in cocaine, and violent escort reviews… I’m not sure this is this guy’s first body, folks. Sounds like he could have been supplementing his income. I’m sure there’s a lot of evidence we have no idea about to sort through.

    Paula Canny looks silly going after Bob Lee’s character so quickly – probably because she doesn’t have much else. Not a lot of bad stuff leaking out about him other than he “liked to party”. Divorce seems amicable, family loved him, colleagues posting praise.

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  2. those who would equate this article to the slick click-bait over at the chron overlook the fact that the mission is full of techies.

    and the chron’s participation in the ‘war-on-homeless’ efforts to blame the murder on criminal homeless people ‘invading’ the security of the wealthy.

    it’s a contrast to all the innuendo in the main media that has clouded the truth about these two detached-from-reality techies.
    good work.

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  3. This is great reporting. The picture you get from a deeper dive is in such contrast with the sparse, easily scraped info reported a few weeks ago in other outlets.

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  4. Not really a surprise. Every picture I’ve seen of this guy, except the young yearbook pic in this article, makes him look crazy and manic. I mean, when someone posts crazy looking pictures of themselves for their own linkedin and facebook profiles, that’s a good sign that something is wrong…

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  5. Canny relegated from “dog on a bone” to “deer in the headlights.”

    Payback is a mothertrucker. She asked for it.

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  6. Great original reporting, Mission Local!

    It must be irritating to see the “writers” (or maybe it’s just AI) over at SFist taking so many of your stories and regurgitating them on their site almost instantly to get page views. I’m going to stop visiting their site — I know it’s not illegal, but what they are doing sure seems unethical to me.

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    1. I noticed that too, lately. That site was never great, mostly entertaining comment sections, but the junk they are putting out nowadays seems kind of AI-ish….
      Mission Local is really rising up and feels good to support!

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  7. sounds pretty unhinged and volatile. glad he’s locked up. it’s a shame he killed someone first.
    I love how the lawyer downplays everything about her client. obviously that’s what she’s paid to do, but so hypocritical after her over the top bashing of bob lee. per the chron:
    Canny told reporters Lee had “a lot of drugs” in his system, comparing it to “the Walgreens of recreational drugs.”

    She went on to say, exaggerating the facts, that “every recreational drug that a person could take was in his system,” and said that when people take drugs, they “act like drug people. And what do drug people act like? Not themselves. Not happy-go-lucky, just kind of losery and make bad decisions and do bad things.”

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  8. I suppose in the future I’ll look more kindly upon the Patagucci wearing “regular Bay Area executive sort” who keep it at annoying everyone with embellishments around their exploits involving yoga/chasing skirt/kiteboarding/Porsches/triathlon/marathon/mountain climbing/heli snowboarding/Crossfit/unvolunteering/Peloton/fraternities

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  9. I have donated and appreciate the fine reporting of Mission Local, yet I have no idea why so much investigative time and space was allocated for this story. I have no relationship with any of the persons named, but this story strikes me as the kind of clickbait I try to avoid in the SF Chron. I will write this off as we all make editorial errors, and realize you do excellent local investigative journalism, but this salacious character defamation is out of character for your organization

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    1. Ian,
      I agree with you. Such sensationalism! What is this “Dateline” or “20/20”? This has nothing do with the Mission District or the daily lives of its residents.

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    1. Thank you for this research and this story. Tired of how anonymous SF and generally news can be.

      Mission Local I wish you would write more articles!

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