Bob Lee: how new details turned a tech-industry murder case upside down

<span>Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP</span>
Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

One month after the Cash App founder Bob Lee was found stabbed on the streets of San Francisco, his alleged killer will appear in court.

Nima Momeni, a 38-year-old tech entrepreneur who reportedly knew Lee personally, will be arraigned on murder charges in San Francisco on Tuesday in a case that has riveted the tech world and sparked debate over crime in the California city.

Lee was found with multiple stab wounds in downtown San Francisco in the early morning hours of 4 April. In the days that followed, an information void and lack of an arrest sparked speculation that the killing had been a random act of violence, intensifying the discourse over crime, homelessness and drug use in the city.

But details soon emerged that upended that narrative, revealing the stabbing was the alleged result of a dispute between the two acquaintances. Discussion of the crime has since shifted to whispers of rampant drug use, the high-flying world of tech executives and a fatal showdown over Lee’s relationship with Momeni’s sister.

Here’s the timeline leading up to Momeni’s arraignment, and what we know so far.

An evolving narrative

On 4 April, the tech world was stunned by the news that Lee had been found on a sidewalk of San Francisco’s Rincon Hill neighborhood with multiple stab wounds. Lee, 43, was taken to a hospital where he later died.

Following the killing, many jumped to conclusions about the state of San Francisco – a city often criticized for its gaping wealth disparity, drug use and high-profile incidents of retail crime.

Despite statistics that show violent crime overall is down in the city, headlines and tweets about the crisis raged on. A friend of Lee, former UFC fighter Jake Shields, claimed the founder had been targeted in a random mugging. “Fuck San Francisco,” he tweeted. Billionaire Elon Musk, who recently took over the San Francisco-based Twitter, tweeted that violent crime in the city had become “horrific” and claimed, without offering proof, that violent offenders “are often released immediately”. In his popular All In podcast, capitalist David Sacks compared the death to another incident in Los Angeles in which a woman was “basically stabbed for no reason by a psychotic homeless person”.

When the truth emerged – that Lee had been targeted by an acquaintance – those voices quickly quieted. Musk and others declined to retract their comments about the city, with Shields stating that “Bob knowing his killer makes no difference with the crime problem in sf”.

What we now know about the case

The reality of Lee’s death is shaping up to be far more lurid.

Prosecutors say that the fatal altercation centered on Lee’s relationship with Momeni’s sister Khazar Elyassnia, who has become a key figure in the case that now centers around alleged drug use and romantic intrigue. The 37-year-old married the well-known Bay Area plastic surgeon Dino Elyassnia in 2013, and the glamorous couple has been featured in lifestyle magazines. Court documents said it was unclear if Lee and Khazar Elyassnia were having an affair, but suggested that her marriage was “in trouble”. Further reporting from the San Francisco Standard suggested that Momeni was preoccupied with his sister’s potential drug use.

According to court filings, Momeni had confronted Lee about his relationship with Elyassnia and an incident the day prior to the stabbing, when the two had spent time together in an apartment. A witness said Momeni and Lee went to Lee’s hotel room, where Momeni demanded to know if his younger sister “was doing drugs or anything inappropriate”, which Lee denied.

Officials said Elyassnia sent Lee a text after the argument referencing the dispute, asking if the executive was OK because her brother came “down hard on [him]” and to thank him for “handling it with class”.

Khazar Elyassnia, left, stands in the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on 14 April, ahead of an appearance by her brother, Nima Momeni, who has been charged with murder in the death of tech entrepreneur Bob Lee.
Khazar Elyassnia, left, stands in the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on 14 April, ahead of an appearance by her brother, Nima Momeni, who has been charged with murder in the death of tech entrepreneur Bob Lee. Photograph: Olga R Rodriguez/AP

Security footage shows Momeni and Lee leaving a building together on the night of the stabbing, getting into Momeni’s BMW around 2am. Prosecutors say that Momeni drove to a dark and secluded spot, where he attacked Lee with a kitchen knife, stabbing him three times, including once in the heart. He then sped away “and left victim to slowly die”, according to the motion.

Lee was found wounded at 2.35am by San Francisco police. A bloody knife was recovered from the surrounding area. On 13 April, Momeni was arrested at his home across the San Francisco Bay in Emeryville and has been held without bail since then.

An autopsy of Lee released on Tuesday revealed the tech founder had alcohol, cocaine and ketamine in his system at his time of death. He spent several hours on the operating table as doctors tried to save him before he died at the hospital, the autopsy confirmed.

The key players

Lee, 43, was a popular entrepreneur and well known in Bay Area tech circles. He founded the payment platform Cash App in 2013 while working at former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s payment firm Square (now known as Block).

At the time of his death, Lee had become an executive at cryptocurrency startup MobileCoin. He had recently moved to Miami but was back in San Francisco on business.

Momeni, according to his LinkedIn, was the owner of a Bay-area IT consulting firm called ExpandIT, and has worked as a consultant and system engineer at a number of tech companies over the years.

Neighbors of Momeni told the Daily Beast that the suspect was “super into weapons” and kept multiple guns and knives at home. He was arrested in 2011 for carrying a switchblade in his car but took a plea for driving on a suspended license in exchange and the knife charges were dropped.

Lee had two children and was known as a “good person” with “zero enemies”, friends said after his death. But details emerging in the case have lifted the veil on what’s been described as a party-heavy lifestyle of the tech elite in San Francisco, with one witness familiar with the situation telling the Los Angeles Times that the two had been drinking together prior to the fatal altercation and other reports suggesting heavy drug use.

“He liked to, unfortunately, do a lot of drugs,” a friend of Lee told the San Francisco Standard. Lee and Elyassnia also visited a suspected drug dealer’s apartment before the altercation, the Standard reported.

The alleged drug dealer whose home they visited was arrested in 2022 for felony possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, with raids resulting in the seizure of drugs including MDMA, LSD and GBL (a compound similar to the date rape drug GHB).

Paula Canny, an attorney for Momeni, told the Standard that her defense team was “actively investigating the background of the conduct of all the parties for the three or four days before the incident” and that “a common theme that I’m seeing is heavy illegal narcotics use”.

Flowers in front of the building where Bob Lee was fatally stabbed outside of in San Francisco.
Flowers in front of the building outside of which Bob Lee was found fatally stabbed in San Francisco. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

The aftermath

Even as investigations revealed it was likely Lee knew his attacker, the narrative around crime and decline in San Francisco persists.

Recent reports say the city’s previously bustling downtown has entered a “doom loop” – an economic term for when separate but interconnected forces fuel each other into an unstoppable downturn. A lack of public resources for San Franciscans struggling with homelessness and drug abuse has intensified those crises in recent years and months as the cost of living continues to rise and powerful drugs such as fentanyl flood the city.

Momeni will appear in court for arraignment on Tuesday. If convicted, he faces 26 years to life in prison, said the office of the district attorney, Brooke Jenkins.

He is expected to plead not guilty, according to his attorney, and request to be allowed out on bail during proceedings. Canny, the attorney, told reporters that a video central to the allegations is unclear. Prosecutors say the footage shows the two driving to a spot under the bridge where Momeni can be seen moving closer to Lee, when he presumably stabbed him.

“He’s gonna plead not guilty, and he’s gonna deny the special allegation and absolutely the plea will be not guilty,” she said. “I don’t think you can see anything in the videos.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting