“In New York counterterrorism sting, a setback for federal law enforcement”

August 15, 2014

The Washington Post on August 14, 2014 released the following:

“By Adam Goldman

When Ahmed Abassi arrived in the United States for the first time in March 2013, the Tunisian student settled into a historic, neo-Gothic apartment building in Manhattan’s Financial District.

Unknown to him, the apartment was wired with audio recording devices, and Abassi’s American host was an undercover FBI agent. Abassi, then 26 and suspected of terrorism ties, had landed in an FBI sting, part of an elaborate operation that stretched from New York to Quebec City to a small town in Tunisia.

Abassi was caught on tape discussing “the principle that America should be wiped off the face of the earth,” with people he believed to be co-conspirators, one of whom was the FBI agent, according to court records. At one point, Abassi suggested “putting bacteria in the air or in a water supply.”

But last month, Abassi, who declined to be interviewed, pleaded guilty to relatively minor charges that did not include any terrorism enhancements that could have sent him to prison for years, and he is not contesting a deportation order.

The case was a rare setback for the FBI and federal prosecutors, which have successfully targeted suspected terrorists using sting operations, typically ending with the defendants about to embark on what they believe is a terrorist attack with fake weapons or bombs supplied by the bureau. Guilty verdicts and long prison sentences follow.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have “resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.”

Among the more prominent prosecutions, a Moroccan man was convicted for planning a suicide bombing at the Capitol. Amine Mohamed El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant who lived in Alexandria, was arrested wearing a suicide vest that he believed to be real and had been provided by undercover FBI agents. In Portland, a Somali-American was convicted of planning to remotely detonate an 1,800 pound bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The device was, in fact, inert and had been supplied by the bureau. In one 2009 case, the FBI arrested a group of men in New York state — the “Newburgh Four” — and charged them with plotting to blow up a pair of synagogues in the Bronx with fake bombs provided by an informant.

Human rights groups allege that the government is making terrorists out of people who otherwise would not have the ability or the will to move forward with an attack. “The government pursues people with mental or intellectual disabilities or people who are desperately poor with an aggressive informant or undercover agent to get them to agree to commit terrorist acts,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Washington office.

And the use of sting operations has also drawn some criticism from the bench. In the Newburgh case, the federal judge said the government “made them terrorists” and said the “buffoonery” of one of the defendants was “positively Shakespearean in scope.”

But no defendant, including in the Newburgh case, has successfully claimed in court that he was entrapped by overzealous investigators.

At a recent security forum in Aspen, Colo., former FBI director Robert Mueller defended the bureau’s tactics against charges of entrapment. Mueller said agents and prosecutors go to great lengths to make sure they do not cross that line.

“We know at the outset that anytime we do this that the defense is going to be entrapment and there has to be substantial predication to get over that hurdle,” he said. “It’s been the defense in probably dozens of terrorism cases that have been tried since Sept. 11. And I challenge you to find one of those cases in which the defendant has been acquitted asserting that defense. I don’t believe there is one out there.”

Abassi was arrested last year and charged with two counts of fraud and misuse of visas to facilitate an act of international terrorism. Federal prosectuors in the Southern District of New York withdrew the terrorism enhancements against Abassi before they could be adjudicated, and some activists said an entrapment defense might have tested the government’s winning record.

An FBI spokesman in New York declined to comment.

Abassi was more talker than terrorist and resisted attempts to move beyond words to direct action, according to his attorney, Sabrina P. Shroff, a federal public defender. She described the case against her client as a failed entrapment in which the government attempted to prey on Abassi’s “bad thoughts and bad speech.”

Fateful meeting

Abassi first came to the attention of the FBI in Canada, where he was studying for an engineering degree at Laval University in Quebec City, according to court records. His family said his sister followed him to Canada, where he also met and married a Tunisian woman.

Among Abassi’s new circle of friends was Chiheb Esseghaier, a doctoral student. The FBI and Canadian authorities began to suspect that Esseghaier and Abassi were part of a terrorist cell, according to court records.

Esseghaier introduced Abassi to a man from New York, Tamer El Noury, who said he was born in Egypt and had immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He looked like one of Abassi’s favorite performers, a Syrian singer named George Wassouf. The two got along famously. When in Quebec, Noury came to Abassi’s house to eat.

Neither Abassi nor his wife, Yousra, ever suspected that Noury was an FBI agent.

“We had no idea,” his wife said in an interview.

The New Yorker appeared wealthy and said he ran a successful real estate company in the city. As a wedding gift, he said he would pay for Abassi and Yousra to visit Manhattan, she said.

Abassi declined the invitation, and instead he and his wife flew to Tunisia in December 2012 to renew their wedding vows. “We danced, we invited all our relatives and friends and we enjoyed together,” his wife said.

The euphoria didn’t last. That month, the Canadians revoked Abassi’s visa without explanation. Officials decided to test Abassi’s willingness to conduct an act of terrorism.

Noury began what Abassi’s attorney described as an aggressive campaign to get her client to come to New York from Tunisia. Cut off from his wife, who was able to return to Canada to finish her education, Abassi seemed determined to secure a new visa so he could return to her side. He wanted to finish his master’s degree, and he had a job offer with a major mining company. But no Canadian visa was forthcoming.

Noury called Abassi’s wife in February 2013.

“We can get him in New York where he can stay with me in the apartment, or he will have his own apartment, and if, God willing, you can take some time off from work, we can bring you here to stay with him so that you can spend some time together,” said Noury, according to a transcript of the call.

Abassi agreed to fly to New York after U.S. law enforcement arranged a visa for the “sole purpose of advancing the investigation,” according to court records.

Move to New York

In March 2013, Abassi flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he was briefly questioned by immigration authorities. Noury met him at the airport.

The two drove to the downtown apartment, where the call to prayer sounded electronically five times a day to highlight Noury’s piety. The undercover agent provided Abassi with a cellphone and laptop. The rent was free.

An unexpected visitor soon arrived: Esseghaier, who said he was attending a scientific conference in New York.

The three men met frequently. Authorities say Esseghaier told Abassi about his plans for a terrorist attack. But Abassi did not want any part of them, frustrating the conspirator, who urged Noury to throw him out of the apartment. Esseghaier called Abassi “useless” and not a “true brother.”

Abassi continued to make inflammatory statements, however. He argued that the Koran allowed “Muslims to attack Americans in the same ways Americans had attacked Muslims, including the killing of women and children,” according to court records.

On April 22, 2013, Abassi was questioned by the FBI. Prosecutors said he lied repeatedly about his relationship with Esseghaier and whether he knew the Tunisian planned to engage in terrorism. The FBI arrested Abassi. That same day, Canadian authorities took Esseghaier and another man into custody, charging them with conspiracy to attack an Amtrak train traveling from New York to Toronto.

U.S. prosecutors said Abassi acknowledged possibly radicalizing Esseghaier, and that the two had talked about committing terrorist acts, according to court records. They said Abassi did not want to participate in Esseghaier’s plans only because “the number of American casualties from such an operation would be too few.”

Shroff said her client did not radicalize Esseghaier.

“If you actually listen to the conversations between Chiheb [Esseghaier] and Ahmed, you’ll realize Ahmed is talking about words and verses from the Koran,” his attorney said. “He’s telling Chiheb what’s in the Koran. That is not radicalizing.”

Authorities also said the men had received guidance from members of al-Qaeda.

A U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the case, said the FBI had to end the U.S. operation against Abassi prematurely because the Canadians were concerned about the threat Esseghaier posed and arrested him.

The official said more will come out about the men, including Abassi, when Esseghaier goes on trial in Canada. The official said the men were part of a cell and presented a serious threat, one the FBI helped eliminate.

“It was a good case,” the official said.

Abassi spent months in jail, part of that time in a segregated housing unit, before his attorney received transcripts of the FBI recordings. Shroff said it was apparent to her that Abassi had not provided the evidence the FBI needed to make its case, that he had not stepped over the line into active participation in a plot.

Prosecutors seemed to reach a similar conclusion. They told Shroff they would drop the terrorism enhancements if Abassi agreed to plead guilty to the charges that included putting false information on an application for a green card — the same one the undercover agent helped him complete — and making a false statement to immigration officials.

“Mr. Abassi would not be asked at the time of the plea, if he accepted this offer, to in any way admit that either of these crimes touched on a crime of international terrorism,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara told the judge during a hearing in April.

Ferrara would not discuss the case, but another U.S. law enforcement official said there were considerations if the case went to trial, including revealing the true identity of the FBI undercover agent.

“There were strategic discussions,” the official said. “We had a good undercover who would then be exposed. Was it worth it to get a couple of extra years in prison? It’s not clear the judge would have given him more time.”

The official added that Abassi pleaded guilty to a felony and “will never again be in the U.S. That’s much better than letting him float around out there and never be charged at all.”

For Shroff, the reason prosecutors backed off is clear: “He was entrapped,” she said.

At sentencing, prosecutors called for a longer prison term than the six months suggested by the guidelines, arguing that Abassi was far more dangerous than “simply an immigration fraudster” and had “dangerous, extremist views.”

In a phone interview, his sister Amira Abassi said: “My brother is not a monster. That is the reality. He is not evil.”

On July 16, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum waved away government calls for a stern sentence. The 84-year-old judge told Abassi to stay clear of trouble.

“I hope that you will think very seriously about the events of the last year and will decide to always abide by the laws of the United States,” she said. “And if you do that, I wish you good luck.”

Abassi is being held in an immigration detention facility in New Jersey, where he awaits deportation to Tunisia.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

Federal Crimes – Appeal


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Federal Prosecutor Stanley Boone Named Federal Magistrate Judge

September 4, 2012

The Fresno Bee on September 2, 2012 released the following:

“By John Ellis

Longtime federal prosecutor Stanley Boone soon will ascend to the bench in the same courthouse where he has worked for more than a decade, taking a post as a magistrate judge.

Boone, 46, will replace Dennis Beck, who is retiring. His hiring also ensures that the overworked federal court in Fresno maintains its full contingent of six magistrate judges.

This is especially important now, several in the local legal community say, because there are just two district judges in Fresno’s federal courthouse who handle one of the largest caseloads in the nation.

Fresno has four magistrate judges, plus one in Bakersfield and another in Yosemite, both of whom answer to the federal judges here.

Boone is the third straight magistrate judge picked from inside Fresno’s federal courthouse.

Barbara McAuliffe, who served more than a decade as a staff attorney at the courthouse, was appointed last October as a replacement for retiring magistrate judge Sandra Snyder. Before that, prosecutor Sheila Oberto was picked for a newly created magistrate judge post in late 2009.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill — himself a former magistrate judge — called Boone “the entire package.

“He brings civil, criminal and administrative experience to the federal bench,” he said. “At a time when our judicial demands far exceed our judicial resources, we need a person who will enter on the fast track.”

Magistrate judges are less powerful than district judges, but they carry a heavy workload on Social Security appeals, prisoner civil rights cases and other prisoner-related cases.

They also have broad authority in cases up until trial and oversee criminal arraignments, set bail and handle much of the initial work in civil trials.

Boone, a hard-nosed litigator who seemed to revel in the courtroom battlefield, said he is ready to move from the more active prosecutorial role to what is more of a referee.

“I’m going to retool my system,” he said. “That energy will be in applying the law and being fair.”

Boone already was well known to the jurists who hired him. The University of California at Berkeley graduate — who earned his law degree from University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento — has been a federal prosecutor in Fresno since 1996.

Before that, he was a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski in Sacramento.

During his time as a prosecutor, Boone has specialized in white collar crime and terrorism cases. He has also acted as the office’s bankruptcy fraud coordinator. In addition, he spent a year as the White Collar Crime Coordinator at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

Beck, the outgoing U.S. magistrate judge, plans to retire Dec. 12. Boone said he likely will start the job by mid- to late December.

Boone’s only regret is that his grandfather — who always wanted him to become a judge — died before seeing him don the black robe.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

Federal Crimes – Appeal


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Documents provide rare insight into FBI’s terrorism stings

April 16, 2012

The Washington Post on April 13, 2012 released the following:

“By Peter Finn

Days before his arrest in Pittsburgh last month, Khalifa Ali al-Akili posted a remarkable message on his Facebook page: A mysterious man who spoke often of jihad had tried to interest Akili in buying a gun, then later introduced him to a second man, whom Akili was assured was “all about the struggle.”

It smelled, Akili wrote on Facebook, like a setup.

“I had a feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a ‘terrorist’ sleeper cell,” Akili wrote.

When he googled a phone number provided by the second man, it turned out to be to Shahed Hussain, one of the FBI’s most prolific and controversial informants for terrorism cases. Soon the sting was off; Akili was subsequently arrested on gun — not terrorism — charges, which he has denied.

It was a rare miss for Hussain, 55, who has played a wealthy, dapper member of a Pakistani terrorist group in several FBI operations over nearly a decade.

This role has inflamed Muslim and civil rights activists, who describe Hussain as an “agent provocateur,” and prompted harsh comments from the presiding judge in a 2010 case, who questioned his honesty and the aggressiveness of the FBI’s tactics.

“I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition,” said U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon at the sentencing of four men from Newburgh, N.Y., convicted on terrorism charges. She added, “That does not mean there was no crime.”

Hussain declined to speak about his work for the FBI, saying in a brief phone interview, “I can’t say anything for security reasons.” The FBI declined to discuss Hussain or McMahon’s comments.

But the blown Pittsburgh sting and the voluminous court records from the 2010 case have provided rare insight into a tactic used increasingly by the FBI since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in which suspects are monitored almost from the beginning of plots and provided with means to help them carry them out. The targets in such stings have included Washington’s Metro subway system, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.

There have been 138 terrorism or national security cases involving informants since 2001, and 51 of those have come over the past three years, according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York. The center said the government secured convictions in 91 percent of those cases.

Law enforcement officials say stings are a vital tactic for heading off terrorism. But civil rights activists and others say the FBI has been identifying individuals with radical views who, despite brash talk, might have little ability to launch attacks without the government’s help.

“It almost seems like the government is creating a theatrical event that produces more fear in the community,” said Michael German, a senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent who worked undercover.

Yet in these terrorism stings, every attempted defense that has alleged entrapment by the government has failed, according to Fordham’s Center on National Security. The FBI said that record speaks volumes and rejected any suggestion that it has invented terrorist plots. “They present the idea,” FBI spokesman Kathleen Wright said of the targets of investigations. “It is not us coming up with these ideas.”

Officials said the subjects of these stings are the ones who first generate suspicion — by contacting terrorists overseas, attempting to secure weapons or speaking of a desire to commit violence.

One of the prosecutors in the 2010 case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Halperin, said in court that confidential informants such as Hussain are an “important tool” for the FBI. “Mr. Hussain is Pakistani. He speaks Urdu. He speaks Pashto. He’s Muslim. He can read Arabic,” Halperin said. “All of these things make Mr. Hussain a very valuable asset for the FBI.”

The birth of an asset

In testimony for the 2010 terrorism case, for which Hussain appeared as a witness for the prosecution, he described himself as a member of a politically connected family in Pakistan who fled to the United States with his wife and children after he was falsely accused of murder during a government crackdown against the secular MQM party. He arrived on a fake British passport in 1994, Hussain testified.

In the years since, his relatives in Pakistan have transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to him, allowing him and his family to acquire gas stations, a beverage center and a motel in Upstate New York, according to financial records produced in court. He also testified that former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, during a trip to New York, gave his son $40,000 to buy a new car, but the judge, McMahon, questioned the veracity of the claim.

It was not the only time McMahon expressed doubts about Hussain’s honesty.

“By the end of the trial, the jury knew that Hussain had lied about his finances to at least two courts (the Northern District of New York and the Northern District Bankruptcy Court), lied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, lied to the Town of Colonie and its school district about his residence, lied to potential customers of his motel, and lied to the IRS about his income at tax time,” wrote McMahon.

In late 2001, Hussain was arrested on federal fraud charges of helping immigrants illegally secure driver’s licenses. Hussain, who had been working as a translator for the Department of Motor Vehicles, faced a possible prison term and deportation to Pakistan. He pleaded guilty and, as part of his agreement with the government, cooperated with the FBI by going undercover to secure evidence against several former associates in the scheme, including his mistress.

Hussain excelled in this new role — a fact grudgingly accepted even by his detractors.

“Both his physical and emotional presence seemed impervious to chastisement, to exposure, to anything — nothing seemed to throw his casual defiance off course,” said Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham’s Center on National Security, who has observed Hussain in court.

The bureau also has sent Hussain to London and Pakistan, where he infiltrated a terrorist training camp, according to court testimony.

In the summer of 2003, Hussain first adopted the persona of the suave, moneyed terrorist at the direction of the FBI. The object of the sting was Yassin Aref, an Iraqi Kurd and the spiritual leader of an Albany mosque.

Aref was convicted of participating in a plot to launder funds from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile. Aref’s attorneys said he simply saw what he thought was a loan between Hussain and the owner of a struggling pizza parlor who was also convicted. Aref and the owner of the pizza parlor were sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The informant at work

On another assignment for the FBI, Hussain went to Newburgh’s Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque 12 times before he met James Cromitie, a convert to Islam and a stocker at a Wal-Mart, in June 2008.

In a poor community, Hussain struck an odd figure, driving Hummers and BMWs and wearing designer clothes.

Salahuddin Muhammad, imam of the mosque, said in an interview that some people suspected that Hussain was an FBI informant. He was too eager to engage people in conversation about jihad, Muhammad said.

Cromitie, who attended the mosque infrequently, either didn’t hear of the suspicions of others or didn’t care.

Hussain later told the FBI that Cromitie said: “Look, brother, I might have done a lot of sin, but to die like a shaded (martyr), I will go to paradise . . . I want to do something to America.”

By July, Hussain had told Cromitie he was part of a Pakistani terrorist group. Cromitie, who had multiple drug convictions but no history of violence, said he wanted to join, according to the FBI’s debriefing of the informant.

During a November 2008 trip to Philadelphia with Hussain, which coincided with the terrorist attacks on several locations in Mumbai, India, Cromitie made some of his most incendiary statements.

Cromitie hadn’t heard of the attacks, but Hussain pointed out that one of the targets in Mumbai was a Jewish center, according to transcripts of conversations that were secretly recorded and later played in court.

“I’d like to get a synagogue,” Cromitie said.

The judge later noted in a finding of fact that “whenever Hussain asked Cromitie to act on those sentiments — make a plan, pick a target, find recruits, introduce the [confidential informant] to like-minded brothers, procure guns and conduct surveillance — Cromitie did none of the above.”

McMahon said that at this point Hussain began to add “more worldly inducements” to the “offer of paradise” beginning with a BMW “but only after Cromitie had completed a mission.”

Closing the net

Hussain left for Pakistan on Dec. 18, 2008, and didn’t return to the United States for two months. While he was away, the FBI briefed officials at Stewart International Airport in New York on the investigation but assured them that “Cromitie was unlikely to commit an act without the support of the FBI source.”

Indeed, Cromitie said, “I just dropped everything,” according to the transcript of the conversation. But when Hussain returned, Cromitie’s enthusiasm was rekindled.

McMahon later wrote that “the court believes and specifically finds that it was about this time when Hussain offered Cromitie as much as a quarter million dollars to participate in a mission.”

Such an offer was not authorized by the FBI, the prosecutor told the court. Hussain denied making it, saying the reference to a specific amount of money was not intended to be literal. McMahon, in her sentencing, said she did not believe him.

After a surveillance drive around Stewart Air National Guard Base on Feb. 24, 2009, Cromitie cut off communication with Hussain for six weeks, he later testified. Cromitie pretended to have left town, although he was still in Newburgh.

On April 5, Cromitie called Hussain. “I have to try to make some money, brother,” Cromitie said.

“I told you. I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you,” Hussain said.

Cromitie soon was back in.

On May 20, 2009, Hussain, Cromitie and three associates drove south from Newburgh carrying three duffel bags, each stuffed with nearly 40 pounds of explosives and 500 steel ball bearings to maximize casualties at a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the Bronx. After bombing them, the men planned to double back north to Stewart Air National Guard base near Newburgh to launch a stinger missile at parked military planes.

But the FBI had provided the bombs and the missile and had rendered them harmless.

All four Newburgh men were later convicted on terrorism charges in a jury trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison. They have appealed.

On the final drive to the Bronx, Hussain tried to get Cromitie to prime the bombs by following his instructions on which wires to connect, Hussain testified. But Cromitie and the others couldn’t figure it out, and Hussain had to stop the car and do it himself.

When they got to the Bronx, Hussain had to explain how to operate a car key fob so Cromitie could open the first of the pre-parked cars and plant the bomb.

Afterward, Hussain asked him if he had turned the bomb on. “I forgot,” Cromitie replied.

Hussain told him not to worry, it could still be detonated.

Cromitie then set off to plant the other two bombs, but he couldn’t open the trunk of the next car. Hussain told Cromitie by walkie-talkie to just put them in the back seat.

Hussain then signaled for the FBI to move in.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

Solitary Confinement Is Too Harsh for ‘Lord of War’ Vicktor Bout

February 11, 2012

Courthouse News Service on February 10, 2012 released the following:


MANHATTAN (CN) – International arms smuggler Viktor Bout should not face solitary confinement, a federal judge insisted at a combative hearing on Friday afternoon.

A Russian national, Bout was the subject of the nonfiction book “Merchant of Death,” and allegedly inspired the Hollywood movie “The Lord of War.” For years, he was suspected of arming dictators, despots and warring factions in the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and other conflict zones around the world.

Though sanctioned by the United Nations, Bout remained a free man for more than a decade until the U.S. government snared him in “Operation Relentless,” a sting operation with undercover informants posing as guerrillas from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

A federal jury convicted him in November, and U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin refused to set aside the verdict at a hearing on Thursday.

At that hearing, Scheindlin reportedly criticized the conditions of Bout’s imprisonment as “harsh.” She convened the Friday afternoon hearing to leave no doubt that those conditions must change.

A Jan. 20, 2011, administration order called for Bout’s incarceration in a maximum-security cell of the Metropolitan Correctional Center for 23 hours per day. Adam Johnson, the prison’s supervising attorney, said that Bout usually declines the hour per day in which he is allowed to use the recreational center.

Bout’s attorney Albert Dayan says the center is an indoor cell much like his own, in which he cannot interact with the other inmates. Bout’s only source of outside air comes from the occasional “crack” to the recreation room’s window, Dayan said.

While the prison accommodates Bout’s vegetarian diet, Bout says he is only fed oatmeal, peanut butter and beans in a pot.

He can only place a phone call or meet with his family once a month, Johnson said.

Scheindlin told Johnson that he should call Bout’s prison conditions by their name.

“Long-term solitary confinement is the way to put it,” Scheindlin said, adding that “studies have been conducted” on its effects.

A 2009 New Yorker article titled “Hellhole,” explored the movement to define isolation as torture. Psychologists for Social Responsibility have called supermax prisons “cruel, unusual and inhumane” in an open letter opposing the confinement of alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, before he was transferred from Quantico.

Suzanne Hastings, a warden at MCC, claimed that solitary was necessary to keep Bout from harming the guards, other inmates and himself.

Scheindlin brushed aside that argument, arguing that nothing in the record indicated that Bout was violent or linked to any terrorist organization.

“This is a businessman,” Scheindlin said, indicating Bout. “You might not like the business he’s in.”

That business, the judge pointed out later, was “the arms business.”

“This country sells a lot of arms,” Scheindlin added.

Though convicted of arming terrorists, the FARC militants that Bout agreed to arm were all undercover government informants.

“I’m familiar with this case, and I can distinguish it from other so-called terrorism cases,” Scheindlin said.

Kenneth Kaplan, Bout’s other attorney, cited cases in which inmates in the MCC’s terrorism unit were ordered into more humane detention.

One, Kathy Boudine, was convicted of felony murder and armed robbery in an operation with the Weather Underground.

Another, Mafia soldier Vincent Basciano, was placed in the section of the prison normally reserved for convicted terrorists until the 2nd Circuit intervened, Kaplan said.

“He was a dangerous guy,” Scheindlin said. “Didn’t he threaten a judge? I haven’t been threatened [by Bout].”

Scheindlin requested that prosecutors and defense attorneys file arguments about her ability to change the conditions of Bout’s confinement and judicial precedents for such actions.”


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.