Federal prosecutors in hot water in Ashland terror funding case
Here's a seriously ugly moment for Oregon's federal prosecutors. This past summer, they successfully prosecuted an Iranian-American man from Ashland on conspiracy and tax fraud charges. He was convicted of diverting money, supposedly being used for humanitarian causes, to militant groups rebelling in Chechnya. But now it turns out that the government admits it withheld documents from the defense, and that the FBI quietly paid thousands of dollars to the husband of a key witness in the case.
Although claiming that the new evidence shouldn't change the outcome of the trial, the U.S. attorney's office is now dropping its opposition to letting the man, Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, out of the slammer pending further proceedings. This move is a bit startling in light of the government's contention that he is a flight risk. Seda was out of the country when he was indicted.
The day the guilty verdict came in from the Eugene jury, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Christopher Cardani, said "[W]e think he got a very fair trial" and was quoted as declaring that "the verdict showed that the U.S. criminal justice system, with its public courtrooms and lay jurors, 'can handle terrorism cases.'" The interim U.S. attorney, Dwight Holton, also did a fair amount of grandstanding that day.
What no one was mentioning, however, was that a key witness in the case was tainted by what could easily be construed as a secret payoff by the FBI. As the Eugene paper reports:
The documents filed by Seda’s attorneys say that on Jan. 6 they saw "for the first time" FBI documents stating that the agency paid Cabral and her late husband $14,500 in cash for helping the agency investigate Al-Haramain. The documents indicated that FBI Special Agent David Carroll also told Barbara Cabral before the trial that he would attempt to pay her another $7,500 after it was over. She did not receive such payment, the prosecution said.The feds' questionable conduct in the criminal case fits into a disturbing pattern. Seda's charity, now defunct, was the target of warrantless wiretapping in 2004 that was just ruled illegal in a federal civil lawsuit in San Francisco, with the government now liable for $40,800 in damages and $2.5 million in attorneys' fees on account of the wiretap misconduct.
The defense said the newly revealed FBI documents show that Barbara Cabral, a hairstylist, became close friends with Carroll and his wife, and discussed with them her need for money to pay medical expenses and a professional trip to a California styling school.
If the federal judge in Eugene lets Seda out of the Lane County Jail -- and especially if he dismisses the criminal charges entirely, as defense lawyers are asking him to do -- the feds' p.r. fiasco will clearly cross over into disaster territory. Whatever the final outcome, the Seda case does nothing to bolster the Obama administration's civil liberties credentials, which for many have been a disappointment. Some days you wonder whether the Brandon Mayfield case would have been any different if the current crew had been in charge.