Sentencing delayed in US terror-funding case

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 11:50 PM

An Arizona man facing prison time for lying to authorities in a terrorism-funding investigation could have been a big help to authorities because of his past involvement with a Muslim charity that aided Hamas, an FBI agent testified Friday.

Other testimony, from relatives and other supporters, portrayed Akram Musa Abdallah as a community pillar and family leader who worked to help people and build bridges between faiths.

Abdallah, a 55-year-old Mesa resident, was to have been sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court on his guilty plea to one count of making a false statement during 2007 interviews with FBI agents concerning his mid-1990s fundraising for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.

But the sentencing was postponed until Feb. 18 because Judge Neil Wake ran out of time Friday after hearing hours of testimony and because he wants lawyers to submit briefs on several sentencing issues.

More than 30 people submitted letters in support of Abdallah, and more than 60 supporters packed the courtroom Friday.

Five Holy Land leaders were convicted in a Dallas federal court last year of bankrolling schools and social welfare programs that prosecutors said were controlled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since overrunning the rival Fatah government in 2007. Hamas has taken responsibility for hundreds of suicide bombings targeting Israeli citizens.

The United States had designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995. Holy Land received the designation in December 2001.

The FBI agent, Robert Miranda, said Abdallah wasn't a Holy Land insider but his volunteer work in the Phoenix area on behalf of the group would have made him a "fantastic witness" because he could have testified about its practices and beliefs.

"He was the best of both worlds," Miranda said. "From the perspective of an investigator, he sure had a lot of connections and knowledge that nobody else seemed to have."

Abdallah's fundraising role was known through FBI wiretaps but he falsely denied any substantial involvement with Holy Land when interviewed by agents during the Dallas-based investigation, Miranda said.

Abdallah's character witnesses belittled the government's case and said he is an upstanding person.

"This is a man who should not be here," Dr. Maher Abdallah, a California physician who is a cousin of the defendant, told Wake. "He's been nothing but a role model."

The cousin acknowledged Abdallah might have spoken falsely to the FBI, but said it was during voluntary interviews while being hounded by multiple agents. "He thought he was helping."

Two of the five men convicted in Dallas last year were sentenced in May to prison terms of 65 years each, and the other three received shorter terms.

Abdallah's faces up to eight years in prison under a maximum term stiffened by a terrorism enhancement. However, a plea agreement with prosecutors calls for him to receive a sentence of 18 to 24 months.

A probation officer's pre-sentencing report recommended 46 months.

Wake questioned whether the terrorism enhancement should apply to Abdallah's case because his crime only involves lying to authorities. He also questioned whether the crime should be considered serious for sentence purposes when it appears that the government was not misled by Abdallah's lies.

Lawyers are to submit briefs on those issues.

Court papers said Abdallah, a native of Jordan, moved to the United States in 1976, living initially in the New York City area. He became a U.S. citizen in 1982, moved to Phoenix in 1992 and established a home-based telephone calling card business in 2004.