New prison term for LA terror plot cooperator

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 8:32 PM
New prison term for LA terror plot cooperator

After helping prosecutors convict two co-conspirators in a terrorist plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, Abdel Ghani Meskini got a short sentence and a new start as a manager of a rundown Atlanta-area apartment complex.

But Meskini was sent back to prison Friday for nearly three more years after a judge found he broke release rules by having a handgun and trying to get an AK-47 assault rifle.

The story of Meskini's downfall, told at a hearing earlier this month, provided an unusual look at a turncoat terrorist who tried to rebuild his life _ all the more unusual because it was told partly by a prostitute who said he'd helped her cope.

Meskini, 42, thanked his lawyer but otherwise said nothing before U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan sentenced him to 31 months in federal prison. Defense lawyer Mark DeMarco suggested Meskini had been led astray by his surroundings in the crime-riddled complex _ a job the judge had faulted federal probation officers for letting Meskini take.

"He was put in a position where the influences around him, perhaps, led him to this conduct," DeMarco said. "Which is no excuse, but had he been placed into a job with law-abiding people, perhaps this wouldn't have happened."

Meskini, an Algerian who came to the U.S. as a stowaway on a boat in 1994, made tens of thousands of dollars in bank fraud and credit card schemes before becoming involved in the so-called millennium plot to bomb the busy Los Angeles airport on New Year's Eve in 1999. The plot was thwarted when now-convicted co-conspirator Ahmed Ressam was caught trying to cross into Washington state from Canada in an explosives-laden vehicle in December 1999.

Meskini pleaded guilty in March 2001 to eight charges, including conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. He testified against Ressam and Mokhtar Haouari, both now convicted and serving prison sentences.

Credited for his cooperation with investigators, Meskini was sentenced to six years in prison, less than half the term set out in sentencing guidelines. He was freed in 2005 under probation terms that barred him from having firearms, among other conditions.

The U.S. Probation Department accused Meskini last March of violating those terms in various ways, including the handgun and assault-rifle allegations and a claim that he was associating with criminals.

Indeed, he did _ to help them, an admitted prostitute named Crystal Roughton told the court earlier this month. She was given immunity for discussing her own crimes.

She said Meskini protected her while she sold herself and an assortment of drugs to feed her crack habit. He helped her create Internet ads, showed her how to check clients' backgrounds and also helped others involved in drugs and prostitution in the complex in Buckhead, Ga., she said.

In a ruling Wednesday, Keenan blasted the government for accusing Meskini of fraternizing with criminals, given that authorities had approved his work in the complex the judge described as an open "hotbed of criminal activity."

But the judge did find he violated rules regarding guns, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher LaVigne said Friday that Meskini deserved prison time for that.

"They're serious offenses," he said.

Meskini has been jailed since he was detained by immigration authorities last November. He has applied for asylum.

Meskini has not decided whether to appeal, DeMarco said. For the moment, his main concern is his wife, who had a miscarriage while he was jailed over the summer, the lawyer said.

(This version CORRECTS that the apartment complex was in suburban Atlanta, not Atlanta.)