A woman who pleaded guilty with her husband in a plot to ship money to a Mideast terrorist group did it to make money and not for political purposes, a federal judge said after sentencing her to more than three years in prison Wednesday.
Amera Akl told the judge that she knew up to $1 million would be going to Hezbollah, a Lebanese group the U.S. government lists as a terrorist organization.
But her attorney maintained that she took part because she was in financial trouble. "Her real goal was to keep some, as much of the money that she could," said attorney Sanford Schulman.
An FBI informant approached Akl with an offer to send money to Hezbollah and give her a share for helping transport it, federal prosecutors said. She then brought her husband into the plan and they both had a role in making arrangements, said Justin Herdman, an assistant U.S. attorney.
"She never resisted this proposal," Herdman said. "She never walked away."
Akl, 38, and her husband, Hor Akl, planned for a year how to send the money overseas, prosecutors said.
The informant provided the couple with $200,000 for the first shipment that was to be hidden in an SUV before they were arrested a year ago.
Mrs. Akl's role was vital, Herdman said, noting that she put on rubber gloves to handle the money and shopped for auto parts where they could hide the money. "She did it for greed," Herdman said.
Akl's attorney acknowledged she took the bait, but he insisted she was not a terrorist.
"She's an easy target," Schulman said. "She's not the Hezbollah you and I imagine."
The Akls, dual citizens of the United States and Lebanon, both pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Hor Akl also pleaded guilty to money laundering, bankruptcy fraud and perjury charges.
Both agreed to a plea deal to avoid a possible 40-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge James Carr sentenced Amera Akl to three years and four months, six months short of the maximum.
The judge told Akl that the couple's three children now will go through school with classmates who will look at them differently and subject them to ridicule. "That's the real shame," he said, shaking his head.
The judge asked her several questions about whether she knew where the money was going and how much she intended to keep.
"We were going keep some of the money," she said.
Akl sat with her husband before the hearing. He leaned forward and looked down when the judge announced her sentence. A date has not been set for his sentencing. He faces up to seven years.
"Money is the lifeblood of terrorist organizations, and stopping the flow is a key component to choking off these organizations," said Steven Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the northern Ohio.