By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three men convicted of planting what they thought were bombs outside New York City synagogues in 2009 face possible penalties of life imprisonment when they are sentenced on Wednesday by a federal judge.
James Cromitie, 45, David Williams, 30, and Onta Williams, 35, were convicted by a federal jury in October of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles.
The charges against each man carry the possibility of a life sentence.
Controversy has surrounded the case in which the presiding judge in Manhattan federal court repeatedly criticized the government's handling of the investigation.
The men were arrested in an FBI sting operation in May 2009 amid great media fanfare after they planted what they thought were explosives in two cars parked outside synagogues in New York City's Bronx borough.
In addition to planting the explosives, the men intended to shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air missiles, U.S. prosecutors argued at trial.
At a hearing in March, defense attorneys asked the judge to overturn the convictions, arguing the men were lured into placing the fake bombs by FBI promises of money and martyrdom.
"It is the most elaborate sting operation, or manufacture of a phony plot, that certainly I've ever seen," Cromitie's defense attorney, Vincent Briccetti, told the judge.
In a scathing ruling, the judge found that legally, the convictions could not be tossed out, but he heaped criticism on the FBI and its confidential informant.
"The government indisputably 'manufactured' the crimes of which the defendants stand convicted," the judge wrote, adding some of its actions were "decidedly troubling."
A fourth man, Laguerre Payen, 29, was also convicted at trial. He is undergoing psychiatric evaluation pending sentencing at a later date.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)