ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — An Iraqi refugee living in Virginia who was accused of hiding her ties to the kidnapper of a U.S. contractor has pleaded guilty to an unrelated fraud charge.
The case against Enas Ibrahim, 32, of Vienna is the last of three cases brought by prosecutors earlier this year alleging that Ibrahim, her husband and her husband's brother engaged in visa fraud by failing to disclose on their refugee applications their family ties to Majid Al Mashhandani, who admitted participating in the 2004 kidnapping of U.S. contractor Roy Hallums. Family members said they worried that disclosing the relationship would make it impossible to gain refugee status.
Hallums spent nearly a year in captivity before being rescued in a military operation.
At Wednesday's plea hearing, though, Ibrahim pleaded guilty not to visa fraud, but to wire fraud. Specifically, she admitted that she overstated her income on a $30,000 loan application for a Nissan Pathfinder.
The loan itself was paid back in full. During the plea hearing, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema questioned whether Ibrahim really wanted to plead guilty, given that there was no actual harm and it was questionable whether Ibrahim had any criminal intent when she submitted her loan application.
Ibrahim's lawyer, Lana Manitta, said the plea deal on the wire fraud charge gives her client the best chance to avoid deportation. She said her client is innocent of visa fraud, but worried about a jury trial in which her client would have faced both the visa fraud charge and the wire fraud charge.
In an interview after the hearing, she said she worried about a jury trial for her client in part because of "the climate that we're in," which includes the Trump administration's pursuit of a travel ban seeks to restrict U.S. acceptance of refugees on the grounds that they are being improperly vetted and pose a security risk.
She questioned whether the government was overaggressive in its pursuit of Ibrahim and her family — she said Ibrahim knew nothing about the kidnapping.
"I'm not sure how it accomplished anything," she said of the prosecution.
Indeed, Brinkema posed a similar question of prosecutors at Wednesday's hearing, asking point blank, "Why are you going after this defendant?"
Prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said the case is about more than the Nissan loan. He said the three cases as a whole involve a fraud on the refugee process, and he said the government also had a legitimate interest in seeking more information "about the kidnapping and torture of an American citizen."
Hallums, who now lives in Memphis, Tennessee, told the Associated Press earlier this year that his kidnapping was largely a family affair perpetrated by the Mashhandani clan.
Ibrahim is free on bond pending sentencing. Brinkema indicated Ibrahim may well receive a sentence of only probation. She will then be free to fight any deportation efforts in immigration court.
Ibrahim has said she fears for her life if she is deported to Iraq, where her husband worked for a nonprofit that investigated corruption in the Iraqi government and had close ties to the U.S.
Her husband, Adil Hasan, and his brother — Yousif Al Mashhandani who was also living in northern Virginia — spent about three months in jail before pleading guilty last week to visa fraud and being sentenced to time served. They are now in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and could also face deportation.