Today’s daily blog features a gentleman who has experienced a delayed reaction to allegedly not being completely truthful during law enforcement questioning.
This time, it was federeal law enforcement.
These guys take this stuff very seriously.
Statements that Tarek M. 26 (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) allegedly made to the FBI two years ago in the midst of a terrorism investigation came back to haunt him last weekend, when the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy graduate was arrested as he was about to board a Boston flight to start a new job overseas.
Now, he is in an old cell right here.
He is charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when questioned about the whereabouts and activities of a former Methuen resident (hereinafter, “Mr. Missing”) who was suspected of training at an Al Qaeda terrorist camp to overthrow the Somali government.
An FBI affidavit unsealed in federal court in Boston Monday alleges that the Defendant told agents on Dec. 16, 2006, that he had known Mr. Missing for three or four years and that when he last spoke to him two weeks earlier, Mr. Missing was living in a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt, and working for a website.
As it turns out, though, the FBI claims that Mr. Missing had actually placed several calls from Somalia to the Defendant’s Sudbury home four days before the FBI interview, urging him to “join him in training for jihad,” the affidavit says.
After Mr. Missing’s capture a month later, a cooperating witness secretly recorded conversations with the Defendant, who fretted about lying to the FBI, according to the affidavit.
“When the FBI asked me where [Mr. Missing] was . . . I told them he was still in Egypt . . . and he had called me the day before that from Somalia,” the Defendant told the witness, according to the affidavit. “That’s very bad. I don’t know how the heck I’m gonna explain that one.”
Good point he raised. Too bad he raised it too late, out loud and to a third party with a tape recorder.
The affidavit goes on to say that the Defendant was recorded saying, “I don’t ever remember if he said the word Somalia on the phone, but that’s a problem because, like, lying to them in and of itself is a crime.”
Bingo! Instant membership to the Hey, I’ll Bet I Can Make This Situation Worse If I Try club.
The complaint filed against the Defendant charges him with knowingly making false statements concerning an FBI investigation involving international terrorism. He is not facing any charges of terrorism.
During a brief appearance in US District Court on Monday, the Defendant was ordered held without bail pending a hearing on whether he should be jailed without bail until the case is resolved, a spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office, said yesterday.
The Defendant’s lawyer said, “If this is the FBI’s idea of a terrorist, they are using a net that is designed to catch minnows instead of sharks.”
The Defendant is an American citizen with no prior criminal record who recently graduated from a Massachusetts college and was on his way abroad to begin a job working in a renowned medical facility.
Mr. Missing was arrested in January 2007 as he fled Somalia. He became the first US citizen charged with participating in terrorist activities in Somalia. Last year, he pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to receiving training at a terrorist camp in Somalia alongside Al Qaeda members. He admitted training to use firearms and explosives as part of an effort to help a group called the Islamic Courts Union overthrow the Somali government and install an Islamic state.
Today, Mr. Missing is serving a 10-year prison term.
The affidavit filed in the Defendant’s case in Boston says that Mr. Missing has admitted to authorities that while in the southern part of Somalia, he called the Defendant and, using code words, urged him to join in fighting for an Islamic state in Somalia.
You know, sometimes, it just does not pay to lie to the feds to protect a friend. Strike that. It never pays to lie to the feds; they have a nasty habit of looking into it and making, dare I say it, a federal case out of it.
Actually, in all seriousness, the way the federal end of the criminal justice system operates is rather interesting. Many of their cases are built upon turning potential co-defendants against each other. In this case, they have gotten statements from two of the Defendant’s (former, I will wager) friends to give evidence against him. What rewards were they promised? We do not know. Further, the Defendant himself will not know until further down in the proceeding.
Being charged with a crime in the state system is bad enough; the federal system is even worse. You have fewer rights as to discovering the statements against you and you are more likely to be incarcerated pending trial. Further, the federal prosecutors seem to have more of a choice as to which cases they will prosecute, so when they bring forth charges, they are usually quite confident.
As a side note, it is generally illegal to secretly record a conversation in Massachusetts; all parties to the conversation have to have given consent to the taping. However, as always, there are exceptions. The government can obtain a warrant to record conversations…especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Patriot Act. Most likely, the proper warrant was obtained and so the recording will be admissible.
A couple of lessons for us appear in the Defendant’s tale.
First of all, if you have lied to the government, it is not terribly wise to tell your friends all about it. I do not know the facts and circumstances of the “cooperating witness” and why he happened to be recording during the conversation, but it seems to me that the feds had their hooks into him already. Lesson 1(a) is do not lie to the feds. Lesson 1(b) is if you failed lesson 1(a), keep your mouth shut about it.
Second, we have yet another example of an ongoing investigation out in the wings coming back to suddenly haunt when one least expects it. In this case, it would appear that the Defendant did indeed know that there was a potential investigation out there. And here it has come back to roost years later. Did he confer with experienced counsel in the meantime? We do not know. But he should have!
Now, instead of starting is new life, he is paying for an alleged crime in the old one.
Samuel Goldberg is the senior criminal defense attorney at the firm of Altman & Altman, P.C. A former prosecutor in New York, he has worked as a Boston criminal defense attorney in Boston over 18 years. He frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network
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