Two Jail Imams Under Investigation for Carrying Illegal Firearms

On the heels of a scandal involving a Department of Corrections Muslim chaplain who was charged for sneaking razor blades into a Manhattan jail, the Voice has learned that two imams on the Rikers Island jail complex are currently under investigation for carrying illegal firearms. Both imams continue to be on the payroll of the Department of Corrections. One is facing felony charges for gun possession and a misdemeanor charge for impersonating an officer.

On July 6, a city marshal found a 9mm semi-automatic Beretta pistol, with a 15-round magazine containing eight bullets, in a car belonging to Imam Abdul-Ud-Din-Bilal (a/k/a Charles Bilal) -- who works as an imam on the Rikers Island jail complex.

How the marshal found that gun is actually kind of humorous.

The car, a 2004 Mercedes Benz, had been towed to an impound yard in Jamaica, Queens. Authorities were tipped off to the presence of the gun when the imam, who is African-American, called city marshals and stated that his gun and badge were in a car that had been towed, and that he needed to retrieve it.

Later, the imam stated to an attendant that there was no gun in the car, which turned out to be false. He was not arrested but was brought in for questioning. As a civilian, he is not authorized to carry a gun. Corrections spokesman Stephen Morello confirmed that Bilal was still working for the Department, but was not authorized to give further comment because there is an investigation. It is not known whether he is facing charges.

Another Rikers imam is facing felony charges for gun possession and for impersonating an officer, which date back to an incident in 2008. On May 3, 2008, imam Jalane Abdul-Kareem was caught driving around in a rental car with a 9mm Glock handgun. The handgun was cocked and loaded, official sources tell the Voice, with 14 bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber.

The case is winding its way through court. According to the criminal complaint, Abdul-Kareem was pulled over on a Bed-Stuy corner, at 10:35 p.m. (The corner, at Bedford and Putnam, is in the 79th NYPD Precinct, not far from the 81st, where, according to the NYPD Tapes by Voice reporter Graham Rayman, officers were on a campaign to drive up arrest numbers at around the same time). He was pulled over for driving in the Bedford bike lane, while talking on his cell phone, say officials within the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. According to court documents, he told the arresting officer that he was a corrections officer and that he was on the job. Abdul-Kareem has been charged with breaking traffic laws, with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and with impersonating an officer. The charges carry up to 15 years in prison.

Abdul-Kareem's attorney, Gregory Watts, disputes the charges and claims that a gun was never found (The criminal complaint says the gun was found in his waistband). Watts tells the Voice that his client identified himself as a corrections employee -- not an officer, and that he was pulled over as a pretext for a stop-and-search. Abdul-Kareem has pled not guilty.

Morello says that Abdul-Kareem was initially suspended upon arrest, but then returned to work, and is now using vacation time. When he returns to "modified duty" after his vacation time is used up, the department will continue to seek termination (a process that involves a collective bargaining agreement). When the Voice spoke to Watts in June, he said Kareem was still working for the Department.

There are 33 chaplains working for the Department of Corrections, according to spokesman Stephen Morello (18 full-time and 15 part-time). Six have prior criminal convictions, including head chaplain Umar Abdul-Jalil, who served 14 years in prison on drug charges . Abdul-Jalil also approved the bar-mitzvah that led to the resigniation of the No. 3 official in the Department. Morello would not disclose to the Voice how many chaplains have pending criminal cases. Jalil was recently seen on the steps of City Hall in support of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.

And what about that imam that sneaked in the razor blades? Imam Zulqarnain Abdu-Shahid was recently terminated [update: in June], Morello says.


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