As New Yorkers mull over another FBI sting operation which netted an alleged would-be terrorist this week, a similar case is headed for an appellate hearing in federal court early next month.
An appeal filed by the so-called Newburgh Four, who were convicted last fall of a 2009 plot to shoot down military aircraft and blow up two synagogues in Riverdale, will be heard before the federal Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit Nov. 5.
The case has been controversial for many reasons. One of those is that the government’s paid informant aggressively lobbied the men–four Newburgh N.Y. ex-cons who mainly spent their time getting high and playing video games, one of them borderline mentally disabled–to push the plot further. He supplied them with gifts, food, use of cars, and cash, and eventually, offered them $250,000 to plant the synagogue bombs. The informant, Shahed Hussain, was also a convicted felon who was repeatedly caught lying on the witness stand during trial.
Just like this week’s arrest of 21-year-old Bangladeshi native Quazi Mohammad Nafis for a scheme to plant a bomb outside the Federal Reserve Bank, the government provided all of the equipment, the bombs [which were always inoperable], transportation and logistics, to the Newburgh quartet.
One of the defendants, David Williams, told the Voice exclusively last year that he and fellow defendant James Cromitie, the supposed ringleader, were simply trying to scam Hussain, who claimed he was wealthy, out of as much money as possible without actually going through with the plot, and they had no interest in actually hurting anyone.
“The government manufactured the criminal and manufactured the crime,” a defense attorney said about the case last year.
An entrapment defense was rejected, and a jury found them guilty. The four men were sentenced to 25 years to life–the least severe penalty the judge could give under the draconian mandatory minimum laws.
On several occasions, including the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon questioned whether they were capable of coming up with a plot of their own without the government’s constant help.
“I suspect that real terrorists would not have bothered themselves with a person who was so utterly inept,” she said. “Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”
“The government not Cromitie first introduced the idea of an attack on Stewart [Air Force Base] … It was not Cromitie’s idea …”
She went on to say: “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it, and brought it to fruition. [T]here never would have been any terrorist operation if the government had not made one up.” Cromitie was “someone else’s tool.” And Hussein was a “serial liar,” she said.
In their papers, opposing the appeal, the government insisted the men had a fair trial, and had not been manipulated into going forward with the plot, nor was their motivation related to getting paid by Hussein. “At trial, there was more than sufficient evidence that the charged crimes were Cromitie’s idea and that it was Cromitie who recruited the other participants,” the brief says.
In their most recent response, filed two weeks ago, the defense lawyers sharply criticized the government’s statements of the fact of the case for leaving out key details and being “ludicrous and utterly at odds with the record.”
The government claims Cromitie was already a terrorist and a master mind of the plot. “That portrayal is so ludicrous and so utterly at odds with the record that it could not be the view of anyone but the most zealous partisan. Indeed, the government did not even make these arguments at trial,” writes Cromitie’s lawyer Clinton Calhoun III.
Cromitie’s motive? “Money is why: money that Hussain gave him for food, money for rent, money for weed and later, for fantastic amounts of cash and cars and vacations promised and dangled in front of him by Hussain,” the brief says.
Right now, Nafis is being characterized as a stone cold terrorist, who came to America to blow something up for Jihad. But that rhetoric sounds similar to what we have heard in the wake of the Newburgh 4 arrests, and previous law enforcement terror stings. Let’s see what comes out.