RIVERSIDE — A defense attorney on Wednesday characterized a government informant as a “professional liar,” convicted felon and tax evader who was paid handsomely for helping the FBI build a terrorism case against four men, and even broke the law while doing so.
Federal Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Aaron questioned the motives and tactics of informant Mohammad Hammad during the trial in U.S. District Court of Sohiel Omar Kabir, 36, of Pomona, and Ralph Kenneth De Leon, 25, of Ontario. He said Hammad has been paid more than $370,000 by the government since he became a full-time confidential informant in November 2007, upon Hammad’s release from federal prison on a drug trafficking conviction.
In August 2012 alone, Hammad received two payments from the government totaling more than $13,000, Aaron said.
“You are a very successful informant, correct?” Aaron asked Hammad, to which he replied, “No.”
Hammad took the witness stand Tuesday, testifying that he accompanied De Leon and Miguel Santana, another defendant charged in the case who has since pleaded guilty under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, to Islamic-related conventions in Las Vegas and San Diego in the summer of 2012. Hammad said he also accompanied De Leon on a trip to Chicago so De Leon could say goodbye to his mother and pick up personal belongings.
Hammad testified on Tuesday as to being present during multiple conversations he had with De Leon, Kabir, Santana and a fourth defendant, Arifeen David Gojali, 23, of Riverside, where they discussed their plans to travel to Afghanistan and begin training with the Taliban in order to carry out a violent jihad against Americans overseas.
Gojali also struck a plea agreement with prosecutors and testified against Kabir and De Leon last week.
Kabir and DeLeon are charged with five felony counts of conspiring to kill, kidnap or maim American targets including “officers and employees of the United States” and military personnel, to provide material support to al Qaeda, and to receive al Qaeda-backed military training to benefit the terrorist organization, according to an amended indictment filed in February. They face life in federal prison if convicted on all charges, prosecutors said.
Aaron called Hammad a “sophisticated criminal” in that he bribed officials in foreign countries who were in cahoots with his smuggling of drugs and people across borders. Hammad did not dispute Aaron’s assessment, and testified Tuesday he illegally smuggled his two brothers into the U.S. from the West Bank in 1999.
On Wednesday, it was the defense team’s turn to cross-examine Hammad. When Aaron asked Hammad if he reported any of the income he has received from the government over the last seven years to the IRS, Hammad pleaded the 5th Amendment.
And Aaron also questioned Hammad’s failure to disclose on an apartment rental application and other forms that he was a convicted felon. In addition, Aaron said Hammad broke the law and violated the terms of his probation when he attended a firing range with De Leon and Santana and fired guns.
Hammad did not dispute any of Aaron’s allegations, but did say the FBI was aware he was going to a firing range with the defendants and would be firing guns.
Hammad, a West Bank-born Palestinian, wrote a minimum of four letters to the U.S. Attorney’s Office “begging” to be an informant, which postponed his deportation proceedings following his release from prison. Deportation proceedings against Hammad have been suspended during Hammad’s work as an informant, with the government not only paying Hammad a hefty salary, but also picking up some of his living expenses as well, Aaron said.
The government, Aaron said, did not approach Hammad about being an informant, as has been characterized in court thus far.
“For you, it’s all about what you get - money and immigration benefits?” Aaron asked Hammad, to which he answered, “No, sir!”
Hammad was convicted in 2005 for conspiring to manufacture manufacture methamphetamine and sentenced to 42 months in prison. He was released on Nov. 16, 2007, exactly five years prior to the arrests of De Leon, Santana, and Gojali at a Chino apartment complex as they planned to drive to Mexico and then fly to Turkey from there, then ultimately Afghanistan. Kabir was already in Afghanistan at the time and was detained there by the FBI and U.S. military and extradited to the U.S. to face charges.
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