MANHATTAN (CN) – Defense attorneys for alleged New York City bomb plotter Jose Pimentel complained that prosecutors redacted their client’s own emails, as the parties geared up for trial at a discovery hearing on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old Pimentel reportedly fell under intense police scrutiny for two years, as authorities looked for signs of religious extremism.
His case has divided those who believe him to be an example of the dangers of so-called “lone wolf” terrorism, and others who believe he is among a growing number of Muslims coaxed into serious crimes by confidential informants intimately involved in the plots they later disrupt.
In 2004, Pimentel moved to Schenectady, N.Y., converted to Islam and started using the names “Muhammad Yousuf” and “Yusuf.”
He was arrested about a year later for buying a computer with a stolen credit card that he swiped from a customer as a Circuit City employee.
According to his indictment, he operated jihadist websites roughly around this time advocating violence against the United States, disseminating articles from al-Qaida’s Inspire Magazine such as “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” and lengthy manuals about explosives.
The confidential informant makes his first appearance in Pimentel’s indictment on Aug. 13, 2011, when the two allegedly first met at the informant’s apartment to plot an attack.
Over the next several months, the two operated closely to share information, meet in each other’s homes, and drive to Home Depot and Target to buy materials that can be used to make pipe bombs, the indictment states.
Pimentel allegedly stole $100 from his uncle to purchase crude bomb-making ingredients, such as Christmas lights, a clock, pipe elbows, a battery and a light bulb.
The twosome allegedly finished their first live circuit on Nov. 19, 2011.
Authorities arrested Pimentel the next day, and he was eventually indicted on five weapons possession counts.
The case has stumbled on the road to trial after anonymous FBI officials publicly distanced themselves from the case in the Wall Street Journal, and other press accounts emerged of Pimentel’s alleged mental instability and pot-smoking with the informant.
As the parties met again on Tuesday, the scope of the NYPD’s monitoring led to sparring about the remaining evidence to be shared.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Fields promised to turn over the 163 remaining audio and videotapes to the defense on a “rolling basis,” aiming for an Aug. 1 “goal.” Some of the tapes are only five minutes long, and others clock in at over 12 hours, he added.
There was more dissension over the prosecution’s decision to redact emails found on Pimentel’s hard drives.
“We don’t think we need to be subject to the government’s redactions,” defense attorney Lori Cohen said.
Fields insisted that Pimentel and his attorneys would be able to figure out the substance of the redacted information on their own.
Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Thomas Farber pointed out that this would be a difficult task.
“You have all of his computers,” Judge Farber said. “He’s sitting there in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.”
Fields continued to defend the redactions as necessary to protect information related to ongoing criminal investigations and protect biographical and other sensitive information.
Pimentel was once convicted of identity theft, and information such as social security numbers would need to be redacted, he added.
Prosecutors agreed to turn over a privilege log explaining the types of information redacted from the emails.
Outside the courtroom, Pimentel’s other lawyer Susan Walsh called it “absurd” for the NYPD to treat her client’s own emails as privileged information.
“That’s the state of affairs in the United States at the moment,” she said.
The parties will meet again on June 28 to file motions.