ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A defense attorney for the first U.S. police officer charged with providing material support to the Islamic State group told federal jurors Monday that Nicholas Young had been “seduced” and entrapped by the FBI.
Appearing in court in a crisp blue suit and dark tie, the former Metro Transit Police Department officer stood in sharp contrast to his appearance in photos published weeks ago in The Washington Post.
The Post photos, some of which show Young donning a Nazi uniform — to participate in war re-enactments, he said — included a photo of his upper arm emblazoned with a Nazi SS unit tattoo.
This media exposure and the possibility of Young’s interview tainting his right to a fair trial spurred U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema to call for an expanded jury pool last week.
On Monday, after jurors were selected — mostly white, male and middle-aged — Young’s attorney Linda Moreno asked the jurors to abandon any preconceived notions they might have about the Alexandria, Virginia, native’s personal beliefs.
“The FBI seduced Nicholas Young to commit a crime they created, and tried for six years to find their criminal,” Moreno told the jury, adding that the alleged crime is not one of anti-Semitism.
“There are no charges of a hate crime here,” Moreno said.
Young was arrested in August 2016 and charged with providing material support to the Islamic State and obstructing justice by lying to FBI investigators. He also is accused of purchasing $245 in Google gift cards to help ISIS operatives continue encrypted communications.
“You must focus on those charges only,” Moreno told the jury. “This charge is about supporting ISIS, and if he was entrapped after doing so.”
Moreno claims Young was entrapped by the government after years of prolonged surveillance and prodding from people he did not know were informants.
“Did they induce? You bet,” she said. “He prayed with them, shared war stories, talked about women.
[The informants] came to him over and over. He thought he was sharing a true friendship but it wasn’t going fast enough [for the FBI].”
Through six years of “carefully vetted emails composed to get him to commit a crime,” Moreno said, agents on Young’s case devised a nickname for him: “Slow Decline.”
One email, she said, showed investigators proclaiming the need to go just “one step further” with Young.
“One small step further and its one giant leap for Slow Decline,” Moreno said, quoting the correspondence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg rebutted the entrapment charge in his argument.
“First thing you need to know: Nicholas Young was a police officer sworn to uphold the law,” he told the jury. “The second thing is: This was a sting case. While engaged in a criminal act, he was working with someone who worked for the government.”
The proof lies in the messages Young exchanged with an informant named Mohammed in 2014, Kromberg said.
“Let’s go to FedEx,” Kromberg recited. “It’s not our own computer. We’ll set up a new email so we can only talk to each other. So no one will even know it exists.”
Mohammed told Young he wanted to “join the jihad in Syria,” but “Young didn’t even write up an arrest report,” Kromberg said. “Instead, he said ‘let me give him advice on how to get through airport security checkpoints.’”
The obstruction charge stems from a text message Young allegedly gave to the informant, in which Young appeared to direct the informant how and when to respond to his text messages.
If Mohammed were overseas, it would be normal if he failed to respond to Young’s messages asking about his two-week vacation, Kromberg said of Young’s instructions.
“After you leave [for Syria], don’t send me any text messages,” Kromberg said, quoting Young. “Once the FBI knows you joined ISIS, they’ll talk to me.”
He said Young’s next message to Mohammed proves the charges against him.
“He sent a message that said, ‘Hope you had a good vacation. Want to have lunch when you get back. Hit me up,’” Kromberg said. “That text was meant to obstruct justice.”
The prosecutors told jurors that upon Young’s arrest, agents found a Best Buy receipt for purchase of gift cards. They checked security footage at the store and confirmed it was Young.
“The informant told him: ‘You know, a lot of brothers are getting droned. Can you help by sending us these gift card codes?’” Kromberg said. “That code is equivalent to money and ISIS wants to use it to communicate.”
Young’s response was direct, Kromberg said: “‘Inshallah,’ he said, or ‘God willing,’ you’ll get them.”
The trial is expected to last no more than two weeks.