MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday upheld the convictions of four New Yorkers convicted in October of planning to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and use missiles to shoot down military planes, despite finding that they may have been entrapped by the FBI.
A lawyer for one of the men told Courthouse News he would appeal the rulings.
James Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams and Laguerre Payen appealed the convictions on two grounds – lack of predisposition and outrageous government conduct – in January 2011. They have long argued that an ex-con-turned-FBI informant entrapped them by promising to give them $250,000 – and various worldly and otherworldly rewards – if they carried out a plot they never conceived.
U.S. District Judge Connie McMahon seemed receptive to their arguments at a March 24 hearing, and she delayed their sentencing hearing several weeks before filing two orders denying their motions on Tuesday.
“Defendants renew a motion, made and denied without prejudice prior to the trial, to have the indictment dismissed on the ground that the Government ‘created the criminal, then manufactured the crime,'” McMahon wrote.
“There is some truth to that description of what transpired here,” she said in the second order. “Nonetheless, the motion is denied.”
Although she delivered a ruling favorable to federal prosecutors, McMahon wrote that “there is something decidedly troubling about the Government’s behavior vis a vis Cromitie, for three reasons.”
Those reasons were that the FBI acknowledged that Cromitie “was unlikely to commit an act without the support of the FBI source;” was “utterly inept” to put the attack into action without the information; and waited nine months to “take the bait that was offered to him.”
Though “troubling,” the sting did not violate the Constitution, McMahon said.
“Cromitie’s own behavior fatally undermines any suggestion that he was subjected to pressure so coercive as to run afoul of the Constitution,” the ruling states. “He had successfully resisted going too far for eight months, and the Government was about to turn away from him and fry other fish. Then Cromitie affirmatively re-injected himself into what he knew to be a criminal situation. He came back to a person he believed to be a Pakistani terrorist and, for money and the cause (primarily, in this court’s opinion, for money), he participated willingly and enthusiastically in a plot to commit unimaginably heinous crimes rooted in bigotry and hatred – crimes that would have resulted in the loss of innocent life and the unwarranted destruction of property had they been real. Cromitie participated in that activity of his own free will, and he equally willingly procured the participation of others.”
At an appeal hearing on March 24, McMahon noted that dozens of supporters have repeatedly demonstrated at the courthouse in support of the defendants, whom they call the Newburgh Four.
The quartet’s nickname derives from the Orange County town that is home to Stewart Air National Guard Base, where the group planned to shoot down military planes. It also hearkens to the Guildford Four nickname given to a group found to have been wrongly convicted by an English court of orchestrating the Irish Republican Army’s 1974 Guildford pub bombings.
In her order, McMahon noted that the sting operation that ensnared the would-be bombers has not been popular in Newburgh.
“[T]rolling among the citizens of a troubled community, offering very poor people money if they will play some role, any role, in criminal activity, looks very different to the people of that community than it does to the law enforcement community,” McMahon wrote. “But nothing in any of the limited jurisprudence on outrageous government misconduct suggests that this sort of activity, troubling though it might be, violates anyone’s constitutional rights.”
Cromitie’s attorney Kerry Lawrence told Courthouse News that he’s not giving up hope. “I am obviously disappointed that the court denied our motions, but we will continue to pursue these issues on appeal,” he said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
At sentencing on June 7, the men face a minimum of 25 years in prison or a maximum of life.