NEW YORK (CN) – The 2nd Circuit held that jurors were not unfairly biased by news articles about the alleged terrorist connections of two defendants convicted of running an unlicensed money-transfer business from an ice cream shop in Brooklyn.
Prosecutors were barred from mentioning terrorism at the trial of Aref Elfgeeh and Abad Elfgeeh, but defense counsel argued that one of the government’s witnesses prejudiced the jury by bringing up Abad’s involvement in a terrorist investigation and by suggesting that defendants had illegally wired money to the Middle East to pay for guns, grenades and ammunition.
On Sept. 14, 2005 – the day after jurors were sworn in – the New York Daily News ran an article stating that “the arrest of Abad Elfgeeh, 50, was an offshoot of a government crackdown on the financing of terrorist organizations abroad.”
The article continued: “Federal Judge Sterling Johnson has barred any mention of Elfgeeh’s reputed ties to Yemeni cleric Mohammed Ali Hassan Al Moayad, who was recently convicted of conspiring to provide material support to Hamas and Al Qaeda and referred to himself as Osama Bin Laden’s ‘personal sheik.'”
According to the article, U.S. Assistant Attorney Pamela Chen had unsuccessfully asked the judge to show jurors checks seized from Elfgeeh with the words “for the jihad” and “mujahidin” written on them.
The court upheld their convictions and most of their sentencing. Aref was sentenced to 51 months in prison and was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit more than $22.4 million, while Abad received 47 years in prison and had to pay a $1.25 million fine and forfeit $22.4 million.
The court remanded for a reconsideration of Abad’s fine, which was more than double the maximum fine recommended by sentencing guidelines.