MANHATTAN (CN) – The final member of a quartet convicted of planning to bomb synagogues and shoot down military airplanes will spend 25 years in prison, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Laguerre Payen’s three co-conspirators – James Cromitie, David Williams, and Onta Williams – received identical sentences, the minimum the law allowed, at a separate hearing in June.
Payen’s sentencing was initially postponed pending the results of his court-ordered psychological evaluation. A defense memo states that several doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia over the past 10 years, but the court found that he was exaggerating his symptoms during his trial.
The so-called Newburgh Four 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 the terror plot they never conceived.
Civil rights activists say the case proves only that the government lured residents of a poverty-stricken city with large sums of money. While the median income of a typical New York household was $54,659 in 2009, the same household in Newburgh earned just $37,191, according to city-data.com. Unemployment is also 2.4 percent higher.
Though U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon rejected the entrapment defense, she has largely agreed with the defendants on the facts of the case in post-trial appeals but has said such sympathy will not absolve the men of walking into the government’s sting.
In May, McMahon rejected the men’s appeals for acquittals or a new trial, and upheld their several counts of conviction. One of those counts, for weapons of mass destruction, demanded that each of the men spend at least 25 years behind bars.
At the prior sentencing in June, defense attorneys asked the judge to reject that mandate, saying that the government created and gave them the inert Stinger missile.
At the time, McMahon said sentencing below the minimum would break the law.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that even though the weapons were bogus, the criminal intent was genuine.
“Although these weapons were fake, the defendant believed they were real, and today’s sentence underscores the gravity of these crimes,” Bharara said in a statement.
In a letter to the judge, Payen’s lawyer, Sam Braverman, urged McMahon to steer his client toward a prison that would provide psychological treatment and not throw him in isolation.
“There is no one in the world who would speak with Mr. Payen, and the silence of solitary confinement would, in the end, be fatal,” Braverman said.