(CN) – A federal prosecutor won dismissal of a $9 million lawsuit accusing him of failing to disclose exculpatory evidence at the 2003 trial of a suspected terrorist supporter.
The 6th Circuit in Cincinnati said prosecutors “have absolute immunity from civil liability for the non-disclosure of exculpatory information at trial.”
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Karim Koubriti, who was arrested in 2001 for his alleged involvement in an Islamic terrorist “sleeper cell.” FBI agents searched the home of one of Koubriti’s housemates and found false IDs, audio tapes of fundamentalist Islamic teachings, a video depicting U.S. tourist landmarks, and a day planner with alleged drawings of a U.S. base in Turkey and a Jordanian military hospital, which the government believed were “casing” materials for an attack.
Koubriti and two others were charged with possessing false identification and/or immigration documents.
Richard Convertino, then an assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, handled the prosecution.
He theorized that the men were part of a terrorist sleeper cell supporting a transnational network of radical Islamists influenced by the Salafiyya religious movement.
To the existing indictment, he added a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. He argued that the defendants had committed acts consistent with terrorist activities, including trying to obtain commercial truck licenses for transporting hazardous materials, possessing audio tapes of fundamentalist speakers and making international wire transfers.
The prosecution also relied on the testimony of Koubriti’s former housemate, Yousseff Hmimssa, who insisted the men had terrorist leanings and intentions.
In June 2003, a jury convicted Koubriti of both counts. The defendants asked for a new trial, claiming the government had suppressed important evidence, including government doubts that the sketches represented the hospital or the air base, an inmate’s letter indicating that Hmimssa had bragged about fooling the FBI and the Secret Service, and Convertino’s insistence that FBI agents not record or take notes on their interviews with Hmimssa leading up to trial.
The trial court dismissed the terrorism charge and granted Koubriti a new trial on the fraud count. Convertino was later indicted on charges that he obstructed justice and made false statements in court, but was acquitted of all counts.
Koubriti filed a civil lawsuit against Convertino, seeking $9 million and punitive damages for the prosecutor’s alleged constitutional violations.
The district court allowed two claims to proceed, but the 6th Circuit said the whole complaint should have been dismissed on immunity grounds.
Prosecutorial immunity shields Convertino from the remaining claims, the court concluded.