Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Ahmed Ferhani, one of two men from Queens, New York, accused last year of plotting to attack synagogues, is considering a plea bargain after evidence came forward about an undercover agent involved in his case, his attorney said.
An offer from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. would give Ferhani, a native of Algeria, less jail time than the maximum sentence he could face in exchange for a guilty plea, the lawyer, Lamis Deek, said today outside court. Separately, Vance’s office has given new evidence about an undercover agent known as “UC 242” who worked on the case, which raises concern about whether Ferhani was entrapped, Deek said.
Deek declined to give further details about the plea deal. Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Vance’s office, declined to comment.
“The offer of a sentence is substantially less than the maximum he’d be exposed to,” Deek said. She said that while the offer seeks to have him plead guilty to terrorism charges, she believes the worst case against him is more minor.
“At worst, this case is one of a gun crime,” Deek said. “And even in that context, we would say he was entrapped.”
Ferhani was arrested along with Mohamed Mamdouh, a Moroccan immigrant, in May 2011 and accused of conspiring to bomb synagogues and churches in Manhattan. The men were seized after buying two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith & Wesson revolver, ammunition and an inert grenade. They face a maximum of 25 years in prison on charges of conspiracy and weapons offenses as crimes of terrorism and hate.
The arrests followed an eight-month undercover operation by Vance and the New York City police. Both men pleaded not guilty.
Ferhani and Mamdouh said on April 12 they wanted to blow up a synagogue and discussed how to do it without being caught, according to their indictment. Ferhani also asked an undercover detective if he could contact someone about how to make a bomb, said they should dress as Jewish worshippers, and wanted to blow up 10 synagogues at once, prosecutors said in the indictment.
A motion to exclude some evidence from Ferhani’s case, scheduled for today before New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus, was postponed until Oct. 16.
Deek also said after today’s hearing that, after a year and a half of requesting information from Vance’s office that could potentially help her client, she received a letter two weeks ago that contained information about the undercover agent -- “UC 242,” who worked for the New York Police Department’s intelligence division on the case.
According to the Aug. 31 letter from Vance’s office to Deek, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a division of the FBI, decided not to get involved in Ferhani’s case because it was approached “well before much of the incriminating evidence” against Ferhani and Mamdouh was collected.
After reports in media including the Huffington Post saying the JTTF questioned the credibility of UC 242, Vance’s office made an investigation and found no information that would exculpate Ferhani or “cast doubt upon the credibility or truthfulness of UC 242,” the letter said.
Any concerns about UC 242 relate to a separate 2009 investigation of a group of Turkish men “who were interested in sending money to Hamas,” that he also took part in, according to the letter. UC 242 had been first to raise the subject of Hamas in a meeting with the men, drawing reported criticism from the JTTF, according to the letter.
However, a separate member of the group who was not an undercover agent first “encouraged the others to take up a collection of money to send to Gaza to help the Palestinians buy guns,” two days earlier, when the money was donated, the letter said. One of the men ran off with the money collected and no arrests or charges came of the investigation.
Deek said UC 242 had “incited conversations” about sending money to Hamas and that Vance’s office is attempting to “circumvent the constitutional rights of defendants -- the right to conduct discovery; confront witnesses against them.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation told Vance’s office in a June 12 letter that after searches of its databases in response to repeat requests from Vance’s office, it doesn’t possess any information “that expresses credibility concerns” about the agent.
The FBI decided not to take part in a separate terrorism-related investigation by Vance’s office -- that of Jose Pimentel -- because of concern of entrapment linked to a police informant, a person familiar with that case told Bloomberg News at the time of Pimentel’s arrest. Pimentel has been charged with plotting to bomb government offices and police vehicles in Manhattan.
The case is New York v. Ferhani, 2461/2011, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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