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Published: 6/23/2011

Mother sentenced for terror aid role

Woman gets 40-month prison term

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Amera Akl and her attorney, Sanford Schulman, leave U.S. District Court after sentencing in the Hezbollah funding case. Amera Akl and her attorney, Sanford Schulman, leave U.S. District Court after sentencing in the Hezbollah funding case.
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The mother of three children, who along with her husband attempted to ship money to a Mideast terrorist group, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court to more than three years in prison.

Amera Akl, 38, was sentenced to 40 months in prison by Judge James Carr for working with her husband, Hor Akl, in the plot to bundle about $200,000 and conceal it in an SUV they planned to ship to Lebanon.

Federal prosecutors said the couple planned for a year to send up to $1 million for Hezbollah, the Lebanese group the U.S. government lists as a terrorist organization and blames for numerous attacks on Israel.

Judge Carr said the punishment is not the maximum or the minimum that she could get for the crimes, but one that "adequately reflects her role ... in this case."

The plea agreement that she entered bound the judge from going outside the 37 to 46-month range in the federal sentencing guidelines for the offenses.

She will be placed on probation for three years after her release from prison.

The Akls, dual citizens of the United States and Lebanon, both pleaded guilty May 23 to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Hor Akl, 38, also pleaded guilty to money laundering, bankruptcy fraud, and perjury charges. He faces more than seven years in prison. A date for his sentencing has not been scheduled.

In exchange, prosecutors dropped an arson charge against the couple that carried a mandatory 10-year sentence. They also dropped a money laundering charge against Amera Akl.

The investigation was built on recorded conversations the Akls had with an FBI informant who told them he worked for an anonymous donor who was eager to support Hezbollah. They agreed to transport $1 million, of which about $200,000 would be kept by them as a fee, prosecutors said.

The couple were arrested June 3, 2010, after they were caught at their home with $200,000 supplied by the informant and accessories for the SUV in which they intended to conceal the money.

Sanford Schulman, Amera Akl's attorney, sought the 37-month minimum sentence and asked Judge Carr to credit his client for the time she had served in jail.

Mr. Schulman said Amera Akl, who drew her husband into the conspiracy after she talked to the informant, intended to keep as much of the money as she could.

"She took the bait. She ran with it," he said. "She is not a terrorist. She is a mother. She is a daughter. She is a sister. She is a friend."

Before learning her sentence, Akl apologized for the illegal actions and the impact and shame that it has caused for her family and her school-age children.

"These are the ones who are going to suffer the most," Judge Carr told her. "That is the real shame that you should be sorry for."

The plea agreement called for the forfeiture of a vehicle and $6,629 in cash.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman asked Judge Carr for a sentence of 42 months for her role in the conspiracy.

He said her involvement in the nearly 10-month terrorist plot began as an eager participant in August, 2009, when she met the FBI informant. He said she stepped away from the operation while her husband got more involved from roughly September, 2009, to February, 2010, when she helped her husband make flight plans to Lebanon.

"She was vital at the very beginning of the conspiracy and vital at the very end," Mr. Herdman said. "She by her own actions and by her own desires to make a profit planned to send off money to Lebanon to fund Hezbollah and she knew the money would be used to support the military operations of Hezbollah."

Hor Akl traveled to Lebanon in March, 2010, to arrange the delivery of money and returned to Toledo claiming that he had met with Hezbollah officials, according to court documents.

"This case has been about stopping the money flow to designated terrorist organizations and today's sentence sends a clear message about the seriousness of the conduct," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, who is based in Cleveland, said in a prepared statement e-mailed to The Blade. "Money is the lifeblood of terrorist organizations and stopping the flow is a key component to choking off these organizations."

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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