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Published: Sunday, 6/22/2008

Millions spent on Toledo terror case; tab still rising

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mohammad Amawi, left, Marwan El-Hindi, and Wassim Maz loum face a sentence of up to life in prison on terror-related convictions. Amawi and El-Hindi still face other charges. Mohammad Amawi, left, Marwan El-Hindi, and Wassim Maz loum face a sentence of up to life in prison on terror-related convictions. Amawi and El-Hindi still face other charges.
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There were years for an investigation, months for a trial, and millions of dollars spent.

And while the trials of Mohammad Amawi, Marwan El-Hindi, and Wassim Mazloum on terrorism-related charges concluded with guilty verdicts, those involved in the case insist that the proceedings and the dollars spent on it are far from a done deal.

Amawi, 28; El-Hindi, 45; and Mazloum, 27, were convicted by a jury June 13 on two counts each of conspiring to kill or injure people in the Middle East including U.S. troops serving in Iraq and of providing support and resources to terrorists overseas. Amawi and El-Hindi also were found guilty on two counts of distributing information regarding explosives.

They each face up to life in prison.

The convictions marked the end of charges faced by Maz loum. But his co-defendants will return to U.S. District Court in Toledo in a few weeks to face additional charges and possibly additional trials.

Also pending in the case are charges against two co-defendants Zubair Ahmed and Khaleel Ahmed of the Chicago area who are slated to go to trial on Feb. 9, 2009.

Not all the counts have been tried, and not all the defendants have been tried, said Dennis Terez, the federal public defender in the district s Cleveland office, which handled Amawi s defense.

Since the indictment was announced in February, 2006, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on the investigation, prosecution, and defense of the three men.

Although no figures are available on the total costs associated with the case so far, court records show payment authorization to the team of defense attorneys. To date, the almost 20 attorneys appointed to represent the five defendants including the Ahmed cousins have been authorized to receive more than $1.7 million in payments, a review of court records showed. An additional $103,399 was authorized in payments to experts for the defense.

Not included in that figure are the salaries for members of the federal public defender s office in Cleveland who spent 15 months over the past few years as the defense team for Amawi or the salaries of those involved in the prosecution.

Defending the system

Mr. Terez says that each of the defendants will require representation during the sentencing phase and eventual appeals.

While these steps may seem costly to the public, they are guaranteed by the Constitution. They are not an option, he said. That this process takes long or at times is expensive is something outweighed by the importance of following the Constitution.

A home-grown case

The prosecution of the case marked the first time a home-grown terror cell was convicted for plots against U.S. soldiers in Iraq, said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Department of Justice. Others have been convicted of trying to carry out plots, but they were not living in the United States nor were they U.S. citizens.

The bulk of the government s case rested on the recordings made by a cooperating witness, Darren Griffin, who testified in court over 12 days about how he weaved his way into the Toledo Muslim community. He testified that Amawi, El-Hindi, and Mazloum each of whom is of Middle Eastern descent were only three of several people identified as persons of interest.

Mr. Griffin, 42, said he was paid almost $56,000 a year by the FBI to work as an informant. The FBI also paid for additional expenses, such as plane fare for Mr. Griffin and Amawi to Jordan, and for computer equipment.

Mr. Boyd said the Department of Justice does not generate cost estimates for the prosecution of cases and would not know what was spent on an investigation. He also pointed out that the case is still pending.

Amawi is charged with two counts of threatening the President. El-Hindi is charged with making false statements, Mr. Boyd said.

Trial dates in those cases have not yet been set.

Judge James Carr has presided over the case since the men were arraigned more than two years ago. The judge s court deputy, Amy Schroeder, said court proceedings for the additional charges against Amawi and El-Hindi likely will begin soon.

A sentencing hearing for the recent convictions will occur after the remaining charges are resolved, she added.

Complicated sentencing

Attorney Charles Boss, who represented El-Hindi, characterized the process as being a little more than two-thirds of the way through. In addition to resolving the charges that El-Hindi still faces, the case involves a complicated sentencing phase.

The question becomes, what is an appropriate sentence? he said, noting that earlier this year a federal judge in Florida sentenced Jose Padilla to more than 17 years in prison.

Padilla, along with two co-defendants, was convicted of supporting terrorism and conspiring to commit murder abroad.

Attorney Steve Hartman said he didn t believe that the government would pursue the additional charges against El-Hindi. He noted that the charges his client was convicted on were much more serious.

If the government pursues these other charges against El-Hindi, they ll simply be vindictive, he said.

Mr. Hartman added that Judge Carr has discretion on what sentence he would impose but that he must consider the advisory guidelines outlined by Congress for each of the charges.

Mr. Boss agreed that the judge has discretion when crafting a sentence. He said he hoped that the photographs of his client leaving the courthouse after the verdicts were read wouldn t be a factor.

A shackled and smiling El-Hindi was photographed pointing upward as U.S. marshals escorted him out of the courthouse.

The gesture seemed to show signs of El-Hindi being belligerent and not taking everything seriously, Mr. Boss said. But what his client was saying, Mr. Boss said, was that despite what happened in court he believes that Allah has a plan for him.

It was a cultural misunderstanding, he said.

El-Hindi is a U.S. citizen who was born in Jordan; Mazloum came to the United States from Lebanon in 2000, and Amawi, who was born in the United States, holds Jordanian citizenship.

Questioning the verdicts

Mr. Boss said he was more than a bit disappointed in the verdicts, which were reached by the jury of six men and six women after 2 days of deliberations. He said that he believed that what was missing from the case was the big picture.

What was presented at trial was 5 percent of the evidence. The remaining 95 percent of the evidence we saw in hundreds of hours of video, Mr. Boss said. If you get the big picture, we didn t feel that El-Hindi intended to enter into a conspiracy, but when you cut pieces here and there and jam it all together, it looks different.

Mr. Boss said each of the attorneys involved in the case spent hundreds of hours sifting through a monstrous amount of electronic evidence.

Costly representation

Mr. Hartman said his law firm lost money during the 2 years that he represented El-Hindi. He said attorneys appointed in cases like these especially high-profile ones that take months to prepare and try don t do it for the money but instead to ensure that defendants who don t have the funds to hire an attorney are represented fairly.

Defense attorneys appointed through the Criminal Justice Act are able to bill $100 an hour. Although they may submit fees and the local judge may authorize them, it is ultimately up to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review and approve any expenditures, Mr. Terez said.

Lead attorneys representing Zubair Ahmed and Khaleel Ahmed could not be reached for comment Friday. The cousins, who are under house arrest in Chicago, face one count each of conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons outside the United States.

Contact Erica Blake at:eblake@theblade.comor 419-213-2134.


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