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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2008

El-Hindi guilty of conspiracy, theft charges

Marwan El-Hindi was found guilty of conspiracy and theft of public funds yesterday. Marwan El-Hindi was found guilty of conspiracy and theft of public funds yesterday.

Within months of learning that he would face life in prison after being convicted of terrorism-related crimes, Marwan El-Hindi was convicted yesterday in U.S. District Court in Toledo on unrelated conspiracy and theft charges.

Judge James Carr found El-Hindi guilty on one count each of conspiracy and theft of public funds as well as five counts of wire fraud. The verdict came after a four-day bench trial during which El-Hindi was accused of using $40,000 of federal grant money for personal use.

"I'm disappointed, to say the least. I don't necessarily agree with the judge's characterization of things, but I can't say there wasn't some question as to what happened and why," said attorney Steve Hartman, who represented El-Hindi at both trials.

Yesterday's verdict comes five months after a federal jury found El-Hindi and two co-defendants, Mohammad Amawi and Wassim Mazloum, guilty of conspiring to kill and maim people outside the United States and conspiring to provide material support.

El-Hindi and Amawi also were convicted of disseminating information regarding explosives.

The men face life in prison. No sentencing date has been set.

The theft and fraud charges against El-Hindi are unrelated to the terrorism convictions and instead are a result of a 2002 grant application.

According to assistant U.S. attorneys, El-Hindi and co-defendant Ashraf Zaim conspired to take $40,000 from the government by submitting a proposal to operate low-income tax credits.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Duncan Brown said during closing arguments yesterday that the judge must "follow the money, don't follow the promises."

He said although the men wrote on an application they intended to operate the clinics, the money proves that no funds were spent on that use.

"There is no evidence that anything was ever done, that any classes were ever held," Mr. Brown said. "Because there is no tangible evidence that anything was ever done, we can't say that the person who held the checkbook acted in good faith."

"Good faith" intentions were what defense attorneys said El-Hindi had when he applied for the grant for the nonprofit Educational Social Foundation Services Inc.

Mr. Hartman said during closing arguments that because the government did not prove where the money was spent, it cannot be inferred that El-Hindi did not use the funds appropriately.

"In the absence of evidence, I don't think the court can go so far as to infer what the intent is," he said.

Instead, he pointed to Zaim as the thief.

"Based on the facts, this is not consistent with the defendant trying to deprive the government of money," he added. "It's more consistent with an unsophisticated businessman who got involved with a thief and tried to make it right."

On Dec. 12, Zaim pleaded guilty to theft and wire fraud charges. As part of the plea agreement, the conspiracy charge will be dismissed at his sentencing, a date for which has not been set.

El-Hindi faces about two years when sentenced on yesterday's convictions. Judge Carr will sentence him at the same time he is sentenced on the terrorism convictions - likely some time early next year.

- Erica Blake

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