Tampa judge raises government's burden of proof in Al-Arian case

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

VICKIE CHACHERE | The Online Ledger | 5 August 2004

Prosecutors putting a former professor on trial on charges he raised money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad will have to prove financial contributions to the group were used for terrorist attacks rather than charitable purposes, a federal judge has ruled. The ruling from U.S. District Judge James Moody was applauded Thursday by defense attorneys for former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian. They said it will make the government's allegations that Al-Arian used a charity as a fund-raising front for the Islamic Jihad more difficult to prove. Al-Arian and three others face a 50-count racketeering indictment which accuses Al-Arian of being the North American head of the Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian denies that either the charity or academic think tank he created were fund-raising fronts for the group's terrorist attacks, which have claimed more than 100 lives in Israel. "It's a monumental victory because the government's posture in this case was all you have to do was be a member of one of these organizations and that was sufficient for them to charge you with conspiracy," said William Moffitt, one of Al-Arian's defense attorneys. "The government has a much tougher row to hoe." Stephen Bernstein, the attorney for co-defendant Sammeeh Hammoudeh, said Moody "hit the nail on the head." "He found exactly what this case is going to turn on," said Bernstein. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa declined to comment on the ruling, which was delivered to attorneys late Wednesday. Moody's 20-page order comes after the government asked him to reconsider a March ruling that essentially set the standard for the government's case against Al-Arian, Hammoudeh and two other men scheduled to go to trial in January. In March, Moody turned down a request from Al-Arian's defense attorneys that the charges against him be dismissed, arguing the charges involved acts of fund-raising and freedom of association which are protected under the First Amendment. But Moody said to avoid constitutional concerns, the government would have to prove Al-Arian and the others sought to support the Islamic Jihad's criminal activities. Moody wrote in the ruling that those limits "does not, will not, and should not hamper the government's anti-terrorism efforts." "The court reiterates that it is in no way creating a safe harbor for terrorist or their supporters to try to avoid prosecution through utilization of shell 'charitable organizations' or by directing money through the memo line of a check toward lawful activities," Moody wrote. Moffitt said Al-Arian, Hammoudeh and co-defendants Ghassan Zayed Ballut and Hatim Naji Fariz are not alleged to have personally participated in Islamic Jihad attacks. The government says the men are linked to the terrorist group through the Islamic Committee of Palestine, a charity, and World and Islam Studies Enterprises, a now defunct academic think tank once affiliated with USF. Al-Arian was the founder of both groups, which sponsored conferences which drew participants later discovered to be terrorists and solicited contributions from audience members. Prosecutors contend those events are evidence that Al-Arian provided financial support for the terrorist group. Al-Arian's think tank also was once headed by Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who left Tampa and resurfaced as the head of the Islamic Jihad. Shallah is among seven other men named in the indictment with Al-Arian, but is in Syria and has not been arrested in the case.