FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 24, 2021
CONTACT: Leena Al-Arian, Executive Director, Coalition for Civil Freedoms
(Washington, D.C., December 24, 2021) CCF’s legal team, Kathy Manley and Steve Downs, just filed compassionate release motions for Laguerre Payen and David Williams, two of the four political prisoners in the Newburgh 4 case from 2009. The motions request that the two men be resentenced to time served (they have each served about half of their mandatory minimum 25-year sentences so far). The basis for both motions is “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” allowed under the First Step Act of 2018, namely the men’s entrapment in the sting case, their harsh over-sentencing, and Payen’s serious mental conditions. The agent provocateur who engineered the sting for the FBI also perjured himself at trial.
Staff Attorney Amith Gupta is preparing a similar motion for the third defendant, Onta Williams (no relation to David Williams), and will file it shortly. The fourth defendant, James Cromitie, did not respond to attorneys’ offer of legal assistance.
On May 21, 2009, the FBI announced the indictment of four “Muslims,” Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen, on charges that they were planning to blow up a synagogue in Riverdale, New York and shoot down military airplanes at Stewart Airport in Newburgh with a missile. But when the facts emerged, it turned out that the men were only marginally involved with Islam (and had no interest in terrorism), exposing how far the FBI will go to perpetuate the lie of a “Muslim terrorist threat” in the U.S.
The four men were from Newburg, NY, one of the most impoverished cities in America. Exploiting their financial hardship and other vulnerabilities such as mental health problems, the paid FBI informant kept prodding the men to agree to the manufactured plot.
When one of the men initially turned down the money, the paid FBI informant kept increasing the amount to entice him. Eventually, the four agreed to the faux plot only because they were offered large amounts of money––$250,000 to one of them––which they desperately needed for necessities like food, shelter, and medical expenses.
The “terrorist plot” was wholly created, financed, abetted, and continuously promoted by FBI agent provocateur Shahed (“Maqsood”) Hussein, a pathological liar and the same informant who, a few years earlier as “Malik,” had single-handedly entrapped Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain in Albany, New York.
The motion for David Williams states this about entrapment and the three defendants now requesting sentence reduction: quoting the Court: “The issue common to all three men is the conspicuous lack of any evidence about their thoughts on jihad or terrorism prior to the time they were recruited…” The motion goes on to assert that
“This Court has aptly stated that this case is sui generis––unlike nearly all the other terrorism-related cases prosecuted in this country. These men were not targeted for anything they said or did, but simply because the government informant was trolling for anyone who would listen to his offers of riches––someone he could talk into a terrorism conviction.”
At the trial, the presiding judge referred to the case as the “un-terrorism case” and appeared to be highly skeptical of the government’s proof. After their convictions, the men explained that they saw Maqsood as a source of money and wanted to con him out of it. David Williams, who needed to raise money for his brother’s liver operation, said that
“[o]ur role in this case was to get over on the [Confidential Informant] and get that money he was offering us…We were always lying to him and he was always lying to us.”
At sentencing, the judge wrote that
“I have never heard anything like the facts of this case. I don’t think any other judge has ever heard anything like the facts of this case…”
However, appeals from the defendants regarding their convictions were unsuccessful. The motions will be decided by the same presiding judge, and is hopefully an opportunity for her to right the wrong done to these men.
Regarding the motions, CCF Legal Director Kathy Manley said,
“Because the judge clearly understands how unfair this case is, I am hopeful that she will take this opportunity to alleviate a terrible injustice by releasing these men from prison. They have already lost too many years of their lives, and should be home with their families and community, who are waiting to embrace them.”
To defend civil liberties and freedoms, promote a fair U.S. criminal justice system, and advocate for the rights of political prisoners targeted in the “War on Terror.”