Government seeks maximum for Seda

Defense denounces 'terrorism enhancement' sentencing attempt for former Ashland resident

Convicted money-launderer and tax-evader Pete Seda was well aware he was helping fund a radical Muslim jihadists' training camp in Chechnya when he laundered money through his Islamic charity in Ashland on their behalf, the government claims in new court filings.

The former Ashland arborist and peace activist kept apprised through e-mails of Chechens' fight to secede from Russia and form an Islamic state, helped translate Internet postings about their terrorist acts and even expressed a desire to fight alongside the jihadists he helped fund, documents claim.

Recently declassified documents also state agents from Russia's successor to the KGB discovered that about $130,000 of the roughly $150,000 Seda helped smuggle out of the country in March 2000 went directly to a camp that required graduates to perform acts of terror.

A month later, Russian spies intercepted a telephone conversation in which one of Seda's co-directors in his Ashland-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter tells the camp's head that Al-Haramain-bought grenade launchers, sniper rifles and other weapons were on their way, records show.

Prosecutors assert that such evidence links Seda philosophically and financially to the Muslim rebels deemed terrorists in Chechnya.

It also highlights the government's argument for a so-called "terrorism enhancement" in its quest to see Seda sentenced Tuesday in Eugene to the maximum eight years in prison for his tax evasion and conspiracy convictions.

But defense attorneys counter that the government's portrayal of Seda relies upon "unfounded speculation" and that there is no legal basis for sentencing Seda under a terrorism enhancement, court filings state.

Seda's legal camp also asserts that the Russian-supplied evidence is prejudicial and unreliable hearsay, and that the government's presentencing report generally violates federal law.

Seda, also known as Pete Sedaghaty, instead should be sentenced to six months in prison with credit for his time served while awaiting sentencing since his September conviction, defense lawyers argue.

"Pete Sedaghaty has been a respected community leader and a strong force for peace and inter-faith harmony in Ashland since the 1990s," according to a defense memorandum. "Even at his own personal peril, Mr. Sedaghaty has repeatedly spoken out against terrorism and the forces of evil."

The arguments, in the form of sentencing memorandums, were filed by prosecutors and defense attorneys this week in U.S. District Court in Eugene and made public Thursday.

Seda's sentencing is set for 8 a.m. Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan.

Some of the expected testimony was banned from the trial but is legal for Tuesday's hearing because of less restrictive rules regarding evidence in sentencing hearings.

Hogan presided over Seda's trial, during which a jury convicted the 52-year-old Seda of laundering a $150,000 donation from an Egyptian doctor into traveler's checks and a cashier's check that co-defendant Soliman Al-Buthi, who is a Saudi Arabian national, carried out of the country without reporting it.

During his trial, Seda claimed the money was intended as a tithe, and defense attorneys blamed the foundation's Medford accountant, Tom Wilcox, for the foundation's false tax return.

For 21/2 years, Seda was an international fugitive living in Middle Eastern countries that had no extradition agreements with the United States. He returned and surrendered to face the charges in 2007.

Seda had remained free under federal supervision until moments after his Sept. 10 conviction, when U.S. marshals took him into custody. Seda since has remained in the Lane County Jail.

Prosecutors in court filings asked Hogan not only to sentence Seda to eight years but also to keep him detained as a flight risk, order he pay the government almost $81,000 in unpaid taxes and require any assets he has to be seized to pay back taxpayers for the public defenders arguing on Seda's behalf.

No estimate of the defense costs were listed in Thursday's filings.

Seda's attorneys have appealed his conviction and argue in court filings that their request for a new trial should be heard before any sentence is handed down.

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys won't meet in court again before Hogan until Tuesday.

But they slugged it out in separate court documents that top a list of nearly 500 filings and rulings in a case that started on the surface as an Internal Revenue Service investigation. Over time, it has morphed into an international saga in which two former Cold War foes swapped information purported to link Chechen terrorists to Seda's foundation chapter run out of his Ashland home.

The documentation and testimony prosecutors expect to present Tuesday reveal the "private and insidious side" of Seda unseen by his many supporters who were expected to testify on his behalf that they knew him only as a man of peace who disdained acts of terrorism, court papers state.

Prosecutors assert that Seda and one of his wives helped translate jihadist material into Russian for the radical Azzam Publications and that Seda's wife received a personal thank-you note from the head of the Chechen forces for her work.

Other e-mails show Seda cut and pasted Azzam website materials about funding Chechen rebels and sent them to Al-Buthi, the memorandum states.

Tuesday's hearing was scheduled to begin with testimony via video link by Sergey Ignatchenko, an officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet KGB.

Ignatchenko investigated Al-Haramain activities in Chechnya and was expected to testify about the charity's links to Chechen jihadists and Al-Haramain's purchase of weapons for them through donations.

One telephone call intercepted in February 2000 — the same month the Muslim doctor in England wired his donation to Seda in Ashland — claims Al-Haramain had $50 million designated specifically for the Muslim fighters in Chechnya seeking independence from Russia, federal records state.

Ignatchenko was expected to testify about terrorist activities by members of the jihadists' training camp and that Al-Buthi gave a runner the smuggled $130,000, who in turn gave it to the head of that camp, the sentencing memo states.

Ignatchenko also was expected to testify about an intercepted phone call later in 2000 between the Chechen terrorists' leader and Aqil Aqil — the head of Al-Haramain in Saudi Arabia and a codirector with Seda and Al-Buthi in the Ashland chapter.

During the conversation, Aqil Aqil says the "cargo is ready to be shipped" and states that shipment includes rocket-propelled grenades, grenade launchers, an anti-tank grenade launcher, assault rifles, sniper rifles, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and 500 bullet-proof vests," prosecuting documents state.

They do not say where Aqil Aqil was when that conversation took place or who taped it.

Defense attorneys, however, maintain in court filings that there remains no proof that Seda — also known as Pete Sedaghaty — knew exactly where the smuggled money went or how it was used.

Defense attorneys have objected to Ignatchenko's calling as a witness and that his expected testimony "will continue the free-floating association of Mr. Sedaghaty with actions he knew nothing about," their memorandum states.

"Mr. Sedaghaty was a small-time player in a huge, worldwide organization most of whose activities for over half a decade have been perfectly legitimate and admirable," the defense memorandum states.

"...We urge the Court to look at this case from a broader vantage point. The challenges and dangers presented by the threat of global terrorism cannot be understated. But we ask the Court to consider where this case, and where Mr. Sedaghaty, fit into the galaxy of those fears and concerns."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.


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