EUGENE — Pete Seda now says he was "ashamed" that his Ashland-based Islamic charity gave out extremist literature calling for holy war against non-Muslims, but he insists money to fund terror never passed through his hands.
Speaking Tuesday in his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court, a shackled Seda told the court he rejected terrorism his entire life and hopes again to work toward peaceful religious co-existence when he gets his conspiracy and tax-cheat convictions behind him.
Seda said he was ashamed of "some statements in some books I distributed," which included copies of the Muslim Quran that contained a radical "call to jihad" appendix rallying for Muslims to kill nonbelievers in a holy war.
Prosecution documents state that Seda's chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation distributed hundreds of those Qurans to Muslims in U.S. prisons.
"Terrorism can never be good, positive or helpful," Seda told U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan.
"I pray the court allow me to move forward in learning from my past and mistakes," he said. "Justice, love and compassion will endure."
Seda's comments concluded a daylong hearing which largely swirled around whether the 52-year-old former Ashland arborist and activist should be sentenced as a tax cheat or a terrorist under federal sentencing rules. Seda was convicted in September of one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and one count of filing a false tax return.
Hogan did not order a sentence Tuesday, saying the case was so complicated he wanted to issue his decision in writing, and that could be "in a couple weeks." No new court date was set.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Seda faces a maximum of eight years in federal prison should Hogan find Seda intended to support terrorism when he helped smuggle about $150,000 out of the United States in 2000 and lied on his taxes to cover it up.
If the terrorism enhancement is denied, he could be sentenced to as little as time already served in jail.
A Russian agent earlier Tuesday testified that the money Seda helped smuggle likely went to fund terror crimes and a multinational terrorist training camp well-financed by other arms of Al-Haramain.
But Col. Sergey Ignatchenko, an officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, testified he could not directly link Seda nor the smuggled money to terrorism.
"I never knew about him and I never heard of him," Ignatchenko testified about Seda.
"We didn't know exactly which country the money came from," Ignatchenko said through an interpreter. "We couldn't monitor the flow of finances."
Ignatchenko's testimony anchored arguments over whether Seda should be sentenced under a so-called "terrorism enhancement."
To do so, Hogan must find that Seda's crimes were calculated to influence or effect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion.
It does not require that Seda be convicted of a federal crime of terrorism or even that a terrorism crime was committed — just that Seda's intention was to promote the federal crime of terrorism.
Prosecutors claimed Seda was well aware of Chechen jihadists fighting Russians to form an Islamic state there when he helped smuggle the money to them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Gorder argued that Seda knew he was aiding fighters against a sovereign country not considered an enemy of the United States.
"The United States was at peace with Russia at the time, so the terrorist enhancement applies," Gorder said.
Defense attorney Bernie Casey argued that federal statutes do not apply to acts of war, and society in 2000 viewed the Chechen fight with the Russians as a war.
Casey also argued that the world viewed the Russians as the side committing atrocities against Chechen civilians.
"One man's terrorism is another man's conventional war," Casey said. "The lines between blankets and bullets "… are very, very nebulous." (Correction: See below.)
Ignatchenko also testified his agents intercepted a telephone call between the head of Chechen jihadists and Aqil Aqil — the head of Al-Haramain in Saudi Arabia and a co-director of Seda's chapter — in which Aqil said Al-Haramain had $50 million to help terrorists there with heavy weapons and ammunition.
Defense attorneys have couched Seda's crimes as a "tax mistake" and argued that prosecutors never proved where the smuggled money went or what it was used for.
Al-Haramain, Seda's Oregon chapter and Soliman Al-Buthi, a Saudi national and codefendant in the case, have all been designated by the U.S. government as supporters of terrorism. Seda has never been designated a terrorist or charged with any terrorism crimes.
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.
Seda's wife, Summer Rife, testified that Seda didn't possess the insidious double-faced life he is accused of living.
"Pete does not have a dark side," Rife told Hogan. "He is not someone that anyone in this room need be afraid of, and he isn't anyone that we need to be protected from."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Comments by defense attorney Bernie Casey were incorrectly attributed to Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Gorder in an earlier version of this story. This version has been corrected.