Defense lawyers Wednesday demanded Pete Seda's money-laundering and tax convictions be dismissed because of what they called "outrageous government conduct" in which cash payments made years ago to a key witness's family weren't disclosed until after Seda's trial.
In new motions filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, defense attorneys say the government long has withheld information that the husband of key witness Barbara Cabral was paid $14,500 for working with the FBI agents investigating Seda and other local Muslims as early as 2004.
Defense attorneys also argue that Barbara Cabral considered the lead investigator in the case, FBI Agent David Carroll, a personal friend and that the pair last year also discussed the FBI paying Cabral $7,500 after the trial.
The FBI told defense attorneys that Cabral did not receive any cash from agents after the trial, and the government has referred to the lack of disclosure as "inadvertent," court filings state.
Cabral's testimony during Seda's trial was couched by prosecutors as directly linking Seda to soliciting donations to help Chechen Muslims fighting Russians, which the government has called an act of terror.
Failing to disclose the FBI's complete relationship with the Cabrals was called "egregious" by Tom Nelson, an Oregon attorney and Seda friend who represents his co-defendant, a Saudi national named Soliman Al-Buthi, in non-criminal matters.
Al-Buthi and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation were subjects of the warrantless wiretapping by federal agents that was ruled unconstitutional in a separate case last year. The government last month was ordered to pay $2.5 million in damages and lawyers' fees from that case.
"Our system doesn't work if you don't trust the government," Nelson said. "It's difficult, to me, to see how the government can be trusted when things like this come up time and time again."
The payments as well as at least a dozen contacts between federal agents and the Cabrals were required by law to be disclosed prior to the trial, the defense motion states. But the government did not tell the defense of its lack of disclosure until Dec. 22, and the details were not turned over to the attorneys until Thursday, the motion states.
Defense attorney Steven Wax wrote the new evidence is "relevant to the defense efforts throughout the trial to demonstrate to the jury that the government investigation was biased."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani declined to comment on the defense filings or discuss when prosecutors intended to issue a response.
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele declined to discuss the case late Wednesday, other than to say that Carroll was on active duty.
During a flurry of filings Wednesday, defense attorneys also argued for a new trial should U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan not grant the dismissal. They also filed a motion ordering the release of Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, from the Lane County Jail while these new issues play out in court.
Hogan has set a Jan. 25 hearing on the motion for a new trial and the separate motion for dismissal. No immediate ruling was made on the request for release from custody.
Seda, 53, of Ashland, was convicted of money-laundering and tax evasion for using his Ashland chapter of Al-Haramain to help smuggle part of a $150,000 donation to Chechen rebels in 2000, then filing a false tax return to hide the transaction.
Prosecutors have asked that Seda be sentenced to eight years in federal prison under a terrorism enhancement for intending to aid a group trying to overthrow a government — in this case, Russia.
They relied in part on Barbara Cabral, who was the only witness to say Seda solicited a donation from her to help the Chechens fight the Russians, court filings state.
But the government failed to tell defense attorneys that, between July 2004 and December 2006, Carroll paid Richard Cabral, Barbara's then-husband, a total of $14,500 in cash during three payments, court records show.
The exact purpose of the cash payments was not alleged, but the defense filings suggest Richard Cabral was paid as an informant on Seda and the local Muslim community.
Barbara Cabral was present when one of the payments was made, and the pair were regularly interviewed by agents together, the motion states.
Reached by telephone, Barbara Cabral declined to comment on the case.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.