Judge keeps files closed in Seda case

Seda, formerly of Ashland, remains free pending his request for new trial

A federal judge Thursday refused to open up the files of federal prosecutors sought by defense attorneys trying to win a new trial for an official of an Islamic charity.

The ruling came in the case of Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen convicted last September of helping to smuggle $150,000 to Saudi Arabia through the American branch of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation in Ashland. Before the trial, the foundation was declared a terrorist organization by the government and its assets were seized, but Seda was never charged with being a terrorist.

After examining the files himself, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan wrote that he was convinced that prosecutors had inadvertently failed to divulge before the trial that a witness was married to a paid FBI informant and that the FBI wanted to secure payment for the witness herself. He added that prosecutors had provided enough information already, and the defense request for more materials amounted to a "fishing expedition."

The defense had argued that the prosecution's failure to provide that evidence before the trial amounted to outrageous government conduct and denied Seda the chance to challenge the credibility of a key witness.

Seda was facing a maximum eight years in prison when U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton informed defense attorneys that he had denied FBI agent David Carrol's request to pay witness Barbara Cabral $7,500 after the trial.

Holton also divulged that her husband, Richard Cabral, had been paid $14,500 to inform on Muslims in Southern Oregon, including Seda, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He and his wife worshipped at Seda's prayer house in Ashland. Richard Cabral died before Seda went on trial.

Seda has been freed pending the outcome of the new trial proceedings.

Barbara Cabral testified that while she and her husband were on pilgrimage to Mecca with Seda, he asked them to contribute $400 to provide food and blankets to mujahedeen fighting the Russian army in Chechnya. Though the prosecution had offered circumstantial evidence Seda meant the $150,000 to help the Muslim fighters, Cabral's testimony was the closest they ever came to hard evidence.

Holton and defense lawyer Larry Matasar both declined comment until they had a chance to read the ruling carefully.

No date has been set for a hearing on the defense motion for a new trial.

Defense lawyers have until March 14 to file their response to the prosecution's arguments that their failure to divulge the information about the Cabrals was not significant enough to justify throwing out Seda's convictions for tax fraud and conspiracy.


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