Pete Seda will learn next month whether he will spend up to eight years in prison after a federal judge Wednesday brushed aside all attempts to toss out the former Ashland peace activist's convictions for money-laundering and tax-evasion in a scheme prosecutors said was to fund terrorism.
In his long-awaited, 22-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan denied every one of Seda's defense team's motions seeking acquittal or a new trial over Seda's financial activities in 2000 involving the defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter he ran in Ashland.
The motions ran the gamut from claims of improper use and distortion of evidence to improper post-trial disclosure that a prosecution witness tying Seda to Islamic holy war fighters in Chechnya was the former wife of a now-dead FBI informant paid to snitch on Seda.
"The evidence supported the government's theory in this case that (Seda) and others conspired to conceal a transaction destined for the Chechen mujahideen and the jury rationally concluded as much," Hogan wrote.
Hogan set a Sept. 27 sentencing hearing Thursday, just as Seda's lawyers vowed an appeal.
"We are disappointed in the ruling," Federal Public Defender Steven Wax said in an interview. "We anticipate that many of the issues will be raised on appeal."
U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton issued a statement Thursday afternoon that Hogan's ruling "confirms the integrity" of the jury's guilty verdicts against Seda, who is also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty.
"We stand ready to proceed with the sentencing, and should Seda pursue an appeal of his conviction, we also stand ready to vigorously defend the jury's verdict and the trial judge's rulings," Holton's statement read.
Seda, 53, has remained free while the post-conviction legal fight played out in court. He faces as many as eight years in federal prison for his conviction if Hogan accepts federal prosecutors' assertions that his sentence should be enhanced because the crimes aided terrorists.
If not, he could walk away from Hogan's Eugene court a free man, with credit for his nearly seven months served in jail before and after the trial possibly wiping out any more time behind bars.
Seda was convicted on the federal felony charges for helping smuggle $150,000 through his Al-Haramain chapter to Muslims fighting the Russian Army in Chechnya in 2000, then lying on the foundation's tax returns to conceal the crime.
Seda has never been labeled by the government as a supporter of terrorism. However, his Al-Haramain chapter and a codefendant in the case — a Saudi national named Soliman Al-Buthe — have been labeled supporters of terrorism and both are fighting that designation. Al-Buthe has not appeared in the U.S. to fight the charge, however.
Hogan has been considering this ruling since a hearing in early June.
The convictions were on financial crimes, but much of the September 2010 trial and subsequent motions swirled over Seda's alleged ties to Islamic extremism and even attempts to link him to associates of Osama bin Laden.
Tom Nelson, a Portland-area attorney who has represented Al-Buthe and the Al-Haramain chapter in federal cases, said Hogan's ruling was not surprising based on his past rulings in the case.
Nelson claimed the trial was laced with "Islamophobia" and attempts by prosecutors to paint Seda as "a flaming, red-eyed terrorist ready to throw a bomb at anything."
Defense attorneys were hoping Hogan would accept their argument for tossing out the convictions over alleged "flagrant prosecutorial misconduct" regarding witness Barbara Cabral, a White City hairstylist, and her late former husband, Richard Cabral. He had been paid $14,500 while providing information to the FBI about Seda and other Muslims in the area after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents.
Three months after Seda's conviction, FBI Special Agent David Carroll asked Holton to approve a $7,500 payment for Barbara Cabral. She testified at Seda's trial that she and her husband worshipped at Seda's prayer house in Ashland and that Seda wanted to give funds to the Chechen mujahideen.
Holton refused the payment to Barbara Cabral in December and also ordered information about the payments divulged to defense attorneys, but that was well after Seda's conviction and in violation of evidence laws.
Defense lawyers argue Seda's case should be thrown out because the payments would have bolstered their cross-examination of Cabral had the information been revealed to the jury during Seda's trial.
Hogan rejected the motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the failure to disclose those financial relationships were inadvertent. Hogan also noted that Seda's 21/2-year status as an international fugitive was partially responsible for drawing out an already lengthy and complicated case.
Hogan, however, noted that prosecutors "made great significance of the terrorist aspect of the case," largely to show a motive for Seda's tax fraud. Also, Hogan noted that Barbara Cabral's testimony, which accounted for 28 pages of the trial's nearly 1,800-page transcript, was the only direct evidence of Seda's desire to aid terrorists, but Hogan ruled it had no bearing on the trial or the jury's verdict because it doesn't relate directly to the crimes for which Seda was convicted.
It could, however, play a role in whether Hogan sentences Seda as a supporter of terrorism or a run-of-the-mill tax dodger and money-launderer.
Nelson, who attended the trial, said he believed the Cabral saga alone polluted Seda's trial and that he deserved at least a new trial based upon it.
"She wasn't up for a long time, but it was a pretty powerful 28 pages," Nelson said. "That flavored the whole case."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.