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Seda walks free, lawyers debate case

EUGENE — Pete Seda traded shackles for a GPS bracelet Wednesday when he was freed from jail while his lawyers haggle with federal prosecutors over whether to toss out his money-laundering and conspiracy convictions over the government's holding back of evidence in his case.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan granted a smiling Seda his release from custody during a brief hearing.

Hogan ordered the 53-year-old former Ashland peace activist to wear a GPS bracelet so his whereabouts could be tracked once he left the Lane County Jail, where he had been held since his Sept. 9 conviction.

Hogan also ordered that U.S. marshals drive Seda to Portland, where he was most recently living.

But first Hogan told Seda — who spent 21/2; years as an international fugitive in the Middle East before returning to face the case against him in 2007 — that he'd better behave while free.

"I expect someone to know where you are 24 hours a day," Hogan said.

"Your record isn't perfect in showing up. I will not abide by any missteps."

Wednesday's hearing marked the latest in a series of dramatic turns in the eight-year-old case against Seda accusing him of helping launder $150,000 through his defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation office in Ashland to fund Islamic Chechens fighting for independence from Russia in 2000.

In the past two weeks, federal prosecutors have admitted in court filings they failed to tell Seda's lawyers before the trial that the FBI made $14,500 in cash payments between 2004 and 2006 to the now-dead Richard Cabral for information on Seda and other Ashland Muslims, records show.

Cabral was the husband of White City hairdresser Barbara Cabral, who testified at Seda's trial that Seda asked her for a donation to help the Chechens.

The government also admitted giving the defense team conflicting versions of a report from an August 2007 interview FBI Agent David Carroll had with Richard Cabral, a Muslim convert who attended prayer services at Seda's residence in Ashland that also served as the Al-Haramain chapter headquarters.

The version provided before the trial had no mention of any reference of Cabral telling Carroll that he did not recall hearing Seda ask for donations to help the Chechens.

But a report and case notes turned over to defense attorneys Jan. 6 contains that reference, court records show.

Defense attorneys have stated in court filings that the information would have helped them cast doubt on Barbara Cabral's testimony had it been provided as required by federal law.

"The key issue in the case was willfulness," Seda attorney Lawrence Matasar said in court Wednesday.

The new evidence came to light since December, when the U.S. attorney for Oregon, Dwight Holton, was asked to approve a $7,500 cash payment to Barbara Cabral after her trial testimony, court filings state.

Holton refused the payment, ordered that Seda's defense team be notified of a possible breaking of evidence laws in the case and promised that "further written disclosures" would be made, court filings state.

Defense attorney Steven Wax said in court that he did not know of the payments to Richard Cabral or of any arrangement to pay Barbara Cabral before the December disclosures.

Wax has argued that the failure to supply the evidence before the trial as required by law should lead Hogan to toss out Seda's conviction and at minimum require a new trial.

Hogan gave both sides 30 days to file written arguments on whether Seda should be given a new trial. Hogan has not yet set a date for Seda's next hearing.

Wednesday's hearing was markedly different from a monthlong series of hearings and court filings in 2007, when prosecutors vehemently argued against Seda's release while awaiting trial after his return from the Middle East because they considered him a flight risk.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Zusman on Wednesday gave no argument against Seda's release, other than to point out that prosecutors still consider him a flight risk.

Federal court officials, however, did not label Seda a flight risk in a report prepared for the hearing, Matasar said in court.

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