ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) - Three Rochester businessmen sent $200,000 overseas knowing the money was illegally obtained and could benefit the Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah, according to charges brought by federal prosecutors.
But authorities stressed that the men had no links to any terrorist groups and have not been charged with any terrorism crimes. "This is simply a money laundering case. There are no charges claiming that they were giving money or aiding any terrorist organizations," federal prosecutor Bret Puscheck said Tuesday.
Yehia Ali Ahmed Alomari, 26; Mohamed Al Huraibi, 49; and Saleh Mohamed Taher Saeed, 27, were charged Monday with conspiring to launder money and laundering monetary instruments.
All three men denied the charges during an appearance Monday before Federal Magistrate Marian Payson.
Mr. Saeed's lawyer, James J. Rizzo, told The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that his client thought he was helping a fellow Yemeni immigrant send money earned in the United States to relatives in Yemen.
If convicted, Messrs. Alomari, Al Huraibi and Saeed could be imprisoned for 20 years and fined $250,000. All three men are from Yemeni and could be deported.
A detention hearing scheduled for Monday was postponed until March 19 for Mr. Al Huraibi and until March 26 for Messrs. Alomari and Saeed so their lawyers can determine whether the defendants' families have property that can secure their release from custody.
According to court documents, Messrs. Saeed and Alomari run convenience stores, while Mr. Al Huraibi was part owner and manager of a restaurant.
The investigation began in January 2005 when banking records showed that a Social Security number assigned to Saeed was associated with 324 overseas currency transaction reports totaling $12.3 million from October 2002 through November 2004, Mr. Puscheck said.
Under federal law, banks are required to report sizeable overseas transactions to federal authorities.
A person described by authorities as a "confidential witness" befriended Mr. Saeed in January and told Mr. Saeed that he had made money illegally through food-stamp fraud and wanted to move cash to Yemen, Mr. Puscheck said.
The person then introduced an undercover agent to the men. The undercover agent told them he was a Hezbollah supporter and asked their help in transferring illegally raised money overseas to help the group.
Between August 2006 and February of this year, $200,000 was transferred to an overseas account established by the federal government. The transactions were made in amounts of between $10,000 and $20,000, Mr. Puscheck said.
Agents also arrested Abdula Qassem Ahmed Muthana, 43, a minimart owner in Corcoran, California. Mr. Muthana was charged with accepting money from the federal agents with the intent that it be transferred to Hezbollah.
Federal authorities said the charges against Mesrs. Alomari, Al Huraibi and Saeed were not related to the December 2003 raids on four groceries owned by other Yemenis. Although the raids were triggered by concerns about money transfers, no criminal charges have been brought.
Neither were the charges related to the case of six Yemenis in Lackawanna who pleaded guilty four years ago to charges that they provided support to an Al Qaeda sleeper cell.
In 2005, Rafil Dhafir, a Muslim doctor from Syracuse was prosecuted for running an unregistered charity, cheating donors and illegally sending some of the money to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions. Dhafir is serving a 22-year prison sentence.