A former Michigan congressman and U.S. delegate to the United Nations has been sentenced to a year and one day in prison for lobbying for a Missouri-based Islamic charity that had been identified as a global terrorist organization.
Mark Deli Siljander, 60, (pictured) a Republican who served in Congress from 1981-1987, pleaded guilty in July 2010 to obstructing justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent in connection with his work for the Islamic American Relief Agency, based in Columbia, Mo.
In his plea agreement, Siljander acknowledged that he lobbied between March and May 2004 on behalf of the IARA for the organization to be removed from a U.S. Senate Finance Committee list of charities suspected of funding international terrorism.
The charity closed in October 2004 after being designated a global terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
IARA had lost its status as an approved government contractor in 1999, when the U.S. Agency for International Development terminated grants for two relief efforts in Mali, Africa. Prosecutors said $50,000 of the $75,000 Siljander received from the charity came from unused grant money that was supposed to have been returned to USAID after it terminated the Mali grants.
Siljander also acknowledged that he failed to register as an agent of a foreign entity and had lied to FBI agents and prosecutors acting on behalf of a federal grand jury.
In court Wednesday, Siljander's 20-year-old son Mark Jr. told U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey that while the charges against his father had been devastating, they also had brought family members closer together.
He told of how his friends had turned against him after his father, a devout Christian, had been connected in the media with terrorist organizations. He asked the judge to help keep the family together.
Siljander's wife, Nancy, also pleaded with Laughrey to give her husband probation and not send him to jail. Siljander, clearly choked up after his wife's statements, apologized for his actions.
"I did something wrong," he said. "I mistreated the system I believe in. I mistreated my family and friends. I should have known better. I failed too many people, including myself and my family. I ask for your mercy."
After a short recess, Laughrey said she had no choice but sentence Siljander to time behind bars.
"I came in this morning with the thought that I would sentence you to a longer time in jail," she said, after announcing the sentence.
Although no real harm had been done by Siljander's actions, she said, there was the potential for harm, and that's why a prison sentence was necessary.
"For me, the real harm is that you kept lying to the government," Laughrey said. However, she added, "This is not a case about somebody aiding a terrorist."
Four co-defendants also were sentenced Wednesday.
All were employees or associates of the Columbia-based charity. None of the men charged in the criminal case, first filed in 2007, were alleged to have knowingly provided support to terrorists. And on Wednesday, federal prosecutors made no allegation that any of the Missouri defendants knew that their foreign counterparts, including officers of the Islamic African Relief Agency in Sudan, had close ties to terrorists.
"If we had a terrorist event we would have charged a more serious case," Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Peter Gonzalez said.
Most of the defendants sentenced Wednesday pleaded guilty to illegally funneling money to Iraq in violation of economic sanctions enacted during the Saddam Hussein era. Others pleaded guilty to acting as unregistered foreign agents while representing the charity before the U.S. government.
Among them were former IARA executive director Mubarak Hamed, who sent more than $1 million to Iraq through the charity in violation of U.S. sanctions. He pleaded guilty in June 2010 to illegally transferring the money and obstructing the administration of laws governing tax-exempt charities.
Hamed, whose attorney characterized him as a loving family man who devoted his life to charitable causes around the world, was sentenced to 58 months, or nearly five years, in prison.
"You painted yourself as a man devoted to charity," Laughrey said. "I find that not to be credible. When confronted by the government, you lied. You continued to do what was in your best interest, in the best interest of your organization."
The original indictment alleged the charity sent about $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Prosecutors said Siljander, who now lives in Great Falls, Va., lied to the FBI about being hired to lobby for the charity. He told investigators that the money he received was a donation to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity.
Three others involved in the charity were sentenced Wednesday to probation.
Abdel Azim El-Siddig, of Chicago, Ill., a former fundraiser for the charity, was sentenced to two years of probation for conspiring to hire Siljander to lobby for the charity's removal from the list of those suspected of having terrorist ties, while concealing this advocacy and not registering with the proper authorities.
Ali Mohamed Bagegni, a native of Libya who is a naturalized U.S. citizen and former resident of Columbia, was sentenced to six months of probation for his role in the conspiracy. Bagegni was a member of the board of directors of IARA.
Ahmad Mustafa of Columbia, a citizen of Iraq and a lawful permanent resident alien of the United States, also was sentenced to six months of probation for illegally transferring funds in violation of federal sanctions.
Bill Draper, "Ex-congressman sentenced in terror funding case" Associated Press December 11, 2012
Mark Morris, "Former congressman, Missouri charity director sentenced in terrorism case" Kansas City Star December 11, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today