Friday, 22 September 2017

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Suspect in terrorism sting was 'set up' by FBI informant accused of fraud in Palm Beach County, defense says

By Paula McMahon, For SunSentinel , On 09 August 2017, Read Original

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Charges against a Palm Beach County man arrested in a terrorism sting last year should be thrown out because of “outrageous conduct” by the FBI and federal prosecutors, the defense team says.

Gregory Hubbard, 53, a former U.S. Marine and sculptor from West Palm Beach, has been locked up for a little more than a year on allegations that carry a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to help Islamic State terrorists and tried to go fight with them in Syria.

The defense team alleges Hubbard was “set up” by at least one informant who worked undercover for the FBI and that the prosecution team was “not only aware but complicit” in the informant’s “vendetta.” The informant came up with the entire plot which he “masterminded with the FBI,” the attorneys wrote.

Numerous paragraphs of the defense requests, which appear to contain details of allegations against an FBI informant, were blacked out in the 112 pages of court documents.

Though many of the details have been shielded from public view at the request of prosecutors, several sources told the Sun Sentinel that the informant in question is Mohammed Agbareia, 51, of Palm Beach County. Agbareia is a convicted fraudster who was arrested in June on new federal fraud charges.

Prosecutors have not yet filed a response to the defense allegations, which are expected to be discussed in court Wednesday. Hubbard’s trial is scheduled for later this year in federal court in West Palm Beach.Prosecutors, the FBI and defense attorneys in the terrorism and fraud cases have all either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. The prosecution asked judges to seal many of the proceedings in both cases, citing classified information linked to national security issues.

Agbareia was convicted of operating a “stranded traveler” fraud in 2006 for repeatedly tricking people into sending him money after claiming he lost his wallet or tickets. He pleaded guilty, got a break on his punishment and was released early from federal prison in late 2006 after serving about half of a two-year term.

Prosecutors told a judge earlier this year that they believe Agbareia went back to committing fraud very soon after he was released from prison — and while he was providing undercover help to the FBI on the Hubbard case.

Agbareia, a Palestinian citizen from Israel who has no legal immigration status in the U.S., admitted to FBI agents on several occasions that he was still committing crimes and continued doing so “despite numerous warnings to cease,” prosecutors said in court in June.

The FBI called him a “national security asset” and praised his “usefulness as a provider of intelligence to the FBI” and work as an “informer” in court records filed in 2009.

The most recent criminal charges against Agbareia allege that he resumed his “stranded traveler” fraud in 2007 and continued it until the day before he was arrested on June 21, prosecutors told a judge after his arrest.

Agbareia is jailed and has pleaded not guilty to six wire fraud charges spanning the period from 2007 to 2017. Investigators said he preyed on and defrauded Muslim people, mosques and Islamic groups on at least 200 occasions — involving about $300,000 since 2011. The fraud charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.Agbareia was extradited from Canada to Alabama in 2006 and was supposed to be deported after his release from prison. He was allowed to remain in the U.S. to work undercover for the FBI and has lived in the West Palm Beach area since October 2007, records show. It is not clear whether he was paid by the FBI. Authorities let him travel to Israel in 2011 to obtain a new passport and he was allowed to return to the U.S., prosecutors told a judge.

The defense attorneys representing Hubbard in the terrorism sting case do not refer to Agbareia by name in any of the legible portions of their publicly filed documents.

But they expressed indignation at the way prosecutors and the FBI handled the sting investigation and prosecution. They alleged the prosecution had said it wasn’t going to give the defense crucial information until a week before Hubbard’s Oct. 30 trial.

If U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg had not ordered prosecutors to reveal any benefits the informant received and any information that could be used to question his integrity three months before trial, Hubbard would have been “left without a remedy for the government’s complicity in hampering his constitutional rights to a fair trial, confrontation, and due process,” the defense wrote.

Two other local men, Darren Arness Jackson, 51, of Royal Palm Beach, and Dayne Antani Christian, 32, of Lake Park, pleaded guilty to a related conspiracy charge before the controversy erupted but have not yet been sentenced. It’s unclear if the revelations will affect their cases.

Hubbard, Jackson and Christian were befriended by an informant who pretended to be a supporter of Islamic State terrorists, according to court records filed in their case last year. Agents said the men practiced shooting guns, spoke approvingly of terrorist acts and used code words to discuss terrorist activity.

Hubbard was arrested July 21, 2016, at Miami International Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Europe. Agents said he planned to make his way to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State terrorists, according to the allegations in the indictment.

Hubbard had no prior convictions and was not involved in any form of illegal activity when the informant first made contact with him, the attorneys wrote.

Hubbard is an African-American man who converted to Islam in the 1980s. He was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression as a result of his military service in the 1980s and was receiving treatment from the Veterans Administration, they wrote.

The informant, and the FBI, unfairly targeted Hubbard and exploited his emotional and financial vulnerability, the defense wrote.

“The treatment of Mr. Hubbard, a natural born citizen of the United States, tarnishes this nation’s character, is shameful in its disrespect for the rule of law, and should never be repeated…,” Assistant Federal Public Defenders Vanessa Chen and Anthony Natale wrote in court records.

The unusual legal request to throw out the charges based on allegations of government misconduct is “rarely justified” and “rarely granted,” the defense team acknowledged.

“[Hubbard] is also aware that the [outcome] he requests is extraordinary and the dismissal of his indictment would be seen in certain quarters as a setback,” they wrote.

Without the informant’s actions, Hubbard’s conduct would have been limited to constitutionally protected free speech about politics, the defense argued.

For much of the time that Hubbard was jailed in Palm Beach County, before being moved to the Federal Detention Center in Miami, he was kept in solitary confinement despite concerns about his mental health, the defense wrote.

“In defending this nation against the threat of terrorism it is neither necessary nor proper for our government to abandon the bedrock principles upon which this nation was founded. All that is sacred in our national life is secured by the promise that this is a nation of laws and not of men,” the defense wrote. “Through its illegal conduct, the government has forfeited its right to prosecute Mr. Hubbard … [and he] respectfully requests that this court dismiss the indictment against him for the government’s outrageous conduct.”