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Attorneys want temple bomb charges dropped

By Maria Clark

Defense attorneys for the four men accused of hatching a plot to bomb two Riverdale synagogues last May filed a motion to dismiss the case late last week, claiming they were entrapped by an FBI informant, and even offered $250,000 to do the deed.

Attorneys for David Williams, 28, Onta Williams, 32, (no relation), James Cromitie, 55, and Laguerre Payen, 27, said in the motion that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used an informant — who was on the FBI payroll — to convince the men to participate in the plot.

The government will file its response next month, said a federal court spokesman.

The court document said that Shaheed Hussain, “a convicted fraudster and long-time professional informant for the FBI” began staking out several mosques, including the one attended by the defendants in Newburgh, N.Y., starting in June 2008.

Mr. Hussain was previously used as the star government witness in a terrorist “sting” case, where he convinced the owner of a pizza shop to launder money for fictitious terrorists, according to the filing.

According to the motion, Mr. Hussain met Mr. Cromitie in the parking lot of the mosque, Masjid al- Ikhlas, in Newburgh when Mr. Cromitie was down on his luck, living with his girlfriend and her grandchildren, having previously served a one-year sentence for criminal sale of a controlled substance.

The motion also states that at the time he was approached, Mr. Cromitie was involved in “low-level marijuana dealing.”

Mr. Cromitie’s arrests prior to the alleged bomb plot were all drug related with no convictions for violent crimes or possession of weapons. He also had no prior links to any terrorist groups, the defense wrote.

Mr. Hussain then conducted a months-long campaign to recruit him and others into a terrorist plot, the defense wrote.

On Sept. 17, defense attorneys for all four men argued to gain access to information concerning the government’s instructions to Mr. Hussain, who allegedly provided the men with dud stinger missiles and the fake C-4 plastic explosive they planted outside the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center. The men allegedly were also planning to fire the stinger missiles at aircraft from Stewart Air Force Base in upstate New York.

At a pre-trial hearing last summer, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was asked whether it was safe to assume that the men were amateurs because they could not tell they were sold fake equipment.

“The only thing I would infer is they wanted to kill people,” Mr. Kelly said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder described the men as “eager to bring death to Jews” in a federal courthouse in White Plains last summer.

He called out one of the defendants in particular as a danger.

“In a group of extremely violent men… he stands out,” Mr. Snyder said of David Williams. “He bought a gun in the projects in Brooklyn… from a … Bloods gang leader.”

Family members and court documents filed on March 18 paint a very different picture.

The four men are petty criminals, said Alicia McWilliams. She is the aunt of David Williams.

She described Mr. Payen as a schizophrenic. As of Sept. 17, his attorney, Marilyn Reader said she was investigating his sanity and his ability to stand trial.

“There is no dif ference here with what the government did, than what a pimp does to lure in a prostitute. They found someone who was down-on-his luck and manipulated him,” said Ms. McWilliams, claiming her nephew lacked common sense.

While most organizations in both Riverdale and Kingsbridge have issued statements of condemnation of the alleged plot and the defendants, some local residents have taken a more nuanced view.

“What they did was inexcusable, but it’s clear they were entrapped,” said Ivan Braun, a Kingsbridge resident. “We need to question whether these men would have been led to participate in this if they hadn’t met the informant.”

His wife, Anne Gibbons, has also followed the case from the beginning.

“The incident only fostered more fear in this community. We are giving up our civil rights left and right, and none of it is going towards building community,” she said.

“They should face consequences for being a part of this. But meanwhile, he [Mr. Hussain] goes free, David and the rest of them could spend the rest of their lives in jail,” Ms. McWilliams said.

This is part of the March 25, 2010 online edition of The Riverdale Press.

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