Case cited as example of FBI entrapment
A federal judge admonished the FBI as she ordered the release of three City of Newburgh men convicted in 2010 of plotting to shoot down planes at the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base and bomb a synagogue and Jewish center.
Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected prosecutors’ objections in agreeing on July 27 to the “compassionate release” of Laguerre Payen, and David Williams and Onta Williams, who are not related.
Along with a fourth man, James Cromitie (who has yet to file a petition for release), they were convicted by a jury of terrorism charges in October 2010. The men were often referred to in press coverage as the Newburgh Four.
In 2011, McMahon sentenced the men to a mandated minimum of 25 years in federal prison, but at the time she called the punishment “probably greater than necessary.” McMahon said she “reluctantly” upheld the legality of the “unjust” sentences on appeal.
Her order last month reduced their sentences to time served plus 90 days and specified that Payen, who has a severe mental illness, be released to a residential program with support services. In her ruling, McMahon said the three men were not “sophisticated international terrorists,” but “hapless, easily manipulated and penurious petty criminals” recruited by Cromitie to be lookouts.
Sam Braverman, who represented Payen, said during an interview on Sunday (July 30) with Spectrum News that “it was a tremendous day” when he read the ruling. “Everybody knows that these men lost 15 years that they didn’t have to lose,” he said.
It was Cromitie whom Shahed Hussain, a convicted felon working as an undercover FBI informant, befriended in 2008 at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh and offered $250,000 and other inducements to bomb Jewish facilities and shoot down planes at Stewart.
The men were arrested on May 20, 2009, after they placed fake bombs supplied by the FBI outside a synagogue and community center in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
While the FBI celebrated the arrests as a successful operation in its post-9/11 war on terrorism, and called the men “extremely violent,” their lawyers, family and friends described them as petty criminals and drug users who had no terrorist ties and were entrapped by Hussain and the agency.
The fake bombs and inert Stinger missile launchers used in the sting were supplied by the FBI, according to McMahon. Hussain had to drive the men to Riverdale to carry out the supposed bombing because none of them had a car, the judge noted. Once there, Hussain had to “arm” the fake bomb because Cromitie, “despite his ‘training,’ could not figure out how to do it,” McMahon wrote.
She accused the FBI of adding the guard base as a target so the agency could pursue the 25-year mandatory minimum. The case and the entrapment concerns were also the focus of a documentary, The Newburgh Sting, released in April 2014.
“The real lead conspirator was the United States,” McMahon said. “The FBI invented the conspiracy; identified the targets; manufactured the ordnance; federalized what would otherwise have been a state crime … and picked the day for the ‘mission.’ ”
Her order also highlights Hussain’s criminal history, which the judge said includes bankruptcy fraud, immigration fraud and tax evasion.
Hussain, thought to be in Pakistan, is being sued by the family of some of the 20 people killed on Oct. 6, 2018, in Schoharie County when the brakes failed on a limousine belonging to a company he owned and that his son, Nauman Hussain, operated.
In May, a jury convicted Nauman Hussain of 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter, and a judge sentenced him that same month to serve between five and 15 years in prison.