Defense in Al-Haramain case faults attorneys

EUGENE — Defense lawyers seeking a new trial for an official of an Islamic charity that was declared a terrorist organization asked a federal judge Tuesday to take the U.S. attorney's office in Oregon off the case as he decides whether to open up prosecution files.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said in Eugene he would not respond to an oral request, and defense lawyer Steven T. Wax said he would file a written motion.

The unusual request came as Pete Seda, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, seeks a new trial after being convicted of tax fraud and conspiracy for helping smuggle $150,000 to Saudi Arabia through the Ashland office of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation that he headed.

The foundation was declared a terrorist organization by the government and its assets seized before Seda went on trial.

U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said from Portland there was no reason to take his office off the case.

"The defense has offered no basis whatsoever that would justify recusal, nor do I know of any," he said.

After Seda's conviction last September, FBI Special Agent David Carroll asked Holton to approve a $7,500 payment for prosecution witness Barbara Cabral, a Medford hairdresser who was married to a paid FBI informant, according to court documents.

Holton refused to authorize the payment and informed defense lawyers his prosecutors had failed to tell them about her situation before the trial. Holton then put two new attorneys on the case.

Tuesday's hearing involved the defense request to see e-mails, telephone logs and other materials connected to prosecutors Steve Cardani and Charles Gorder, Carroll and Internal Revenue Service Agent Stephanie Anderson as they decided what material to turn over to defense lawyers before the trial. Such material is known as discovery.

Judge Hogan said he would issue a written ruling later on whether to grant the defense motion for more evidence. Before leaving the bench, he asked lawyers how soon they would be ready to move on with the case if he denied the motion. He added that he would examine the prosecution's files behind closed doors before ruling.

Barbara Cabral testified at Seda's trial that she and her husband worshipped at Seda's prayer house in Ashland, and she went with him on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where Seda asked them to donate $400 in leftover travel money to buy food and blankets for mujahedeen fighting the Russian Army in Chechnya.

Defense lawyers argue that her testimony is the only hard evidence prosecutors had on their contention that Seda meant the $150,000 to go to mujahedeen in Chechnya.

Holton's disclosures led to new motions by Seda's lawyers that his conviction should be thrown out and he should be granted a new trial because they had not been able to use the payments to discredit the testimony of a key witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Zussman argued the discovery omission was inadvertent, because Richard Cabral had died before Seda went on trial, and that Mrs. Cabral's testimony was not important.

She said there was nothing more to be seen that would shed more light on the question of how the omission was made, and throwing open their files would give defense lawyers access to their trial strategy, which would become important if Seda gets a new trial.

Wax argued that there was no question prosecutors Cardani and Gorder were aware that Richard Cabral had been paid and that his wife had been present for one of the payments.

"What we are requesting is the opportunity to look at that material to test the recollections and test the inconsistencies," he said.

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