Judge orders co-founder of Muslim charity held for now

Update 3:44 p.m.

EUGENE — A federal judge has ordered that an Iranian-American co-founder of a defunct Islamic charity who is facing conspiracy and tax fraud charges be held until a hearing next week.

Pirouz Sedaghaty, also known as Pete Seda, was to have been freed Friday after a federal magistrate judge ruled he was not a public danger or a flight risk.

But federal prosecutors appealed to U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, the Eugene Register-Guard reported Tuesday. Hogan cited concerns about concealed assets and passports that could allow Sedaghaty to flee.

Sedaghaty, 49, returned to the United States last month to face conspiracy and tax fraud charges related to the operations of the U.S. chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which he co-founded in Ashland in 1997.

He left the country in 2003 during an investigation that resulted in a federal grand jury indictment in February 2005 accusing him of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the country to aid Muslim fighters in Chechnya. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial April 16.

Hogan continued the detention hearing until Tuesday.

Sedaghaty’s lawyer, Larry Matasar of Portland, said his client has cooperated with federal officials and promised to provide additional information for Hogan’s review.

The U.S. government and the United Nations have declared the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation a terrorist organization. The government of Saudi Arabia, where the foundation is based, disbanded the group in 2004.



Seda's release appealed



EUGENE &

A federal judge said Monday he would release the Iranian-American co-founder of a defunct Islamic charity while he awaits trial on conspiracy and tax fraud charges.

But federal prosecutors quickly appealed U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin's decision to release Pirouz Sedaghaty, a former Ashland resident also known as Pete Seda. Another hearing is scheduled for today, before U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the reason for the appeal.

Seda, 49, has been in custody since he returned to the U.S. last month to face conspiracy and tax fraud charges related to the operations of the U.S. chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which he co-founded in Ashland in 1997.

He left the country in 2003 during an investigation that resulted in a federal grand jury indictment in February 2005, accusing him of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the country to aid Muslim fighters in Chechnya. He has pleaded innocent and is scheduled to go on trial April 16.

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Seda was a highly public figure, who spoke for peace and tolerance in the days following the attacks of Sept. 11. Many fellow Ashland residents have traveled to the court hearings and spoken on his behalf.

In court Monday, Seda flashed a thumbs-up to family members and a handful of supporters as he was led, in leg irons, back to the Lane County Jail, where he has been held since his surrender.

"It's a relief," said Summer Rife, who was identified in court as Seda's wife. She declined further comment.

Ashland activist Paul Copeland, who attended Monday's hearing in Eugene, said he was attempting to arrange a place in Ashland for Seda to live.

Copeland, who said Seda could stay with him if no other housing could be arranged, said he believes Ashland will welcome Seda as someone on "the front line" of the case for freedom and liberty amid post-Sept. 11 terror investigations.

"I think the people of Ashland will welcome him and it will be a good opportunity to build those bridges that Pete has been building all along," Copeland said.

But while planning for Seda's release, Copeland said news of the prosecution's appeal dampened the mood and created further delays. He said the terms of release will include a type of global tracking system device that will monitor his movements. The device, Copeland said, may not be available until Friday at the earliest.

"I suspect the government will somehow postpone again today when have hearing," Copeland said, "just because of the maneuvering by the prosecution, it seems as though they are making every effort to delay or prevent his release."

At a bail hearing, Coffin told prosecutors that he was not inclined to consider Seda a flight risk because he had returned to the U.S. voluntarily, despite having passports from Iran and the U.S. with different dates of birth and spellings of his name, which could make it easier to travel without an arrest.

"He is not charged with acts of violence," Coffin said. "I don't know why he would come back here to be arrested and face these charges only to leave again. It just doesn't make sense to me." Defense attorney Larry Matasar said all passports for Seda, who holds dual citizenship, had been surrendered to the court.

Coffin said he would not consider Seda a danger to the community without specific evidence from the government &

not vague fears based on the distribution of the Quran to prison inmates years ago when prison authorities did not object at the time.

Coffin also said that testimony on behalf of Seda from Ashlanders such as former Jefferson Public Radio host Jeff Golden "weighed heavily upon my decision as well."

The prosecution fears Seda could incite radical Muslims in the U.S. to acts of violence, even though he does not pose a risk himself, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani told the judge. Seda had been "less than forthcoming" about specifics of where he lived and how he supported himself in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, Cardani said.

Coffin countered that it was not the function of court personnel to help the prosecution gather evidence that Seda had accepted money that could lead to further charges. Matasar said the government was trying to use the bail process to interrogate Sedaghaty about his financial activities so they could link him to Osama bin Laden and specific terrorist groups.

Mark Freeman of the Mail Tribune and Robert Plain of the Ashland Daily Tidings contributed to this report.

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