Seda returns to court in hope of release


Pete Seda will learn today whether he will be freed from jail to await an April trial on money-laundering and tax-fraud charges stemming from the activities of his defunct Ashland Islamic charity that federal authorities have tied to international terrorism.

In a Wednesday federal court hearing in Eugene, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said he will issue a decision today on Seda's bid for release from the Lane County Jail, where he has been held since his Aug. 15 surrender as an international fugitive.

Hogan met Wednesday privately in his chambers with Seda and his defense team for 15 minutes, then emerged to say he would file a written decision sometime today, most likely this morning.

Hogan did so without tipping his hand on his decision.

"I don't want to do it in open court," Hogan said.

The few in attendance, including Seda's wife, Summer Rife, were surprised at the decision by Hogan, who called Wednesday's hearing without a request from prosecutors or Seda's lawyers.

"I don't have any indication" what today's ruling will be, said Larry Matasar, one of Seda's attorneys. Matasar declined further comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani declined to comment outside the courtroom.

The hearing was the sixth in which prosecutors and defense lawyers have grappled over whether Seda would pose a flight risk or a danger to the community while awaiting trial.

Federal court officials have spent the past four weeks verifying information Seda supplied about his whereabouts and financial dealings during his past 4&

65279; 1/2 years in the Middle East &

including his 2&

65279; 1/2 years as an indicted international fugitive.

Hogan said at an earlier hearing that he wanted Seda to prove he was living clean on his own money while abroad before he determines whether Seda is the flight risk or community danger painted in court by prosecutors.

If Hogan grants Seda's release, he likely would add a laundry list of conditions to which the 49-year-old former Ashland arborist and peace activist would have to comply.

When U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Coffin ordered Seda released after a Sept. 10 hearing, he required Seda to be fitted with a Global Positioning System device for 24-hour tracking. But that order was never carried out because prosecutors immediately appealed Coffin's decision, sending the issue to Hogan's court.

Wednesday's hearing was the latest twist in the government's case against Seda over financial dealings involving the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter Seda founded and ran out of an Ashland house.

The government's February 2005 indictment charges that Seda helped his foundation partner, a Saudi Arabian national named Soliman Al-Buthi, smuggle $150,000 from Ashland to Saudi Arabia in 2000 to help Chechen Muslims the government later tied to international terrorism. The tax charge stems from Seda's alleged attempt to hide the smuggling by lying on the chapter's 2000 tax return.

While the FBI was investigating Seda in 2004, he went to the Middle East and remained in Syria and his native Iran &

countries without extradition agreements with the United States.

Al-Buthi, who also faces conspiracy charges, is in Saudi Arabia, which has no extradition agreement with the United States.

Al-Buthi and the Al-Haramain chapter have been designated by U.S. officials as supporters of international terrorism. Seda has not.

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