Withheld evidence would've refuted key witness in Seda's trial, defense says

Defense lawyers say they now have proof the federal government held back evidence refuting a key witness in Pete Seda's money-laundering trial who testified that Seda directly solicited donations to help Chechen rebels fighting the Russians in 2000.

In new court motions filed Tuesday, Seda's lawyers say the government on Jan. 6 provided an FBI report and copies of field notes of an August 2007 interview in which now-deceased Richard Cabral told FBI agents that he did not recall Seda soliciting donations for Chechens during a previous trip abroad.

That point was omitted from a similar report purporting to be from the same interview when it was provided to defense attorneys before the trial as required by law and does not reflect the case notes taken by the unnamed FBI agent at the time, court filings claim.

Defense lawyers believe the evidence could have been used in trial to cast doubt on the testimony of Cabral's wife at the time, White City hairdresser Barbara Cabral.

Barbara Cabral told the jury that Seda asked for a donation to the Chechens — the only such testimony offered by the government in its case against the 53-year-old former Ashland peace activist.

Tuesday's filings come less than a week after court papers revealed that the government failed to disclose that Richard Cabral was paid $14,500 between 2004 and '06 by FBI agents investigating Seda.

This new evidence has come to light since December, when the U.S. attorney for Oregon, Dwight Holton, was asked to approve a $7,500 cash payment to Barbara Cabral after her trial testimony, court filings state.

Holton refused the payment, ordered that Seda's defense team be notified of a possible breaking of evidentiary laws in the case and promised that "further written disclosures" would be made, court filings state.

In court records filed last week, prosecutors called the lack of disclosed material inadvertent and said they believe the new information would not have altered the jury's guilty verdict had it been available to defense attorneys.

The defense team's filings in U.S. District Court in Eugene came on the eve of today's 1 p.m. hearing on whether Seda should be freed from custody while lawyers argue over whether his money-laundering and tax-cheat convictions be tossed out over what defense lawyers have called "outrageous government conduct."

Prosecutors filed court papers last week stating they still believe Seda to be a flight risk but they take no position on his request for immediate release. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan has the option of ordering Seda's release today in court.

Seda has been held at the Lane County Jail pending sentencing since his Sept. 9 conviction by a jury before Hogan.

Seda's lawyers, Steven Wax and Lawrence Matasar, on Tuesday also informed Hogan that they intend to file a motion to dismiss the February 2005 indictment against Seda alleging he used his Ashland-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation charity to funnel cash to Chechen terrorists trying to secede from Russia.

At the time of his indictment, Seda was an international fugitive living in Middle Eastern countries with no extradition treaty with the United States until he turned himself in at the Portland airport in August 2007.

Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, was convicted on two federal felony charges for using his Ashland chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation to smuggle $150,000 to Chechen rebels in 2000, then filing a false tax return to hide the transaction.

Seda originally was set to be sentenced Tuesday, with defense lawyers arguing for a sentence equal to time already served in jail. Prosecutors have sought an eight-year prison term by having Seda sentenced under terrorism-enhancement rules even though Seda has never been designated a supporter of terrorism.

Mark Freeman is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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