DALLAS – Three Dallas-area brothers were convicted Wednesday of supporting terrorism by funneling money to a high-ranking official in the militant Palestinian group Hamas.
Ghassan and Bayan Elashi and their company were found guilty of all 21 federal counts they faced: conspiracy, money laundering and dealing in property of a terrorist. Basman Elashi, who faced the same counts, was convicted of three counts of conspiracy but acquitted of the other charges.
The brothers, all born in the Middle East, were convicted the same day jurors began deliberating, after nearly two weeks of testimony, and are to be sentenced Aug. 1. Prosecutors said each count carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
“We hope it sends a message that we are going to vigorously pursue terrorists’ assets,” prosecutor Nathan Garrett said.
Ghassan Elashi, free pending sentencing, left without commenting.
“It’s hard times for people of Middle Eastern descent,” said his lawyer, Tim Evans.
Prosecutors said the men tried to hide a $250,000 investment by Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook in their Richardson computer company by making it look as if it came from his wife. Payments were allegedly funneled to Marzook in return for the investment.
Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Elashis’ indictments in 2002, calling the defendants “terrorist money men.”
Marzook lived in Louisiana and Virginia until 1995, when the federal government labeled him a terrorist, which made it illegal for anyone in the United States to have financial dealings with him. Marzook was deported and is believed living in Syria.
Prosecutors said the Elashis’ computer company, InfoCom Corp., continued to make payments to Marzook’s wife until 2001.
Prosecutors presented evidence from wiretapped conversations, financial documents and InfoCom employees that they said showed the Elashis were dealing with Marzook and not his wife.
In closing arguments Tuesday, attorneys for the Elashis said prosecutors had failed to prove that the men broke any laws.
Defense lawyer Michael P. Gibson vowed to appeal and said prosecutors had sensationalized the case.
“There is no evidence that money ever funded any terrorism,” Gibson said. “This is not a terrorism case, it’s a financial crimes case.”
Defense attorneys said Marzook’s wife ó Nadia Elashi, a cousin of the defendants ó controlled the $250,000 invested in InfoCom. They said she used the payments she received in return to cover living expenses, not to support terrorism.
The Elashis’ lawyers also said government officials knew about the arrangement between InfoCom and the Marzooks for several years but took no action to stop it.
Marzook and his wife were named in the same indictment as the Elashis but have not been captured.
The three Elashis and two of their brothers were convicted last year on separate charges of making illegal technology shipments to Libya and Syria, countries the U.S. government considers state sponsors of terrorism. All five are awaiting sentencing in that case.
The Elashis also were active in the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Muslim charity that was shut down in 2001 after the government accused it of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas. The charity is expected to go on trial early next year.
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