The Justice Department’s case against two South Florida imams and their extended family for allegedly giving financial support to the Pakistan Taliban absorbed another setback Thursday when a federal judge dismissed charges against the younger Muslim cleric.
As Izhar Khan walked out all smiles after 18 months in custody on terror charges, the Miami trial against his 77-year-old father, Hafiz Khan, continued.
About 20 members of his mosque, Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen in Margate, greeted him.
“They didn’t have any evidence he was knowingly involved in any way in supporting terrorism. He is just a kid,” said Izhar Khan’s Miami attorney, Joseph Rosenbaum.
The dismissal follows a decision by prosecutors to drop charges against his brother, Irfan Khan in June. Their father is the last defendant being tried.
Attorneys for Izhar Khan argued for a judgment of acquittal Wednesday after the government finished presenting its case to jurors. U.S. District Judge Robert Scola didn’t waste any time dismissing the charges.
“This court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son,” Scola wrote in his seven-page ruling.
Even giving the government the benefit of the doubt, he said, “The court finds no rational trier of fact could find all the essential elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office said, “Although the court found that the government prosecuted Izhar Khan earnestly and in good faith, the court granted the defense motion for judgment of acquittal based on the court’s assessment of the sufficiency of the government’s evidence.”
What was good news for Izhar Khan was bad news for his father, the imam at the Flagler Mosque in Miami. They were indicted in May 2011.
The elder Khan’s attorney is Khurrum Wahid, a partner at Wahid Vizcaino in Pompano Beach. He maintains his client’s conversations on phone calls taped by the government are protected free speech, and any money sent to Pakistan was for his family to help those in the volatile Swat Valley near the Afghanistan border. Prosecutors charge $50,000 was relayed.
The phone calls, though, catch Hafiz Khan calling for the overthrow of the Pakistan government so strict Islamic law can rule the land. Scola found Khan mentally fit to stand trial after his attorney said his client suffers from dementia and short-term memory loss.
Scola, in denying the father’s request for acquittal, wrote, “The court has already determined that the evidence of guilt against the father … is overwhelming.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley attempted to tie the 26-year-old Izhar Khan to his father’s fundraising efforts through voice mails and taped phone calls.
In one voice mail, the father used the word mujahideen, but defense attorney Joseph Rosenbaum was able to show his client never got the message, instead calling back within 14 seconds when he saw he missed the phone call.
Scola also found the government’s allegations that Izhar Khan knew that transfers of $300 and $900 were intended for the Pakistani Taliban were unfounded.
Rosenbaum told the Daily Business Review that when Shipley realized the case against the younger Khan was slipping away, he told the court the defendant was smart and pretended to be innocent to cover up his actions.
“That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. ‘I don’t do anything wrong, and the government says obeying the laws and not doing something wrong is my grand scheme to cover it up,’ ” Rosenbaum said. “ That sent chills down my spine.”
Miami criminal defense attorney Henry Bell said Scola demonstrated fortitude by entering the judgment of acquittal. Scola “should be lauded for his courage to dismiss,” he said.
It’s unusual in terrorism cases that charges are dismissed against two defendants, Bell added.
Miami criminal defense attorney David Rothman, a former state prosecutor, said the dismissal showed why the U.S. jurisprudence system works when a tricky case is in front of a good judge.
“Judge Scola is a gift to all who truly seek justice,” Rothman said. “Smart, hard-working, tough when he has to be and, most importantly, committed to justice. A well-reasoned decision by a great judge.”
Rosenbaum said his client, who had been frustrated with the justice system, was stunned by his release.
“He has been out of circulation,” the lawyer said. “It’s like being seriously ill and you are suddenly recovered.”
Rosenbaum said he will help with the defense of the elder Khan, but for the most part his work is done. He was going to travel with Wahid to Pakistan next month during a break in the trial to interview Khan’s relatives. The trip was considered too dangerous for prosecutors to make, so they will participate by video.
Now Wahid will have to visit Pakistan alone.
“I’m going skiing,” Rosenbaum said.