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The lawyer for a Georgia poultry operation has accused federal prosecutors of misusing the USA Patriot Act in an effort to link his client to terrorists. Wilmer “Buddy” Parker III, attorney for Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., is seeking a showdown with those prosecutors in a hearing before U.S. District Senior Judge William C. O’Kelley in Gainesville. Parker, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, claims federal prosecutors “knowingly made false statements” in order to obtain a search warrant for the Gainesville poultry plant. Parker also claims that prosecutors released sealed documents allegedly linking Mar-Jac to international terrorist financing in order to aid a confidential federal informant whom Mar-Jac has sued for libel. The hearing request follows Parker’s demand that the government return all files seized in a March 2002 search of the company. Government authorities have said Mar-Jac and affiliated companies are part of an ongoing investigation into the financing of overseas terrorist operations. Parker said there’s no evidence to link his client to such activities and that government authorities have used provisions of the Patriot Act to engage in a fishing expedition in Mar-Jac’s offices. Government suspicions have centered on Mar-Jac’s relationship to more than 100 businesses and charities that have common corporate officers, directors and owners — and a single office in Herndon, Va. — according to court records. Federal authorities nicknamed the web of entities “The Safa Group” and suggested in court filings that it may have laundered $26 million to a tax haven off the coast of Ireland, where the money then was made available to terrorist organizations. Mar-Jac’s corporate officers are three Saudi nationals. They are among the dozen individuals who hold positions in all 100 corporations and charities nominally headquartered at the Virginia office. The Safa Group is derived from the Safa Trust, a charity that is part of the web of interlocking corporations and charities. Federal authorities have described the investigation associated with the Mar-Jac search, and more than a dozen related searches simultaneously executed on private homes and businesses in Virginia, as the largest terrorist financing investigation in U.S. history. No arrests have been made or indictments issued in connection with those searches. “I suspect that monies ultimately are transferred directly to terrorist organizations from the Safa Group entities on the Isle of Man, or that funds are otherwise expended for purposes which do not further the Safa charities’ exempt purposes,” a U.S. Customs agent wrote in a search warrant affidavit. “While I don’t know for sure why the labyrinth of organizations and charities that comprise the Safa Group was constructed, there does not appear to be any innocent explanation,” the agent added. Parker called these assertions “rank speculation” that “does not constitute a substantial basis to issue a warrant to search for evidence of terrorism financing.” Parker said bank records and an Internal Revenue Service audit of one of the Safa Group’s organizations show that none of the cash transfers linked to Mar-Jac were wired to the Isle of Man. Federal agents seized boxes of business records and computer files from the poultry processing plant on March 20, 2002. Parker’s demand for a courtroom showdown in Gainesville stems from his petition last month for federal authorities to return those records. Returning them would be a tacit acknowledgement that the company isn’t under investigation. Last week, after strenuously objecting in court pleadings to a return of any records, federal prosecutors notified Parker that the government was returning most — but not all — of the files. VIRGINIA JUDGE, GEORGIA WARRANT The Mar-Jac search warrant was obtained under a provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows law enforcement authorities pursuing suspected terrorists to obtain warrants outside of the jurisdiction where the search is to occur. Critics say the provision allows the government to shop for judges most sympathetic to them. For the Gainesville search, the government obtained a warrant from a Virginia judge in a suburb of Washington. In his pleadings, Parker argued there are no facts in the search warrant affidavit that justify using Patriot Act provisions because there is “no evidence” linking Mar-Jac to international terrorism. Parker said that the judge granted the search based on speculation of the customs agent who authored the request and deliberately misrepresented the scope of evidence against Mar-Jac. “I’ve never seen a search warrant of such alleged complexity, which it is, to be so wanting in any substance,” Parker said. “It’s frightening as to the ability of the government to engage in such conduct.” Until recently, federal authorities had prevented the release of the affidavit detailing evidence for the Mar-Jac search. But Parker said that, in a sudden about-face, federal prosecutors moved to unseal large portions of the affidavit in October after numerous media requests. Parker insists the government did so to strengthen the standing of the federal informant whom Mar-Jac sued for libel. The informant, Rita Katz, is the author of “Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America.” The book purports to expose terrorist connections in the United States. Katz published the book anonymously but since has acknowledged her authorship in a court affidavit. Mar-Jac is suing her because she named it as a suspected money laundry for terrorist funds in an appearance on “60 Minutes.” MOTION TO UNSEAL In their motion to unseal, filed in Virginia, federal prosecutors acknowledged wanting to help Katz in her defense of the libel suit. They wrote, “In general, the public release of unproven allegations of criminal conduct in circumstances where the accused has no opportunity to answer the allegations or to clear his or her name violates common notions of fair play and due process and obviously implicates a target’s fair trial rights in a high-profile case as this one.” But, the motion continued, “At this point, we have no stake in protecting the privacy interests of the targets of the investigation when they are plaintiffs in libel actions turning upon this very factual context.” Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ward of the Eastern District of Virginia acknowledged that defamation suits against Katz, the founder of the Washington-based SITE Institute that researches terrorist financing, “were relevant” to unsealing the search warrant affidavit “but not in the manner that Mar-Jac so recklessly suggests.” Ward added, “We simply advised that the due process rights of uncharged persons seemed to pale, in light of their placing their alleged connections to terrorism at issue in the public forum of a civil suit.”

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