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When federal agents knocked on the door of his Richardson, Texas, home on July 27 at 7 a.m., Ghassan Elashi was sleeping in his bed, says his lawyer, Tim Evans. “Although we always knew this was a possibility, I didn’t think this was likely,” says Evans, a partner in Fort Worth’s Evans, Gandy, Daniel & Moore. In a 42-count federal indictment, filed in the Northern District of Texas on July 26, prosecutors allege that the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), Elashi and six other men linked to HLF funneled $12.4 million over six years to Hamas, a Palestinian group in Israel that the U.S. government has declared a terrorist organization. They are charged with engaging in prohibited financial transactions with a government-designated terrorist, money laundering, conspiracy and filing false tax returns, among other things. Elashi and the others deny the government’s allegations, which first surfaced in 2001 when federal agents raided HLF’s offices and froze the assets of the Muslim charity, which at the time ranked itself as the largest such charity in the nation. Surprised by the recent indictment, Evans says, he does not know who will help defend the seven men named in the indictment — including HLF chairman Elashi and its president Shukri Abu Baker — against what promises to be a massive, high-visibility and high-dollar prosecutorial effort. Nor does he know how the HLF defendants will finance their defense. The HLF representatives, Evans says, have had trouble finding jobs and have dwindling financial resources to pay for a defense. “Now we are having to scramble to find ways to defend this case, and it’s going to take a considerable amount of money,” Evans says. The Fort Worth lawyer expects that some of the defendants in the case, United States of America v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, et al., will claim indigency and ask the court to appoint lawyers. But Evans and Ira Kirkendoll, a federal public defender in the Northern District, say court-appointed lawyers will face substantive restrictions in terms of financing a defense, as outlined under 18 U.S.C. 3006A. Specifically, those rules call for a lawyer to receive a maximum of $5,200 for representing a defendant charged with a felony, unless a judge allows for an exception. Typically, Kirkendoll says, even when a judge allows for an exception, the appointed lawyers on an expensive case can expect the government to delay payments because the federal judiciary’s budget for appointed counsel frequently falls short. No matter who pays, Evans anticipates extremely high costs in the case since the indictment refers to payments HLF allegedly made to orphanages, clinics and hospitals in the Palestinian territories — institutions that the prosecutors claim were fronts for terrorists. To properly defend the case, Evans believes defense lawyers will have to hire translators, review thousands of documents, including massive amounts of electronic material, and interview overseas witnesses. “It’s going to be next to impossible for these guys to get a reasonably fair trial if they don’t spend considerable amounts,” says Charles Blau, a criminal-defense lawyer and partner in Dallas’ Meadows, Owens, Collier, Reed, Cousins & Blau. Evans spent the better part of a week trying to prepare for a detention hearing scheduled for Friday — after Texas Lawyer‘s July 29 presstime — before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney. He says before he can address cost concerns, he needs to find other defense lawyers for all seven of the HLF defendants. At last Friday’s hearing, Evans planned to represent HLF chairman Elashi and its president Abu Baker. But he says the other defendants need to line up lawyers and, to avoid conflicts, he will need to find counsel for either Elashi or Abu Baker since he doesn’t believe he can continue to represent both. “I’m going to be the only one there,” Evans says referring to the detention hearing. “Nobody is lined up that I know of.” Kirkendoll says the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Texas also only would be able to represent one of the defendants in the HLF case because of potential conflicts. For their part, the government lawyers, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim T. Jacks, don’t face such cost or manpower constraints. Kirkendoll estimates that the prosecutors have already spent tens of thousands of dollars on this case. Richard A. Roper, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, says he doesn’t know exactly how much the government has spent preparing for the case filed on July 26. “It’s not at my fingertips,” he says. But Roper says the charges against HLF and the seven men are complex. That’s part of the reason it took so long to bring to indictment, he says. Roper says if the defendants have not found defense lawyers by the hearing scheduled for last Friday, he believes the magistrate judge may postpone the proceeding. About the possibility the defendants may have financial problems, Roper says, “They’ll have to bring that up with the judge.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacks, who has been involved in the investigation of HLF since December 2001, downplays the costs for a defense. “A lot of things they [HLF defense lawyers] say they are going to need money for, we’ve already done,” Jacks says. “They can just use our work.” FBI TACTICS As a signal of how important the case is to the government, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called a press conference on July 27 in Washington, D.C., to announce the indictment. At the event, covered live by CNN, Jacks stood in the back of the room and Roper stood by Ashcroft’s side. “I was the potted plant,” Roper jokes. “To those who exploit good hearts to fund secretly violence and murder, this prosecution sends a clear message: There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks. The United States will ensure that both terrorists and their financiers meet the same, certain justice,” Ashcroft said. In the indictment, prosecutors refer to transcripts of surreptitious FBI tapes made of an alleged 1993 meeting in Philadelphia of HLF and Hamas officials. The purpose, prosecutors allege in the indictment, was to plan how to sabotage peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and “to decide how to conceal their activities from the U.S. government.” They agreed on “masquerading their operations under the cloak” of charity, prosecutors allege. The indictment also claims that three of the HLF representatives are related by birth or marriage to either Hamas leader Khalid Mishal or Mousa Abu Marzook. Both of those men have been designated as terrorists by the U.S. government. Two of the HLF officials charged were not in this country on the day of the indictment and Ashcroft said at the press conference they are considered fugitives. HLF President Abu Baker had recently returned to the United States from overseas, Evans says. On the same day Ashcroft announced the indictment, another HLF defense lawyer called for an investigation into allegations that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents used “falsified translations and materially false information” against his clients. In a letter addressed to the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, John Boyd, a partner in Albuquerque, N.M.’s Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg & Cline, who represents the Holy Land Foundation in its battle against the U.S. Department of Treasury to unfreeze its assets, claimed that FBI agents intentionally omitted material facts in an evidentiary memorandum related to HLF’s alleged contributions to Hamas. Evidence referred to in that memorandum was included in the government’s most recent indictment. Roper says that if the defense lawyers raise questions at trial about the FBI’s tactics “they will be litigated.” Jacks says that the government’s case “will not rise or fall” on the basis of the translations Boyd has questioned. Boyd, who represents the HLF corporation, says he doesn’t know if the U.S. Treasury will relinquish any of the charity’s frozen assets to help it pay for its defense of charges in the recent indictment. Boyd believes the indictment’s timing hinged on political events. “The allegations in the indictment are based on the same ones as contained in the [FBI evidentiary] memorandum [released in 2001]. So my first comment would be why did they wait two-and-a-half years in the midst of questions being raised about George W. Bush’s leadership on terrorism and the Democratic National Convention?” Boyd says. Asked about the timing of the indictment, Ashcroft at his July 27 press conference told a reporter it took time to prepare the indictment. And in Dallas, Roper too denies any political reason for the indictment’s timing. Roper says that he hasn’t felt any pressure from Washington to bring the indictment. The indictment took two-and-a-half years after the freezing of the foundation’s assets, Roper says, because of the complexities to the case. For a decade now, HLF and some of its representatives have been under federal investigation for their alleged connections to Hamas. When Elashi was arrested last week, he was free on bond after having been convicted on July 7, 2004, in United States of America v. Bayan Elashi, et al., along with four of his brothers — also HLF officials — on charges of illegally selling computers to countries that supported terrorism. The Elashis ran a Richardson-based computer company called InfoCom Corp. that had offices across the street from the Holy Land Foundation. They were convicted after a four-week trial and three days of jury deliberations of conspiring to violate export regulations and sanctions against Libya and making false statements on export shipping documents. Still pending are related charges that the five Elashi brothers used the computer business to funnel money to Hamas. After the verdict in the InfoCom case, Evans and other defense lawyers for the brothers told reporters that the men unfairly faced criminal prosecution instead of less serious civil penalties because of suspicions about men with Middle Eastern backgrounds since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. “I’m just not sure this prosecution would have ever been brought if their names were Mark and Bob Smith and if they were from the Midwest,” Jeff Kearney, a lawyer for one of the brothers, told reporters after that trial.

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