Hamas rally 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The imam of a mosque pleaded guilty to providing material support to the militant group Hamas in a case in which the agreement, charges and even the plea hearing were handled in secret.
The US Attorney's Office said Friday that the charges and plea agreement involving Mohamed Shorbagi were filed Aug. 28 in a federal court, but were sealed until Friday.
Shorbagi, 42, agreed to a maximum 15 years in prison, prosecutors said. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 3.
According to prosecutors, between 1997 and 2001, Shorbagi provided financial support to Hamas, a group designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization. He also was accused of conspiring with unnamed others to provide material support to Hamas.
The donations were through the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, prosecutors said.
"It was not for a large amount of money," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said. "But that goes to show you it doesn't take a large amount of money to get 15 years in prison."
He said the prison time could be reduced if Shorbagi cooperates, as he is expected to do.
Nahmias' office said Shorbagi was a representative of the Holy Land Foundation in the state of Georgia and knew money provided to the foundation was actually funneled to Hamas.
He had attended Holy Land Foundation meetings at which high-level Hamas officials made presentations condemning Israel, and hosted high-level Hamas officials at the mosque where he served as imam, prosecutors said.
Shorbagi's attorney, Michael Trost, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
Nahmias said Shorbagi is a citizen of the Palestinian territory but is in the United States legally.
Nahmias' office said prosecutors did not have to invoke the Patriot Act in imposing secrecy on the proceedings, and that US District Judge Harold Murphy in Rome agreed to the seal. Officials said it is similar to procedures used in high-level drug cases.
"A lot of it has been kept very quiet due to Shorbagi's association," Nahmias said.
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was shut down in 2001 after the government accused it of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas. Several people connected to the group were charged.
Hamas gained control of the Palestinian Authority after winning elections in January. Israel and Western donors have cut hundreds of millions of dollars in transfers to the authority, demanding that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Hamas has rejected the demands.