The United States Supreme Court has decided not to accept appeals from the five Holy Land Foundation officials convicted of illegally funneling more than $12 million to Hamas, essentially concluding the case.
The court had no comment in declining to hear the case Monday.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected similar arguments last year in upholding the convictions against Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh. They were convicted on a total of 108 counts in 2008 and are serving sentences ranging from 15 years to 65 years in prison.
The defendants wanted the Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth Circuit ruling by rejecting the prosecution’s use of Israeli security officials whose identities were never disclosed. That, defense attorneys argued, hampered their ability to cross-examine the witnesses and violated the defendants’ rights to confront their accusers.
But other testimony and evidence was consistent with the Israelis’ testimony, the Fifth Circuit found. And there is precedent – especially in drug prosecutions – for courts balancing witness safety against the defendants’ confrontation rights. “[T]here was a serious and clear need to protect the true identities of [the Israeli witnesses] because of concerns for their safety,” the Fifth Circuit ruling said.
In addition, prosecutors did provide sufficient information for defense attorneys to cross examine aggressively. The “defense was therefore well-armed with information upon which to confront and cross-examine both,” the appellate court found.
The defense and its supporters continue to cast the Holy Land Foundation as a victim of overzealous post-9/11 prosecutions. The group merely raised money for needy Palestinians, they argue, and was never connected to any violence.
But evidence and testimony in the trial showed the HLF sent money to Palestinian charities controlled by Hamas. “The purpose of creating the Holy Land Foundation was as a fundraising arm for Hamas,” U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis said at the 2009 sentencing hearing.
HLF had been one of the nation’s largest Muslim charities before being shut down in 2001. Other disclosures in the case tied several prominent American Islamist groups – especially the Council on American-Islamic Relations – to a Muslim Brotherhood network in the United States created to provide Hamas with political and financial support.
While Monday’s refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal by defendants in the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) prosecution effectively closes the case for the defense, it could open options for the government.
In addition to the five defendants, HLF as an organization also was convicted in the case. As we reported in December 2008, there are potential enforcement ramifications stemming from the HLF case beyond the five convicted defendants. This is particularly true now the appellate process has been exhausted in favor of the prosecution.
Since HLF has now been legally determined to have been an organization involved in terrorism support, foreign nationals who worked for HLF or otherwise assisted it may be subject to immigration enforcement action in the form of removal (deportation) proceedings.
In fact, even naturalized U.S. citizens who may have been involved in HLF activities before they naturalized may be subject to either criminal fraud prosecution and/or revocation of their citizenship status if they misrepresented their involvement with HLF or the nature of HLF activities while they were affiliated with the organization.
The Supreme Court decision finalizing the HLF appeals process firmly strengthens the position for law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and their ability to aggressively investigate and prosecute additional suspects who may have been involved with this organization.