The mother of three children, who along with her husband attempted to ship money to a Mideast terrorist group, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court to more than three years in prison.
Amera Akl, 38, was sentenced to 40 months in prison by Judge James Carr for working with her husband, Hor Akl, in the plot to bundle about $200,000 and conceal it in an SUV they planned to ship to Lebanon.
Federal prosecutors said the couple planned for a year to send up to $1 million for Hezbollah, the Lebanese group the U.S. government lists as a terrorist organization and blames for numerous attacks on Israel.
Judge Carr said the punishment is not the maximum or the minimum that she could get for the crimes, but one that "adequately reflects her role ... in this case."
The plea agreement that she entered bound the judge from going outside the 37 to 46-month range in the federal sentencing guidelines for the offenses.
She will be placed on probation for three years after her release from prison.
The Akls, dual citizens of the United States and Lebanon, both pleaded guilty May 23 to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Hor Akl, 38, also pleaded guilty to money laundering, bankruptcy fraud, and perjury charges. He faces more than seven years in prison. A date for his sentencing has not been scheduled.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped an arson charge against the couple that carried a mandatory 10-year sentence. They also dropped a money laundering charge against Amera Akl.
The investigation was built on recorded conversations the Akls had with an FBI informant who told them he worked for an anonymous donor who was eager to support Hezbollah. They agreed to transport $1 million, of which about $200,000 would be kept by them as a fee, prosecutors said.
The connection to 911 here is the lawyer, Sanford Schulman who also represented Wissam Hammoud.
An Ohio couple has been charged with attempting to provide funds and vehicles for Hezbollah to use against Israel.
On June 7, 2010, Hor Akl and Amera Akl, an Ohio couple who both hold dual American and Lebanese citizenship, were indicted in an Ohio federal court for conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah and conspiring to launder money, among other charges. Hor and Amera Akl, who have pleaded not guilty to all charges, face maximum prison sentences of 60 and 45 years, respectively, if convicted.
According to the indictment, Hor and Amera Akl, both 37, researched and proposed at least ten different ways to send money and goods to Lebanon for Hezbollah to use to target Israel. One method involved shipping pickup trucks and other vehicles to Lebanon that would be used by Hezbollah to transport weapons and rockets to be fired at Israel. The Akls, who also suggested using couriers to personally carry the money to Lebanon or transferring money to offshore accounts, ultimately decided to purchase a vehicle at an audio auction, conceal funds within the vehicle and ship it to Lebanon. They were arrested on June 3, 2010, shortly after purchasing the vehicle and preparing to conceal the funds inside it.
The indictment further alleged that, in March 2010, Hor Akl traveled to Lebanon to meet with Hezbollah officials. During these meetings, Akl allegedly arranged delivery of the funds and Hezbollah agreed to confirm receipt of the funds by posting a pre-arranged message in a Hezbollah publication. While in Lebanon, Akl and several unindicted co-conspirators used code words involving work and business travels in their conversations to conceal the nature of the trip.
During the investigation, the Akls discussed their past criminal activity, which included smuggling cash to Lebanon and wire, mail and bankruptcy fraud. In addition, the indictment alleged that Amera Akl stated that "she dreamed of dressing like Hezbollah, carrying a gun and dying as a martyr" and that her husband claimed that Hezbollah had previously used his family's home in Lebanon to store artillery, firearms and rockets.
Apart from the Akls, several others have been charged or convicted in the U.S. on terrorism offenses relating to Hezbollah. In February 2010, for example, three Miami-based businessmen were arrested in Florida for smuggling electronics to a Hezbollah-operated shopping center in Paraguay that serves as Hezbollah's central headquarters in the tri-border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The previous November, four men were indicted in Philadelphia for attempting to provide Hezbollah with a cache of weapons and funds.
Amera Akl is one of a small number of American women have been arrested on terror-related charges in the United States. They include:
Colleen LaRose and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, two American women who converted to Islam, have been charged in a terror plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog in a Swedish newspaper. Charges were unsealed against LaRose in March 2010 for recruiting potential terrorists online, and against Paulin-Ramirez the following month for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists in connection with the plot. Zeinab Taleb-Jedi, a naturalized American citizen from Iran, was indicted in a New York federal court in September 2006 for providing material support to the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Taleb-Jedi allegedly served on the terrorist group's military leadership council and attended its training camp in Iraq in the late 1990s. In February 2005, defense lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted in New York of providing material aid to terrorists, perjury and defrauding the government for passing messages between convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman, who plotted to blow up New York landmarks in 1993, and his militant followers in Egypt. Carole Gordon and her granddaughter Brandy Jo Bowman were among eleven people charged in January 2003 for their involvement in a cigarette smuggling ring that allegedly funneled its proceeds to Hezbollah. Also in 2003, American-born October Martinique Lewis was sentenced in Oregon to three years in prison for laundering money to six men who were attempting to join the Taliban to fight American forces.