Umer Hayat, who had been charged with two counts of lying about terrorism, pleaded guilty Wednesday — but not to terror-related charges. Instead, the Lodi man acknowledged lying to customs agents by denying he was carrying $28,000 when he took a trip to Pakistan several years ago.
And, instead of facing up to 16 years in prison on the previous charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is recommending a sentence of 11 months, the time Hayat already served in jail, and be placed on three years of felony supervised release.
Hayat, 48, remains on home detention and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 18. The actual sentence will be up to U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr., who could sentence Hayat to as much as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines, however, call for a sentence of zero to six months behind bars.
Defense attorney Johnny L. Griffin III was happy with the deal, saying his client had always been willing to admit that he lied to customs agents. The government dismissed the terror-related charges with prejudice, meaning they can never again bring those charges against Hayat.
“I consider this a victory because I said from day one that Umer Hayat was not a terrorist, nor was he ever involved in terrorism,” Griffin said.
U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott disagreed that the deal was a victory for the defense.
“(Hayat) is now a convicted felon, and he wasn’t yesterday,” Scott told the News-Sentinel. “(He) will remain on very strict supervised release by the probation department for the next three years and if he violates any of the terms, he’s going back into custody.”
Hayat and his 23-year-old son, Hamid Hayat, went on trial in mid-February with separate juries. Umer Hayat’s jurors spent nine days deliberating before they told Burrell that they were “decisively deadlocked” on April 25. They split 7-5 and 6-6 on the two counts. Prosecutors had said they would retry the Lodi man, but have since decided to settle the case.
“This outcome was not, of course, the one most desired by the government,” Scott said earlier Wednesday in a written statement, adding that prosecutors still believe Umer Hayat lied about terrorism, but had to consider the evenly divided jury.
“I have been a prosecutor for many years and am well acquainted with the challenges of retrying a case with those sorts of juror splits, given our duty to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt to all 12 members of the jury,” Scott said.
The plea deal came just days before Umer Hayat was scheduled to face his second trial on two counts of lying to the FBI. He was accused of denying that he had personal knowledge of terror training camps in Pakistan, and of knowing that his son attended the camps.
Because prosecutors dismissed those charges Wednesday, the ice cream vendor only stands convicted of declaring the wrong amount of money when he and his family went to Pakistan on April 19, 2003.
When customs officers stopped the Hayat family at Washington-Dulles International Airport, Umer Hayat said he was not carrying any money. Inspector David Martinez told him amounts totaling more than $10,000 must be declared, and Umer Hayat then showed two envelopes containing $5,000 each.
Twice more, he said the family was not carrying any other money, but agents then found $10,000 on Hamid Hayat and $8,053 on Umer Hayat’s wife.
After assessing a fine of about $2,000, agents ultimately returned the rest of the money. During pre-trial proceedings, community members signed affidavits declaring they had sent the money with the Hayats to deliver to family members in Pakistan.
News of the plea was welcome for Woodbridge resident Debra Kiriu, who served as forewoman of Umer Hayat’s jury. The jury was never told of the $28,000, though the customs agent traveled from Washington, D.C., for the trial. He testified for eight minutes.
“I’m glad to see that he came forward and said, ‘Yes, I did lie,’” Kiriu said Wednesday evening. “I don’t know if he just didn’t know the laws at the time. It’s hard to say. That’s what’s hard about the case: He’s been here for 30 years and by then he should know the laws.”
Umer Hayat is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and his son was born in California, meaning that neither is eligible for deportation to another country.
The deal will not likely affect the case against his son, said Hamid Hayat’s attorney, Wazhma Mojaddidi, because Umer Hayat did not plead guilty to anything related to terrorism.
A second jury spent eight days in deliberations before convicting Hamid Hayat of all four charges against him, which include three counts of lying to the FBI and one count of providing material support, in the form of himself, to terrorists.
Hamid Hayat’s sentencing has been postponed until at least November because his attorney has asked for a new trial amidst allegations of jury misconduct.
Wednesday’s plea deal came five days shy of June 5, the one-year mark since the Hayats were arrested during a high-profile investigation involving dozens of FBI agents swarming through Lodi.
Trial testimony ultimately revealed that the case had been underway for years and that a paid FBI informant, Naseem Khan, had infiltrated Lodi’s Pakistani community and secretly recorded conversations. He was initially assigned in late 2001 to get close to two imams, or Muslim religious leaders, but the following summer he met Hamid Hayat, who was 10 years his junior.
The two became friends, and recordings played in court revealed an informant who repeatedly mentioned getting “training” in Pakistan and talked about violent jihad, or war against enemies of Islam.
What secured prosecutors a conviction was Hamid Hayat’s videotaped interview with FBI agents. They questioned him for hours and then, when he began to change his story, turned on the video recorder. Hamid Hayat described various camps and often repeated what agents told him, but jurors decided he gave enough information to convict him.
Despite the fact that Umer Hayat has not been convicted of any terror charges, Scott, the U.S. Attorney, said the community is safer now that the Hayats have felony convictions and the two imams have been deported.
Kiriu said she thinks Lodi residents will probably be glad to hear that the case is resolved, rather than having the national media continue focusing on Lodi as a possible terrorist center.
Whether the investigation is truly over, though, remains undisclosed.
“There continue to be people of interest to us and I really can’t say anything beyond that,” Scott said.