EUGENE, Ore. – A federal judge has freed an Oregon man whose conviction in September on money smuggling charges has been thrown into question.
Judge Michael Hogan said Wednesday that Pete Seda could be released, wearing a GPS device, while his lawyers argue the conviction should be thrown out or he get a new trial because the prosecution failed to disclose evidence that could have been used against one of its witnesses.
Seda was convicted of tax fraud and conspiracy in what the government said was a plot to send about $150,000 in 2000 through an Islamic charity he managed in Ashland to Saudi Arabia.
Prosecutors said the money was intended to aid Muslims fighting the Russians in Chechnya.
But after the trial, federal prosecutors acknowledged they didn't tell defense lawyers about payments made by the FBI to the husband of a witness, Barbara Cabral, and about discussions of paying her after the trial.
Hogan admonished Seda not to flee after he was freed.
After a raid on his Ashland home in 2003, Seda left the country and was believed to be in the Middle East. He was indicted in 2005, making him a fugitive, and returned to the United States voluntarily in 2007 to face charges.
"Your record is not perfect with regard to showing up," Hogan told Seda. "I will not abide any missteps."
Seda's lawyers said he was expected to be released in Portland, where he had been living before the trial, on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.
The hearing before Hogan shed no new light on what went wrong in the Seda prosecution. U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton and his assistants have acknowledged they should have disclosed the payment information but haven't elaborated.
Defense lawyers said they were told the failure was inadvertent and that Holton in December ordered that the payment information be disclosed.
The Justice Department has had problems in recent years with prosecutors failing to make such disclosures, most prominently in 2009 in the corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
When the judge in that case complained of prosecutorial misconduct, Attorney General Eric Holder asked that the charges be dismissed and ordered a review. That led to new training and a manual for federal prosecutors, as well as a requirement that each U.S. attorney's office strengthen its policy on disclosing information to defense lawyers.
More about the prosecution's actions in the Seda case may be revealed in the next step in the case — arguments over the defense bid for a new trial or for dismissal of the charges. Hogan gave lawyers 30 days to submit briefs but didn't set a date for a hearing.
Along with the payments, the arguments are likely to focus on other parts of the disclosures.
In their filings, for instance, Seda's lawyers have said they've gotten two versions of an FBI report about an interview with Richard Cabral in 2007. Cabral worshipped with Seda in Ashland and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca with him in 1999. Later, the FBI made three cash payments to him, totaling $14,500, that the prosecution didn't disclose before the trial.
The defense says one version of the report contains a passage that Cabral didn't recall Seda during the 1999 pilgrimage "discussing Kosovo or supporting mujahedin there," and the other version doesn't contain that passage.
Richard Cabral died before the trial, at which his wife testified that when the couple accompanied Seda on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1999, Seda asked them for money to help send blankets and food and help the mujahideen in Chechnya.
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