Flying High since 1998.

Banker linked to Hamas gets 13 months in prison


ALEXANDRIA - A businessman who lied to investigators about his dealings with a top figure in the militant group Hamas was sentenced to 13 months in prison, despite a plea from prosecutors for the judge to depart from federal sentencing guidelines and impose a tougher sentence.

It is the second time that prosecutors unsuccessfully sought a lengthy prison term for Soliman Biheiri, who ran a now-defunct New Jersey-based business called BMI Inc.

At a sentencing hearing Thursday in US District Court, prosecutor David Laufinan urged a prison term of at least 5 years for Bihelri, even though sentencing guidelines called for a term of 8 to 14 months for the convictions on making false statements to federal investigators and fraudulently obtaining a passport.

Federal judges have previously been required to hew closely to guidelines, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Wednesday found that the guidelines are not mandatory. "It is a brave new world after Booker," Laufman said, referring to Wednesday's ruling. "The shackles are off this court."

Laufman said a 5-year sentence was appropriate because Biheiri "made a materially false statement to investigators who were conducting a major terrorism financing investigation into how llamas raised money in the United States."

Biheiri was convicted in October for falsely telling agents in a 2003 interview that he had no business dealings with Mousa Abu Marzook, a former northern Virginia resident who has since been deported and is now a top officer in the political wing of Hamas.

Testimony and evidence at trial indicated Marzook helped lure $1 million in investment to Biheiri's company and that the two engaged in financial transactions involving tens of thousands of dollars as recently as 1996 - one year after Marzook was designated a terrorist by the U.S. government.

Defense lawyers had sought an eight-month term. Defense lawyer David Schertler said there is no evidence that Marzook received any money from Biheiri after Marzook was designated a terrorist, and Biheiri said during Thursday's hearing that he rejects any associations with terrorism. "I never support terrorism. I never, believe in it. I have always believed myself a liberal Muslim.... How did I know that Abu Marzook, that three years later he would be a member of Hamas?" Biheiri asked, reflecting on the fact that most of his dealings with Marzook came before Marzook ever joined Hamas.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis Ill said the sentencing guidelines were appropriate in this case because Biheiri's conviction was not for dealing in terror financing but for making false statements.