An informant's claim that Mohammed Abuhamra spoke of "retribution against the United States or against U.S. interests" in Yemen if he was convicted in a cigarette smuggling case prompted the effort by federal prosecutors to keep him behind bars pending sentencing, court documents revealed Monday.
An affidavit by Buffalo police Detective Kevin F. Maloney was filed Monday with U.S. District Court, hours before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara was to reconsider Abuhamra's request for bail.
The former vice president of the Yemenite-American Merchants Association in Lackawanna and four other men were convicted in March of participating in a cigarette smuggling ring. Abuhamra has remained in custody as a result of government evidence presented to Arcara but which David Jay, Abuhamra's attorney, was not allowed to hear.
Citing concerns about secret government evidence kept from a defense attorney, the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court sent the case back to Arcara for reconsideration of bail.
After his arrest in 1999, Abuhamra had been freed on $20,000 bail pending trial.
In the affidavit, Maloney states that a source, who wasn't identified, reported overhearing a conversation in Arabic between Abuhamra and a co-defendant during Abuhamra's trial. The informant related the reference to retribution and claimed Abuhamra said a fugitive co-defendant would "participate in whatever action the defendant proposed."
"I'm shocked someone would attribute such remarks to Mr. Abuhamra," Jay said.
The defense attorney said he observed during his four years of acquaintance with Abuhamra that "he measures his words and responses to questions very carefully, and doesn't make these off-the-cuff remarks."
Jay suggested a hearing so that the informant could be questioned directly -- agreeing to conceal the informant's appearance and voice, if necessary.
"We don't care who he is," Jay said. "I want the opportunity to find out when he knew these things . . . who was there, what's in it for him to reveal" the purported conversation.
"I think the affidavit raises more questions than answers," Jay said.
Federal prosecutor Anthony Bruce argued that the defense had been provided with exactly what the informant said and that the government doesn't want to bring the informant to court.
"What (Jay) suggests is he wants to get an informant killed," Bruce said.
A hearing has been scheduled for Monday, when Jay will be allowed to present character witnesses for Abuhamra.
The judge also said he was awaiting a transcript from the appellate court session so he could understand the judges' direction in the case.
As he was led from the courtroom Monday, Abuhamra called out, in Arabic, to his son and other supporters.
Ahmed Abuhamra, the defendant's eldest son, described Monday's proceedings as "totally absurd."
Prosecutors are "just throwing a claim in the air and expecting people to buy it," Ahmed Abuhamra said. "What's the credibility of that?"