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Accused Muslim businessman wants to know if secret wiretaps were used

Mohamed T. Albanna, a prominent Lackawanna businessman and leader in the American-Muslim community, wants to know whether federal agents used secret wiretaps to investigate him.

Federal prosecutors have declined to answer the question for the past month.

District Judge William M. Skretny this week said he wants a response by Feb. 27, or he may consider a contempt-of-court order against the U.S. Justice Department.

Albanna and two of his relatives face a July trial on accusations they ran an illegal money-transmitting business that sent $3.5 million from Western New York to Yemen. They were charged in December 2002 after an investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Their lawyers already are aware that court-approved wiretaps were used in the investigation. Albanna and his attorney, Philip M. Marshall, want to know whether the government also used controversial no-warrant eavesdropping techniques, which President Bush approved in some cases.
"So far, there's been no answer forthcoming from Washington," Marshall said.

Albanna, 55, of Lackawanna, and his two co-defendants never have been accused of any connection with terrorism. They are accused of running a business that illegally wired money from Yemeni-Americans here to relatives in Yemen. He says he was trying to assist law-abiding citizens.

Under the Patriot Act, anyone running such a business must be licensed by the federal government. According to FBI agents, Albanna's business was not licensed.

Albanna has previously defended the "Lackawanna Six," a group of young Yemeni-Americans convicted of going to an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Two weeks ago, Skretny instructed Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch to appear with a response to the request. Lynch told the judge Wednesday that he was trying to get a response from a Justice Department lawyer in Washington but still had not received it.

The judge then told Lynch to return to court Feb. 27 with a response, or with the Washington lawyer. Failure, Skretny warned, would result in him considering use of his powers to hold the Justice Department in contempt.


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