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Child extortion plot stretching from Lackawanna to Yemen sends man to prison

From halfway across the world in Yemen, Yousef Goba demanded ransom for a 13-year girl from Lackawanna.

But Goba insists he never intended to actually to kidnap the girl, and his only motivation in making the threats was to collect money he thought he was due.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo sentenced Goba to 41 months in prison, saying, "I find the extortion to be a cruel extortion but just that, an extortion, not a kidnapping."

The sentence ends a four-year-old case that extended from Yemen to Lackawanna and included allegations that the girl was sold into marriage to an older man in Yemen.

Goba, 44, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen at the time, pleaded guilty to extortion but stopped well short of admitting any role in a kidnapping.

On Thursday, his lawyer produced an email and letter from the Lackawanna girl, now 17, indicating she is happy in Yemen and was never mistreated by Goba.

In the email, the girl says she and her family were living with Goba in Yemen when the time came for her to go off on her own. She also denied being married but said she has a baby.

"She makes it clear, it was her decision," said defense lawyer Thomas C. Farley.

Prosecutors believe there was a kidnapping and pointed to an FBI investigation that suggested her letter and email may have been coerced.

"We simply don't know the environment in which she's making these statements, whether it be under coercion or duress," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch.

Lynch noted that the girl has had has no physical contact with her mother in four years, although Farley maintains they do have a relationship.

The prosecution also pointed to a phone call from Goba to the girl's father in April of 2015 in which Goba demanded $11,000 for the child's release.

"He said, 'I have her,' " Lynch told Vilardo. "He also said, 'You can't have her back until you pay me the money.' "

The girl's mother, who has since divorced her husband and remarried, took the children to Yemen in September 2013 to live temporarily so the father could save money while working here.

The following summer, after spending time with the father’s family in Yemen, the mother and children moved in with Goba. When they tried to leave, the defendant allowed the mother and other children to depart, but not the girl, the prosecution maintains.

The government also claims Goba threatened to marry off the girl to a Yemeni national willing to pay for her, and that Goba sent the father a photo of the girl pointing to a wedding cake and a second picture of her with a ring on her finger.

In pleading to extortion, Goba said he was just trying to get the father to reimburse him for the money he spent providing for the family while they lived with him in Yemen. He was arrested in New York City in 2015 as he returned to the United States.

Goba is the brother of Lackawanna Six member Yahya Goba, but sources said there appears to be no connection between Goba’s case and his brother’s involvement with the Lackawanna Six.

Yahya Goba, described by prosecutors as the ringleader of the Lackawanna Six, was sentenced in 2003 to 10 years in prison after admitting he trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 2001.

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