In the absence of media coverage and in the quiet of virtually empty Dallas immigration courtrooms, a government effort was underway to remove more Holy Land Foundation supporters from the country
After years of counter-terror investigations, indictments and, this year, winning convictions at trial, the U.S. government in North Texas is not finished with the Elashi family.
The government efforts have produced convictions at two trials for five
Elashi Brothers on charges related to using their Richardson-based computer services company, InfoCom Corporation, to support the designated terrorist group Hamas. One of the brothers, Ghassan Elashi, also will face a third trial next year with six co-defendants on dozens of new charges of illegally aiding Hamas through the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation charity, which was tied to InfoCom before President George W. Bush shut it down after 9-11.
Through it all, the wives of the Elashi brothers have escaped the government push to dismantle Hamas’ U.S. infrastructure. But no longer. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service (ICE) has now moved to deport three of their brothers’ wives, with whom the men collectively have 12 U.S.-born children. With their fathers imprisoned, most of the younger American-born Elashi children now face the prospect of becoming parentless or moving with their deported mothers to the Middle East.
“I do think it’s inescapable that people make choices,” said Special Agent in Charge Ken Cates, who oversees ICE in Dallas, referring to the three wives. “They make choices about their relationships. They make choices about their actions while they’re here in the United States. I think that’s the situation that has brought these wives of the defendants to the place they are today.”
The women are Fairuz “Fay” Elashi, a Palestinian who is married to Hazim Elashi and has four children; Lima Dajani Elashi, a Jordanian who is married to Bayan Elashi and has five children; and Wafaa Nafez Mourad, a native of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian national who is married to Basman Elashi and has three children. The three men are in prison awaiting sentencing.
Their wives are accused of overstaying their visas, living in the U.S. as illegal immigrants for up to 20 years, and working as employees at InfoCom without permission. In the case of one woman, government agents claim she actively conspired in her husband’s crimes and that the other women also knew of them.
The women, who deny knowing of any crimes, are hoping to persuade immigration judges to let them stay, for the sake of their well-adjusted America-acculturated children. They argue that forcing their children to decide between moving to Jordan with their mothers or living in the care of others in North Texas would present an exempting hardship on all involved.
Last month, U.S. Immigration Judge Cary H. Copeland rejected that argument for Lima Elashi, ordering her deported to Jordan. He ruled that her five children would acclimate easily to Jordanian society given their insulated religious Muslim upbringing in North Texas. Lima Elashi is appealing and declined interview requests.
On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration Judge Deitrich Sims postponed until Oct. 28 a final decision in the deportation case he heard for Fay Elashi, whose three children, ages 13, 16 and 18, testified about the difficulties they would face without their mother or if transplanted to Jordan. A fourth child is 8.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Fay Elashi, who worked as InfoCom’s in-house accountant, told CBS-11 News in an exclusive interview carefully controlled by her attorneys. “I did my best to be a good citizen. I feel so helpless.”
Wafaa Nafez Mourad declined interview requests.
Their husbands, Hazim, Bayan and Basman (along with other brothers) were convicted in a two-part trial, one concluding in 2004 and another this year, on multiple counts of laundering money to a top Hamas political leader who invested in InfoCom, Musa Abu Marzook. They were convicted for supplying the funds to Marzook after the government named him a global terrorist, a designation that made it a crime for anyone on U.S. soil to do business with him. They and InfoCom also were convicted of illegally shipping computers to Syria and Libya.
Attorney-General John Ashcroft had personally announced the original indictments, calling it part of a campaign against “the financiers of terror.” All three have been in prison since their arrests in 2002 but have yet to be sentenced.
According to Agent Cates, the FBI discovered during its investigations of InfoCom during the 1990s that the wives had been living in the U.S. illegally for years. They had entered on temporary visas to join their husbands during the 1980s and stayed without ever applying for permanent residency, according to government charging documents.
What also drew the attention of federal agents was the fact that the wives also worked for the family InfoCom business. The participation of the Elashi wives as employees of InfoCom, ICE Special Agent in Charge Cates said. “certainly supported the goals of InfoCom and the InfoCom defendants, and so by extension their actions did support terrorist organizations.”
It’s now up to federal immigration judges, who have discretionary authority to let the women stay, so both government attorneys and defense attorneys for the women have been working hard to persuade the judges. For its part, the government has sought to impugn the moral character of the women, in part by showing they have consistently lied to government agents and on documents, and also knowingly participated in their husbands’ criminal support of outlawed terrorist organizations and individuals while working at InfoCom.
During Wednesday’s immigration court hearing, for instance, Fay Elashi took the stand and insisted that her 10-year role as InfoCom’s in-house accountant was minimal and that she knew virtually nothing about jobs her brother-in-laws ordered her to perform.
“It was, ‘print this, fill out this, take these papers here, file these…” she testified.
But ICE’s Assistant Chief Counsel Heidi Graham introduced InfoCom documents seized in various raids that appeared to contradict Fay Elashi’s testimony about her knowledge. Among them was a State of Texas audit letter that referred to her with the title of InfoCom’s “Comptroller.” Other records, including emails, showed she had considerably more responsibility than she claimed, Graham asserted.
Graham then called to the stand an FBI counterterrorism agent who has investigated InfoCom and the Holy Land Foundation for many years.
Special Agent Robert Miranda testified that the government had enough evidence to indict Fay Elashi along with her husband but that the Department of Justice had decided to keep the case more narrowly focused on just the Elashi brothers. He said that as InfoCom’s accountant, she would have known about all under-the-table payments made to Marzook.
“Among non-officers, (Fay) was probably the most involved,” he said of the company’s efforts to cover up payments to Marzook and other crimes. “I believe she was susceptible to criminal charges.”
Since the InfoCom and Holy Land Foundation indictments, the government has deported a number of employees of those organizations, rather than bring criminal charges, in line with an informal policy of neutralizing suspected sympathizers of terrorist groups by available legal means that are less expensive and time consuming.
Agent Miranda also testified that he believed Fay Elashi withheld financial records ordered to be turned over to investigators in a 1995 subpoena. He said agents discovered the older records in a 2001 raid, including checks bearing Marzook’s name and one financial document that was kept in an office safe.
Fay Elashi’s attorney countered that Agent Miranda had not brought documentary evidence to the hearing, and she elicited an acknowledgement from him that no record that he knows of directly ties her to a terrorist group.
But Fay Elashi did not appear to fare well with Judge Sims on a different integrity matter. He questioned her at length about legally significant omissions she left on an immigration application regarding how often she has re-entered the U.S. over the years. She and her attorney seemed unable to provide the judge with a satisfactory answer on that point.
It was unknown when a hearing will take place for Wafaa Nafez Maurad.