Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Newburgh 4 trial focuses on informant

The FBI's man on the inside of a homegrown terrorist plot will find himself under as much scrutiny as four Newburgh men he secretly recorded for months, attorneys promised Wednesday.

Lawyers spent much of their opening statements in the trial of the Newburgh Four trying to seize hold of and identity informant Shahed Hussain and define him in the minds of jurors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Hickey laid out the case:

Hussain and the defendants — James Cromitie, David Williams, Laguerre Payen and Onta Williams — drove on May 20, 2009, to the Bronx. There, they planted explosives in cars outside a synagogue and Jewish community center. The explosives were fakes supplied by the FBI, but the four men believed they were rigged to remote controls the men would use to detonate them after they drove to New Windsor to shoot down military planes at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

Hickey said the men were willing to execute the "destructive and murderous plot" and Hussain was a facilitator. Hickey said Hussain had come to a Newburgh mosque to listen for any threats of violence, and Cromitie eventually approached him. Recorded conversations will show Cromitie spewed hatred for Jews and America and was eager to attack both, Hickey said.

But Hussain, defense attorneys said, is little more than a criminal. His past includes prison in his home country of Pakistan and a conviction in the United States for running a drivers' license scam. Defense attorneys painted him as desperate to keep a $100,000 salary as an informant and to avoid deportation.

So he created a crime with the help of the FBI and manipulated unsophisticated men to execute it, defense attorneys said. In a sense, he was making a movie, which he produced, directed and cast, Defense attorney Vincent Briccetti said.

"This movie is not a documentary," Briccetti said. "It's actually a work of fiction."

Defense attorneys said he cast each defendant in a planned role.

Payen's attorney, Samuel Braverman said Hussain expertly exploited their clients' individual weakness: Cromitie's empty pockets and need to feel important, David Williams and Onta Williams' need for money to care for relatives and Payen's simple mind and empty stomach.

In doing so, Braverman said, Hussain and the FBI induced four weak men to take part in a crime they would never have even conceived if they'd been left alone.

"They know when they're offering food and money to starving people, they might take it," Braverman said.

By Doyle Murphy,


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