February 20, 2024

US: Indictment alleges murder-for-hire plot against Ohio federal judge

Yahya-Farooq-Mohammad-Article-201607082100By Zoe Tillman, The National Law Journal From New York Law Journal

A federal judge in Ohio was the intended target of a murder-for-hire plot, according to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Wednesday.

Yahya Farooq Mohammad is charged with attempting to orchestrate the kidnapping and murder of U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary. Zouhary, who sits in Toledo, Ohio, is presiding over a federal terrorism case against Mohammad.

According to the indictment, Mohammad allegedly told an inmate that he was willing to pay $15,000 to have the judge killed. The inmate put Mohammad in touch with the undercover agent. Mohammad arranged for his wife to deliver $1,000 to the agent as a down payment, and they agreed to pay an additional $13,000.

The agent, according to the indictment, later showed Mohammad’s wife a photo of what was supposedly Zouhary’s dead body, and she said she would work with Mohammad to get the rest of the money.

“Conspiring to have a judge killed is not the way to avoid being prosecuted—now Mohammad will be held accountable for additional serious federal charges,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony said in a statement.

Mohammad was charged last year with conspiring to travel to Yemen to provide financial support for terrorism against U.S. military personnel. A hearing was scheduled for June 28, but prosecutors on June 17 asked to reschedule it until July. They said at the time that they had “obtained information that may have an impact” on the case but did not provide details.

Thomas Durkin of Durkin & Roberts in Chicago, who represents Mohammad in the terrorism case, said in a statement in response to the new indictment that “we intend to vigorously contest these highly orchestrated and preposterous charges in court, rather than in the media.” He criticized U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade’s statements about the case—she said in a press release that Mohammad was “trying to undermine our criminal justice system”—as inappropriate.

“We are quite confident that the public will soon come to learn that any undermining of our criminal justice system and the rule of law lies instead at the feet of the government and its informants,” Durkin said.

McQuade is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. The U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio recused from the case, although assistant U.S. attorneys from that office are involved.

The U.S. Marshals Service oversees security for the federal judiciary. Attacks on federal judges and their families are rare, but there have been a handful of incidents over the years, some fatal. In 2005, Congress approved millions of additional dollars for judiciary security after U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother were killed inside her home. A man whose civil lawsuit Lefkow had dismissed took responsibility for the shooting before he committed suicide.

Three federal judges have been assassinated in connection with their position in the past century: John Wood Jr. of the Western District of Texas in 1979; Richard Daronco of the Southern District of New York in 1988; and Robert Smith Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 1989.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg was shot in the leg outside his home in Detroit. Investigators did not believe the shooting was related to Berg’s work as a judge. A jury in May acquitted a suspect charged with shooting the judge, although the defendant was convicted of charges related to other armed robberies.

A Long Island man was found guilty of plotting to decapitate a federal judge and prosecutor after the government presented recordings, documents and a confession showing the man orchestrated the attempted assassinations for $40,000.

In reaching the verdict against Joseph Romano, the jury of nine women and three men needed three and one-half hours to reject Romano’s defense that he was entrapped by an untrustworthy jailhouse snitch who pushed him into a plot targeting Eastern District Judge Joseph Bianco and Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz (NYLJ, Jan. 24, 2014).

Romano received two life sentences.

Zouhary has been a federal judge since 2006.

IMAGE: Yahya Farooq Mohammad

For more on this story go to: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202762118918/Indictment-Alleges-MurderForHire-Plot-Against-Ohio-Federal-Judge?mcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL

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