Iraqi refugee pleads guilty to fraud charge

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MATTHEW BARAKAT

An Iraqi refugee liv­ing in Fair­fax County who was ac­cused of hid­ing her ties to the kid­nap­per of a U.S. con­trac­tor has pleaded guilty to an un­re­lated fraud charge.

The case against Enas Ibrahim, 32, of Vi­enna, is the last of three cases brought by pros­e­cu­tors ear­lier this year al­leg­ing that Ibrahim, her hus­band and her hus­band’s brother en­gaged in visa fraud by fail­ing to dis­close on their refugee ap­pli­ca­tions their fam­ily ties to Ma­jid Al Mash­han­dani, who ad­mit­ted par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2004 kid­nap­ping of U.S. con­trac­tor Roy Hal­lums.

Fam­ily mem­bers said they wor­ried that dis­clos­ing the re­la­tion­ship would make it im­pos­si­ble to gain refugee sta­tus.

Mr. Hal­lums spent nearly a year in cap­tiv­ity be­fore be­ing res­cued in a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion.

At Wed­nes­day’s plea hear­ing in fed­eral court in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, though, Ibrahim pleaded guilty not to visa fraud, but to wire fraud. Specif­i­cally, she ad­mit­ted that she over­stated her in­come on a $30,000 loan ap­pli­ca­tion for a Nis­san Pathfinder.

The loan it­self was paid back in full. Dur­ing the plea hear­ing, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ques­tioned whether Ibrahim re­ally wanted to plead guilty, given that there was no ac­tual harm and it was ques­tion­able whether Ibrahim had any crim­i­nal in­tent when she submitted her loan ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ibrahim’s lawyer, Lana Manitta, said the plea deal on the wire fraud charge gives her client the best chance to avoid de­por­ta­tion. She said her client is in­no­cent of visa fraud, but wor­ried about a jury trial in which her client would have faced both the visa fraud charge and the wire fraud charge.

In an in­ter­view af­ter the hear­ing, she said she wor­ried about a jury trial for her client in part be­cause of “the cli­mate that we’re in,” which in­cludes the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pur­suit of a travel ban seeks to re­strict U.S. ac­cep­tance of refugees on the grounds that they are be­ing im­prop­erly vet­ted and pose a se­cu­rity risk.

She ques­tioned whether the govern­ment was over­ag­gres­sive in its pur­suit of Ibrahim and her fam­ily — she said Ibrahim knew noth­ing about the kid­nap­ping.

“I’m not sure how it ac­com­plished any­thing,” she said of the pros­e­cu­tion.

In­deed, Judge Brinkema posed a sim­i­lar ques­tion of pros­e­cu­tors at Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, ask­ing point blank, “Why are you go­ing af­ter this de­fen­dant?”

Pros­e­cu­tor Gor­don Kromberg said the case is about more than the Nis­san loan. He said the three cases as a whole in­volve a fraud on the refugee process, and he said the govern­ment also had a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion “about the kid­nap­ping and tor­ture of an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.”

Mr. Hal­lums, who now lives in Memphis, Ten­nessee, told The As­so­ci­ated Press ear­lier this year that his kid­nap­ping was largely a fam­ily af­fair per­pe­trated by the Mash­han­dani clan.

Ibrahim is free on bond pend­ing sen­tenc­ing. Judge Brinkema in­di­cated Ibrahim may well re­ceive a sen­tence of only pro­ba­tion. She will then be free to fight any de­por­ta­tion ef­forts in im­mi­gra­tion court.

Ibrahim has said she fears for her life if she is de­ported to Iraq, where her hus­band worked for a non­profit that in­ves­ti­gated cor­rup­tion in the Iraqi govern­ment and had close ties to the U.S.

Her hus­band, Adil Hasan, and his brother — Yousif Al Mash­han­dani who also was liv­ing in North­ern Vir­ginia — spent about three months in jail be­fore plead­ing guilty last week to visa fraud and be­ing sen­tenced to time served. They are now in cus­tody of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and also could face de­por­ta­tion.

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