A Yemeni immigrant ice cream shop owner accused of illegally funneling $21.9 million overseas successfully fought to keep prosecutors from introducing evidence allegedly linking him to terrorist groups as his trial began.
Abad Elfgeeh, 50, is accused of transmitting money around the world without a license from a dozen bank accounts linked to his Brooklyn storefront. Prosecutors have said his business was used by a Yemeni cleric convicted earlier this year of a scheme to fund al-Qaida and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
But prosecutors cannot raise the topic of terrorism at Elfgeeh's trial unless the defense does so first because they did not have enough evidence to charge Elfgeeh with a terrorism-related crime.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamela Chen attempted to bring up terrorism after an opening statement Tuesday by defense attorney Frank Hancock, who called Elfgeeh a law-abiding citizen who sent money overseas for Yemeni immigrants seeking to support their families and invest in their native country.
After the jury left the courtroom, Chen asked U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. to let her rebut Hancock's claims by introducing what she called suspicious checks confiscated from Elfgeeh, some bearing the words "jihad" and "mujahidin." Johnson rejected her request but is expected to revisit the issue as the trial moves forward.
Elfgeeh came to the attention of FBI anti-terrorist agents as they investigated Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan Al-Moayad, whom they eventually accused of funneling money from the United States to al-Qaida and Hamas.
Al-Moayad was convicted of supporting and conspiring to support terrorism and sentenced to 75 years in prison in July. Witnesses at al-Moayad's trial said he called Elfgeeh someone he trusted to transfer money from the United States to Yemen, AP reported.