updated 3/7/2009 4:55:36 AM ET 2009-03-07T09:55:36

One of four men accused of founding a terrorist group that plotted attacks on Jewish and military targets in California was sentenced Friday to 16 years in federal prison.

Kevin James, 32, pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy to wage war against the United States. Prosecutors had sought an 18-year prison term, but U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney said he decided on a lighter sentence after being convinced that James was remorseful.

Carney said James, a former gang member who had spent most of his life in prison, had completed college-level classes while in the Orange County jail awaiting trial and had sent the judge "the most powerful letter I've ever received."

James's letter promised: "My country need never fear from me again."

The judge, however, rejected a defense request for 10 years to 12 years.

"I need to seriously punish people who make war on the United States," Carney said.

Prosecutors said that in 1997, James founded a radical Islamic organization while serving time in state prison. They said he later recruited fellow inmate Levar Washington, 30, of Torrance, who upon his parole recruited two other men, Gregory Patterson and Hammad Samana of Inglewood.

Washington and Patterson robbed 11 gas stations in Los Angeles and Orange counties in May and July of 2005 to raise money for attacks on Los Angeles International Airport, Army recruiting stations, a military base and other targets, prosecutors said.

Synagogues and the Israeli Consulate also were to be targeted by remotely activated bombs, they said. None of the planned attacks took place.

Police investigating Washington and Patterson for a gas station robbery found documents in their South Los Angeles apartment that discussed terrorist attacks, authorities said.

Washington was sentenced in 2007 to 22 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to levy war against the United States and using a firearm to further a crime of violence. Last year, he was sentenced to an additional 22 years in state prison on state charges for robbing a gas station.

Patterson was sentenced last year to 12 years and seven months in prison after pleading guilty to the same charges.

Samana was initially found unfit to stand trial but has since recovered. His trial was scheduled for July 14.

A telephone number could not be located for Robert Carlin, James' attorney.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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