updated 7/9/2004 2:48:19 PM ET 2004-07-09T18:48:19

A New Jersey gas station owner was sentenced Friday to the maximum of five years in prison for lying to FBI agents about his ties to a Yemeni sheik who prosecutors say raised money for al-Qaida.

Numan Maflahi, a Yemeni-born U.S. citizen, told agents that he had limited contact with Sheik Abdullah Satar and no involvement in Satar’s fund raising for al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

But prosecutors said FBI agents had watched as Maflahi “spent almost every waking hour” with Satar during a 1999 trip to New York, arranging his speaking engagements at mosques, driving him to appointments and helping collect and hold money.

The terrorism tie brought Maflahi, 31, an unusually stiff sentence for lying to the FBI, which ordinarily would carry a maximum six-month sentence.

“The proof here is overwhelming that the defendant was lying about facts relevant to the investigation of a federal crime of terrorism,” U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon said.

Maflahi’s attorney, Hassen Abdellah, argued that tie was unproven, because Satar has not been indicted in the United States and the charity he was raising money for, the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, has not been designated a terrorist organization.

Abdellah told the judge he planned to appeal, but declined to comment as he left court.

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