Four men described as soldiers in a terrorism plot to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices have each been sentenced to less than a decade behind bars, far less than federal prosecutors sought.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard, in sentencing hearings Wednesday and Thursday, said the four were followers who participated far less than ringleader Narseal Batiste in discussions about possible terrorist attacks. The conversations were recorded by the FBI using an informant posing as an al-Qaida operative.
The plot never got past the discussion stage, which has led defense attorneys and national terrorism experts to describe the case as overblown since the "Liberty City Seven" were arrested in June 2006. Lenard appeared to share that sentiment, at least for the four who were sentenced.
"As I see this case, these young men were looking for something. I don't know, maybe it was their naivete and youth that made them fall under the influence of a man with a need to control and they became his followers," Lenard said.
Prosecutors sought between 30 and 50 years in prison for each of the four men, with Batiste facing a maximum of 70 years when he is sentenced Friday. They were convicted in May in the third trial of the case following a pair of mistrials, and two of the original suspects were acquitted.
Opted for leniency
Lenard sentenced Batiste's self-described "No. 1 soldier," 30-year-old Patrick Abraham, to just over nine years Thursday. Stanley Phanor, 34, got eight years and two other men were sentenced to even less time Wednesday. Lenard said a terrorism enhancement that applies in each case would result in an unreasonably harsh sentence, so she opted for leniency.
Abraham, a Haitian native who has been jailed since his 2006 arrest, apologized for what happened but insisted he never sought to be a terrorist.
"I am not nobody's enemy," he said. "I am not the government's enemy."
Batiste, 35, testified at the trials that he faked being a terrorist in hopes of scamming the FBI informant out of $50,000 for his struggling construction business. Prosecutors portrayed him as a leader of a paramilitary sect that did not recognize U.S. government authority, and who hoped to use chaotic attacks on the 110-story Chicago skyscraper to start an anti-U.S. war.
A key piece of evidence was a ceremony led by the informant, and taped by the FBI, in which each man pledged loyalty to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
"They proceeded full steam ahead," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Arango. "There was never any hesitation, never any second thoughts."