A former international fugitive who voluntarily returned to the United States last month to face federal tax fraud and conspiracy charges involving an Islamic charity must remain in jail pending more hearings on whether he should be released before trial.
U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said he wanted to give defense lawyers for former Ashland resident Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, more time to confirm his financial dealings and travels through the Middle East during the past four years.
Hogan did not say when he would rule.
The hearing Tuesday offered few additional clues to the travels of Seda, who has spent time in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Iran since he left the United States in 2003 &
two years before he and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter he co-founded in Ashland were indicted by a federal grand jury.
Seda, 49, is accused of helping smuggle $150,000 through the charity to Chechnya in 2000 to aid Muslim fighters.
Prosecutors had appealed a ruling last week by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, who said Seda could be released pending trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani told Hogan on Tuesday that Seda, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Iran, has repeatedly failed to provide adequate details about the time he spent in the Middle East. He also pointed out there were discrepancies in documents provided by Seda, including different birth dates on Iranian and U.S. passports.
"If somebody wants to be released after being a fugitive for four years they're going to have to do better than that," Cardani said.
But Seda' attorney Larry Matasar argued that federal prosecutors have raised the stakes too high in what is only a preliminary hearing to determine whether Sedaghaty should remain in custody. "These types of questions are not asked for these kind of charges," Matasar told Hogan, referring to the tax charges against Seda.
Matasar also said that different birth dates listed on his U.S. and Iranian passports resulted from simple translation errors between differing calendars.
In a letter to Coffin dated Sept. 10 and included in a memo filed late Monday with the court, Matasar said that Seda also "spoke out against violence and terrorism on Saudi Arabian television" and has promoted peaceful relations with non-Muslims, which Matasar said in court came "at some risk to himself."
After asking Matasar and Cardani for permission, Hogan questioned Seda privately for more than an hour, then decided he needed more information before ruling. But he told both sides that he would keep any details he learned to himself to avoid turning the custody hearing into a trial.
"I'm going to build a wall between this inquiry and the prosecution," Hogan said after the hearing briefly resumed.
Seda attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland and co-founded the Al-Haramain chapter with Soliman Al-Buthi, a ranking Saudi Arabian government official who was also indicted in 2005.
Prosecutors still consider al-Buthi a fugitive. He has been widely interviewed by the media and his whereabouts are well known because he is also a prominent religious leader in Saudi Arabia, but the Middle Eastern nation does not extradite its citizens.
Al-Buthi is awaiting a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on his challenge to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, which grew out of National Security Administration surveillance of the Al-Haramain chapter in Ashland.
The chapter has been closed and its property sold while the parent foundation, based in Saudi Arabia, has been disbanded by the Saudi government.
Judge again delays decision