Pete Seda, 52, a former Ashland arborist and peace activist, faces as much as eight years in federal prison following his Thursday conviction on money-laundering and tax-cheat charges.
Pete Seda, 52, a former Ashland arborist and peace activist, faces as much as eight years in federal prison following his Thursday conviction on money-laundering and tax-cheat charges. Prosecutors said he used his now-defunct Ashland Islamic charity to smuggle money to Chechen rebels fighting the Russians in 2000.
"The verdict affirmed what the investigators thought all along — that he had a public side of him that Ashland saw, but he had a private side that associated himself with extremists," said Chris Cardani, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case. "And that's a side of him that people in Ashland didn't see."
Some of Seda's supporters, including peace activist Karen Caldwell, said they were appalled by Seda's conviction and rejected Cardani's characterizations.
"I think it would be pretty hard to have a two-sided nature like that and live in a small town like Ashland for 25 years," said Caldwell, who testified at Seda's trial. "I'm not buying it.
"The government's contention that he had this split personality doesn't make sense," Caldwell said. "The people I've talked to were pretty much in consensus with our opinion about Pete; his trustworthiness and friendliness."
In a Friday interview, defense attorney Steven Wax said the verdict was "devastating" to Seda's family and friends, and he pledged an appeal.
"We do not believe it speaks to the truth about the charges or his life," Wax said. "We will continue to fight it every way we can to vindicate his rights."
Seda was in the Lane County Jail Friday awaiting his Nov. 23 sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan, who ordered Seda be taken into custody as a flight risk following the jury's verdict.
For 21/2 years, Seda was an international fugitive living in Middle East countries that had no extradition agreements with the United States. He returned and surrendered to face the charges in 2007. He remained free under federal supervision until moments after his conviction, when U.S. Marshals took him into custody.
Cardani said U.S. attorneys will file court papers urging Hogan to impose a "substantial" sentence "because of the nature of the crime.
"Having a charity — sending money overseas to fund acts of violence — is not something you see very often," Cardani said. "When you catch it, it needs to be aggressively prosecuted."
Jurors deliberated 13 hours over two days after hearing six days of testimony.
Seda and codefendant Soliman Al-Buthi, who is a Saudi Arabian national, ran the Ashland-based chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in 2000 when the crimes allegedly occurred.
The pair are accused of taking a $150,000 donation made to the foundation by an Egyptian doctor, and transferring it into $130,000 in traveler's checks and a $20,000 cashier's check. Al-Buthi then carried the money illegally to Saudi Arabia, prosecutors said.
The transaction was not reported — a violation of federal law — and Seda later signed a false 2000 tax return to hide the transaction, according to prosecutors.
Seda claimed the money was intended as a tithe, and defense attorneys blamed the foundation's Medford accountant, Tom Wilcox, for the foundation's false tax return.
Wilcox did not return telephone calls Friday seeking comment.
Prosecutors claimed Seda all along intended to use the money to help fighters overthrow the Chechen government, and that he went to great lengths to conceal it from the government.
The government has listed both the Ashland chapter of Al-Haramain and its parent organization in Saudi Arabia "specially designated global terrorist organizations." The parent organization was disbanded by the Saudi government in 2004.
Al-Buthi, charged with the same crimes as Seda, remains in Saudi Arabia, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Mark Freeman is a reporter with the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.