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The Complicated Case Of Shakir Hamoodi

A local grocery store owner’s “crime of compassion” has earned him a three-year sentence in federal prison. Now Shakir Hamoodi’s fate rests in the hands of President Obama.

Shakir Hamoodi

L.G. Patterson

(page 1 of 4)

Monday, Sept. 18, 2006
Lamees Abdul-Kafi realized she forgot her cell phone en route to her 9 a.m. class at the University of Missouri. Apologizing to her brother, Owais, who was also in the car, Lamees turned the vehicle around and headed back to their house in The Pines, a quiet, upscale neighborhood off Nifong Boulevard in south Columbia.

The pair was home less than five minutes before they heard a knock on the door. Owais answered and was greeted by a familiar face — the man standing on the doorstep of 2701 Woodberry Court was an FBI agent he’d met three days earlier at the Columbia Islamic Center. More than 30 additional law enforcement agents were standing on the lawn behind him, including representatives from the Columbia Police Department, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They were armed, Owais remembers; some had their guns drawn.

“I have a warrant to search this house,” the agent told Owais.

Confused, scared and angry, the 17-year-old MU freshman shut the door and called his father. Shakir Hamoodi was in Detroit, where he often traveled for his work with the charity Life for Relief and Development — this particular trip was to firm up fundraising plans during the 2006 Muslim holy month of Ramadan, set to begin the next weekend.

If the FBI had a warrant, Hamoodi told his son, he had to let them into the house.

Law enforcement officers instructed Owais and Lamees to leave their home, but not before the agents searched Owais’ backpack, confiscating flash drives and a TI-83 calculator.

Hamoodi flew immediately to St. Louis, drove to Columbia and met his wife, Lamya Najem, at their store, World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods. He arrived at his house roughly eight hours after the raid started, and the FBI was still there. Agents had seized — among other things — computers, IDs, passports, letters from family in Iraq and, according to Hamoodi, a 1,000-year-old Quran. Hamoodi watched as his family’s identity was hauled away in three full SUVs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Nearly six years later, Shakir Hamoodi stood before U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey in a Jefferson City courtroom as she sentenced him for his role in a conspiracy to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act. The 2006 FBI raid and subsequent investigation culminated in a 2009 guilty plea from Hamoodi. In her sentencing judgment, Laughrey ordered the 60-year-old grocery store owner to federal prison for three years, followed by two years’ probation. His incarceration begins on Aug. 28.

The Crime
Hamoodi ran afoul of a couple of Gulf War-era executive orders, an act of Congress and Treasury Department regulations. He now faces the consequences for what he calls “a crime of compassion.” Between 1994 and 2003, Hamoodi sent $271,000 to Iraq, despite sanctions that forbade sending anything, directly or indirectly, into the Middle Eastern country.

The sanctions stemmed from Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The military action provoked U.S. President George H.W. Bush to issue Executive Order 12,722, which specifically prohibited the export and re-export of funds, goods and services to Iraq. Four days after the invasion, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661, imposing economic sanctions on Iraq. Bush followed up the United Nations action by issuing Executive Order 12,724, which prohibited the sending of funds or other financial or economic resources by any U.S. person to any person in Iraq, directly or indirectly.

The president’s executive orders were authorized under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. “The policies and actions of the government of Iraq constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Bush declared.

In November 1990, Congress passed the Iraq Sanctions Act, authorizing the president to continue the sanctions invoked by the executive orders. The act also required that charitable donations to Iraq abide by another U.N. resolution that forbade such funds from being diverted to Iraqi military use. On Jan. 18, 1991, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady issued a regulation forbidding any U.S. person from committing or transferring — directly or indirectly — funds or other financial or economic resources to the government of Iraq or any person in Iraq. Exceptions would require a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, granted on a case-by-case basis to permit donated food exports to relieve human suffering.

The sanctions, a near-total embargo that prohibited all trade and financial resources from entering Iraq except for medicine and foodstuffs “in humanitarian circumstances,” remained in effect from August 1990 until April 2003, after Hussein was forced from power.

Hamoodi claims he didn’t know about the executive orders until after the 2006 raid on his home. “The president almost every day signs an executive order,” he says. “How could I, a tiny, busy human being in Columbia, Mo., know what that executive order is?”

Hamoodi may proclaim ignorance of Bush’s specific 1990 executive orders, but it’s clear he understood the sanctions and that his actions were illegal. He’s been quite vocal about his naïveté since his May 16 sentencing, but according to the plea agreement he entered on Dec. 22, 2009, Hamoodi “was aware that the Iraqi sanctions existed, and that they prohibited the sending of funds into Iraq for any purpose.” His guilty plea goes on to say, “Shakir Hamoodi understood that the sanctions were so far-reaching that they forbade the sending of funds to any citizens of Iraq. Indeed, Shakir Hamoodi and other persons discussed via faxes and other media the wide reach of the Iraqi sanctions, and how the sanctions limited the flow of funds and charitable items into Iraq during the sanctions period.”

Hamoodi maintains that he was simply trying to help his ailing family, including his blind mother, his father and his 10 siblings. “I wish somebody had told me, ‘You made a mistake,’ ” he said last month, despite his 2009 confession to court officials that he was aware his actions were illegal. “I wish somebody had told me, ‘Hey, you’re in violation of an executive order’ … The whole ordeal could have been resolved without any investigation.”

It wasn’t quite that simple, says Garrett M. Heenan, a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice who argued the government’s case against Hamoodi in federal court.

“It’s easy to say it’s all in the rearview mirror, the sanctions have expired,” Heenan says. “But it is still a serious crime, and the larger United States government interests in having sanctions and, moreover, having people in the United States — citizens — abide by the requirements of [the] Treasury [Department] and not violate those sanctions is an important thing that the United States would seek to promote.”

Watch our exclusive video -- Shakir Hamoodi: In His Own Words

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