Three of four defendants convicted of plotting to detonate explosives next to N.Y. Jewish centers and shoot surface-to-air missiles at U.S. military planes were sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in prison.
A fourth defendant, LaGuerre Payen, has had his sentencing postponed pending the results of a psychiatric evaluation.
"As reflected in the sentences…these were extremely serious crimes that targeted New York and its citizens," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a press release.
James Cromitie, Onta Williams and David Williams (of no relation to Onta) were convicted along with Payen last October for attempting to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to kill military personnel and attempting to use anti-aircraft missiles against U.S. planes.
During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon voiced concern that the government may have used questionable tactics when sending in an informant, but emphasized those concerns shouldn't downplay the seriousness of what the men tried to do.
"What you have attempted to do was beyond despicable," she said.
Defense attorneys argued that their clients were entrapped by the FBI informant, who first approached Cromitie posing as a member of the Pakistani terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
Cromitie then recruited both David and Onta Williams. Both of the Williams' aided Cromitie in conducting preliminary surveillance, mapmaking and served as lookouts on May 20, 2009, while Cromitie planted what he believed to be live improvised explosive devices (IEDs) next to Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx, N.Y.
Defense attorneys argued that the men should be given a break because both the IEDs and missiles intended to be used against New York National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., which the defendants examined in a warehouse, were not operable.
Rejecting that argument, U.S. Attorney David Raskin argued for a life sentence for the men. "This would have been a colossal terrorist attack and the fact that it was all fantasy really doesn't matter because in their minds, they thought it was real," he said.
McMahon previously rejected the defense's motion to overturn the jury's verdict based on the entrapment defense in May, upholding the convictions.
The government's sentencing memo, which argued for the life sentences, noted that the defendants' own statements condemned them by proving they believed the devices to be active.
"Imagine if we hit all the [military] planes in one spot…[T]hey'll all blow because they close to each other and they all got gasoline," said Cromitie. David Williams said that, "as long as [the planes] get blown up, that's all I care about."
"These ****ing Jews get me sick," Cromitie said. "I don't give a **** if a bunch of Jews are in there. I will let [the bomb] off," he said referring to the Jewish centers in N.Y.
Prosecutors also used the defendants' statements to argue that defense attorneys' claims the men did the acts for money only is bunk. The informant offered Cromitie $250,000, in addition to promising him a BMW car and an all-expenses paid trip to Puerto Rico, as a reward once he followed through with the plan.
But Cromitie described the group's motivation to the informant, saying, "We doing everything we supposed to do…[I]t's not about the money. It's about Jaish-e-Mohammed."
Similarly, David Williams said, "It's all for Allah, so there's nothing really I can say."
The defense, in a sentencing memo, said that "Every logistical detail of the plot was orchestrated, financed and facilitated by the CI (confidential informant) and the FBI." The government countered in its memo, noting that the defendants, "had every chance to decline, notwithstanding the CI's influence, but they gave themselves to his plan."
"Few people in the world would agree to do such horrible things. Not for money. Not for anything," the memo continued. "This investigation revealed what their rap sheets never could."
Though the men received only the mandatory minimum sentence for their convictions, 25 years, Judge McMahon said the sentences were still lengthy and thus, sufficient. "A sentence of 25 years, a quarter of a century behind bars, is sufficient to punish you for what happened and what didn't happen," she said.
Defense attorneys for the three men say they plan to appeal both the sentences and the October 2010 convictions.