A New York imam who was at the forefront of a protest to change a short film about al-Qaida at the new National September 11 Memorial Museum, faces up to 15 years in prison for swindling at least $140,000 while working as a "tax preparer" at an Ethiopian restaurant, the New York Daily News reports.
Mustafa Elazabawy handled the state tax returns for the Queen of Sheba restaurant in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood between 2005 and 2009. He was indicted in January on second and third-degree larceny charges.
Elazabawy also serves as imam at Masjid Manhattan. He, along with other Islamists, objected to portions of a 7-minute film, "The Rise of al-Qaeda" at the new September 11 museum because of the film's references to jihad and Islamist violence.
The film "would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum," if those references were not changed, Elazabawy wrote in a letter to the museum leadership last month. "Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site."
The museum opens Wednesday, and it does not appear the film will be changed.
Despite being a religious leader concerned about intolerance, Elazabawy has expressed harsh anti-Semitic views in sermons. During a December 2008 sermon called "Children of Israel," Elazabawy said Jews "killed the Prophets and Messengers" and are a "cancer … in every generation as they get in power." A recording of the sermon is still posted on the mosque's website.
Prosecutors suspect that Elazabawy was "actually making up the numbers of the sales tax returns" despite having access to the restaurant's records.
Prosecutors also claim Elazabawy cheated on his own taxes, making about $3,000 over two years. Elazabawy has pleaded not guilty and his attorney has called the charges "totally bizarre" and claimed the imam is "a person of great repute."