Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Defense Tries To Show FBI Agent Was Overzealous in Bronx Synagogue Bomb Case
Friday, August 27, 2010
During a meeting at a diner in October 2008, confidential FBI informant Shaheed Hussain told James Cromitie what he thought of Jews: "Every evil that happens in the world is because of them, brother," he said, and someday "the brothers will need to come up with a solution to take that evil down."
I court on Thursday, defense lawyer Mark Gombiner pointed at the transcript where Hussain's statements are recorded, and directed a question at Hussain's handler, FBI agent Robert Fuller.
"Isn't it true that Mr. Hussain was telling Mr. Cromitie that Jews were the source of all evil?" Gombiner asks.
Fuller said yes.
"And when he was saying that," Gombiner continued, "he was trying to get Mr. Cromitie to commit a crime, wasn't he?"
"There's no mention of a crime," said Fuller, referring to the transcript of the conversation.
This is the dance between the government and defense lawyers that jurors will see for weeks to come in the trial of four Newburgh men accused of plotting to blow up Bronx synagogues and military planes. As prosecutors attempt to persuade the court that a confidential informant only facilitated a plot designed and pursued by four hate-filled anti-Semites, defense lawyers will argue the government illegally entrapped their clients into committing crimes they would have never otherwise dreamt up.
Defense lawyers sought to portray Fuller as an agent who was eager to arrest the defendants on something. In his second day under cross-examination, Fuller said he was concerned at one point his investigation was going to grow cold. Defense attorney Vincent Briccetti had him read out loud an email he wrote at the time, in which Fuller said he wanted the informant to urge Cromitie to buy an illegal gun off the street. That way, if Cromitie ever tried to pull out of a plan to bomb Jewish temples and shoot down planes at Stewart International Airport, their investigation wouldn't be wasted -- in their "back pocket" they would have an arrest warrant against Cromitie for illegal gun possession.
Prosecutors objected immediately, and the document was stricken from the record. But hours later, after the court had adjourned for lunch, prosecutors made sure to clarify. They asked Fuller to explain why the FBI arranged for the men to buy a gun. Without pausing, Fuller said, "To get illegal guns off the street."
Briccetti also asked Fuller about a memo he had written to security officials at Stewart Airport stating that Cromitie would be surveying the airport, but was "unlikely to commit an act without the support of an FBI source." Fuller later clarified that he only meant Cromitie would not be able to acquire a heat-seeking Stinger missile and shoot it without the FBI's help.
Transcripts from meetings between Cromitie and Hussain showed Cromitie making distasteful remarks about Jews. But Briccetti suggested that Cromitie was a loud-mouth prone to over-the-top declarations. He asked Fuller to confirm that Cromitie lied to Hussain about doing 15 years for attempted murder when he has never been charged with a violent crime, that he told Hussain he once shot gas bombs into a Bronx police station, when he never did, and that he said he stole handguns while on the job at Walmart, when Walmart stopped selling handguns long ago.
The four defendants are all facing up to life in prison for eight terror-related charges.