An Islamic organization once listed by the Justice Department as a co-conspirator in a high-profile terror case is among many groups that have received thousands in federal farm subsidies, without producing any crops.
The subsidies to the North American Islamic Trust are just a slice of the questionable payments that, as has been well documented, go to millionaires and non-farmers every year. But as Congress moves to rein in the program, these subsidies stand out considering the group's involvement in the Holy Land Foundation case of 2008. During the trial, the group's farm subsidies stopped, only to be reinstated after a federal judge cleared them.
Records show that since 1998, the North American Islamic Trust has received over $10,000 across 34 separate taxpayer-funded programs. NAIT's two relatively small land plots are tax-zoned as "agricultural" -- but they aren't developed.
The group has been able to obtain farm subsidies legally without producing any crops because it is a nonprofit "charity group" landowner -- so it received subsidies on top of being tax-exempt.
"Organizations with no history in agriculture are getting in on taxpayer-provided farm subsidies," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the transparency database OpenTheBooks.com and former Republican candidate for governor of Illinois.
He said the NAIT's subsidies are "probably legal," adding: "The federal farm bill has become so large that it has nothing to do with 'preserving the family farm' or 'creating a stable food supply'."
The North American Islamic Trust's history is complicated -- as the offshoot of the Muslim Students Association and its financial arm, NAIT was founded in 1973 by Middle Eastern-born college students. The majority of NAIT's founders were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the group continues to be backed by Saudi Arabia. NAIT uses Shariah-approved investing with its own company, Allied Asset Advisors, to buy and pool mosques and community centers. Former Allied Asset Advisor board member, Jamal Said, preached the most conservative forms of Islam and was specifically named as a co-conspirator in the terror-funding case.
In the Holy Land Foundation case of 2008, which prosecuted investors charged with sending money to Hamas, NAIT was named by U.S. federal prosecutors as a co-conspirator and an entity that is or was "a member of the Muslim Brotherhood" (the parent organization of Hamas).
The Holy Land Foundation's five accused individuals were sentenced for funneling $12.4 million to the terror group, which controls the Gaza Strip and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. NAIT never was formally charged in the case.
NAIT's sheer size may have worked against it. An estimated one in five mosques in the United States is owned by NAIT; those properties are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Several of these mosques, though, have been places of worship for those convicted in terror activities.
But even before a verdict in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation case had been reached, NAIT appealed their co-conspirator status, saying that they had "suffered injuries" from a "public branding."
In October 2010, following NAIT's appeal and pressure from the ACLU, the 5th Circuit Court acknowledged that a failure to seal the co-conspirator list was a violation of the group's Fifth Amendment rights. However, the government has produced ample evidence to establish NAIT with Hamas and ultimately declined to remove them from the co-conspirator list.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said "if NAIT could have been accurately characterized as a joint venture," that "does not carry an inherently criminal connotation."
NAIT's farm subsidies stopped in 2008 during the trial and were first received again in 2011.
Every farm subsidy to the North American Islamic Trust has been received at the mailing address of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri Mosque, records show. The USDA lists the "farm location" as Boone County, Mo. But aerial searches of the "agricultural" properties owned by the North American Islamic Trust reveal that the plots are undeveloped, tree-dotted land combined to form just over 100 acres valued at about $59,000.
The North American Islamic Trust and the Islamic Center of Central Missouri did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
According to the USDA and OpentheBooks.com, about half of NAIT's subsidies were "Direct Payments," a program which costs taxpayers an annual $5 billion. By 2011, the North America Islamic Trust began obtaining subsidies under the auspice that it is a "church, charity, or non-profit organization."
The payment program in question, though, could be under the budget knife in the latest farm bill which passed through the House earlier this week.
The federal government began farm subsidies during the Great Depression, in part because farmers were producing surplus crops and could not sell to a struggling market. The total cost for farm pay-outs in 1995 was just over $8.1 billion, when planted farm acreage in the United States stood at roughly 260 million. By 2012, taxpayers were subsidizing farmers by nearly double when planted acreage had decreased by millions of acres.