CAMDEN, N.J. – A man who admitted letting a group of accused terror-plotters shoot his guns at a firing range was sentenced to 20 months in prison on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler said Agron Abdullahu deserved more than the 10 to 16 months that sentencing guidelines call for because he knew the men who were talking about violence against Americans.
"I am convinced that he is not as innocent as he'd like us to believe," Kugler said before handing down his sentence. "This is not a common, ordinary, technical violation of the law."
However, the sentence was less than half the five-year maximum allowed.
With time served and credit for good behavior, it's likely he'll be free before the end of the year, though he could face deportation.
Abdullahu said he was sorry that he let his friends use his weapons at a firing range in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania on trips there in 2006 and 2007 and he said he discounted their tough talk about hurting America. "Not at any moment did I think they were actually going to do what they said," he told the judge.
Abdullahu, now 25, was arrested last May along with five men who are charged with conspiring to kill soldiers on Fort Dix.
Authorities said the other men — all of them, like Abdullahu, foreign-born Muslims in their 20s — were planning to sneak onto Fort Dix and attack soldiers there. No attack occurred at the New Jersey base, which is used mainly to train reservists heading to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Though the group was dubbed "The Fort Dix Six," Abdullahu, a supermarket baker whose ethnic Albanian family escaped Kosovo when he was a teenager, always stood out. While the others are on track for a trial in the fall for charges including conspiracy to murder military personnel and attempted murder, Abdullahu pleaded guilty last year to a single, lesser charge.
Abdullahu was charged with letting the brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka shoot two weapons that he owned legally. It is a crime to allow illegal immigrants like the Duka brothers to possess guns.
Deputy United States Attorney William Fitzpatrick said no grand jury was ever asked to consider charging Abdullahu with conspiring with the others to kill soldiers.
In fact, a secret recording made by a government informant captured Abdullahu saying it would be "crazy" to attack soldiers and urged some of the other men to think about their families.
Abdullahu's public defender, Richard Coughlin, said the Dukas befriended Abdullahu about a year after his family arrived in New Jersey — landing initially at Fort Dix — as refugees in 1999. They would play soccer, work out, fish and drink together, Coughlin said.
But in the last few years, the Duka brothers became more devout — and more extreme — Muslims, Coughlin said. And Abdullahu, who worked 60- to 70-hour weeks in the bakery of a supermarket, drifted apart from them.
They still fished together occasionally, and he joined them for two wintertime vacations in the mountains, his lawyer said.
It was a video tape from the first one that first caught the attention of the FBI. Key evidence for the case came from the second one, in February 2007.
Authorities say they have recordings that show the men firing Abdullahu's guns on a range and shouting out for a holy war.
Coughlin said that his client was not aware of some of what was said; he was at the other end of the noisy range and wearing earplugs. Coughlin also said Abdullahu left the trip early because he was frustrated by the way the Duka brothers were talking about violence all the time.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hammer said it was clear that Abdullahu knew that the other men were talking about committing violence — even if he was not aware of a specific terrorist plot.
Judge Kugler agreed, but dismissed the government's contention that Abdullahu knew enough that higher sentencing guidelines should be used.
Kugler said his sentence was harsher than it could have been partly because of drawings found etched into the door of Abdullahu's cell at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. One had a gun pointed at the words, "FBI."
While the judge was disturbed by that behavior, as well as Abdullahu's interest in making bombs, he seemed to struggle with finding an appropriate sentence.
"There's too much good in this man," Kugler said, to give him the maximum sentence the government sought.
Coughlin said Abdullahu was grateful that the judge considered the good traits in him along with his mistakes.