NEW YORK – A daughter of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X was released from jail Thursday after pleading guilty to stealing the identity of an elderly family friend to run up more than $55,000 in credit card bills.
Malikah Shabazz, 46, walked free after entering the plea at a courthouse in Queens. She had been in custody since her arrest in North Carolina on Feb. 18. Her deal with prosecutors calls for her to pay back the money and be on probation for five years.
"She's excited to be reunited with her daughter," said her lawyer, Russell Rothberg. He said his client had no other comment.
The youngest of Malcolm X's children, Shabazz could have gotten years in prison if convicted. A judge set the formal sentencing date for July 28, and said he intended to accept a punishment of probation and restitution.
Queens prosecutors said Shabazz used the personal financial information of longtime family friend Khaula Bakr to open credit card accounts in Bakr's name. The 70-year-old New York City woman's late husband was one of Malcolm X's bodyguards on the night he was assassinated in 1965.
Bakr discovered the scam when she got a letter from Wells Fargo Bank demanding payment of $28,789 on an overdue account.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Shabazz "preyed upon the trusting nature of a once close family friend."
A court in New York first issued a warrant for Shabazz's arrest in 2009, but she wasn't taken into custody until this spring, after social service workers visited her home in Mars Hill, N.C., to investigate an anonymous complaint that her daughter wasn't attending school. Her family said the 13-year-old is home-schooled.
The case is the second legal entanglement for Shabazz over a financial difficulty. Several years ago, a valuable trove of her father's writings was auctioned off after she failed to pay rent on a storage locker in Florida. The collection was later returned to the family and is now on long-term loan to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.