PHILADELPHIA – Two men were sentenced to prison Wednesday for minor roles in a counterfeit ring that prosecutors said was designed to finance the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah.
Prosecutors acknowledge that neither defendant knew of the link to Hezbollah, which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization.
Michael Katz, 68 of Plainsboro, N.J., was sentenced to a year in prison and Alaa Allia Ahmed Mohamed, 43, of New York City to 18 months. Defense lawyers called their roles minimal.
Katz, who earns money from flea markets, said he agreed to load 1,500 fake Nike sneakers into his van as a favor to someone he owed money.
"I didn't know if they were real or weren't, but I suspected that they weren't," Katz told U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell. "I gained nothing out of it. I made no money out of it."
More serious charges of conspiring to aid terrorism remain pending against other defendants, including 38-year-old Moussa Ali Hamdan of Brooklyn, N.Y., captured in Paraguay last month.
Hamdan and others are accused of trafficking stolen cell phones, video games, computers and cars with the aim of financing and supporting Hezbollah, which forms part of Lebanon's coalition government. Eleven people were named in the indictment filed in November in Philadelphia.
Hamdan, who has dual U.S.-Lebanese citizenship, told reporters in Paraguay he was being falsely accused by U.S. prosecutors because he's Muslim.
In court papers, Mohamed's lawyer described him as a math teacher from Egypt who could not find work or get a green card in the U.S. He is expected to be deported after serving his time, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Beam Winter said.
While recognizing their limited roles, Dalzell called counterfeiting "a serious economic issue in this country."
Two other defendants have also been sentenced to terms of about a year, while several people remain fugitives. Hamdan is awaiting extradition to Philadelphia, and no trial date has been set.