NEW YORK – A federal judge sentenced a U.S. citizen accused of supporting Sri Lankan rebels to time served in jail on Friday — about five years — after casting doubt on the terrorism case and calling the 20-year term sought by prosecutors excessive.
The wife and family of Sri Lankan immigrant Karunakaran Kandasamy wept as U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie announced the sentence in federal court in Brooklyn.
"This is not a garden variety terrorism case," Dearie said.
Kandasamy, 55, had pleaded guilty in 2009 to charges of conspiring to provide material aid to a terrorist organization.
A prosecutor argued Friday that as the top U.S. representative for the Tamil Tigers, he deserved the maximum 20 years for raising money for a separatist group that earned the terrorist designation by the State Department.
But Dearie said that it was a stretch to say the former cab driver had a leadership role, and that he believed that he was involved in humanitarian — not military — aid for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
"We do not accommodate any of support terrorism on U.S. soil. That said, we have to pull back that emblazoned banner of terrorism and look at the case specifically," Dearie said.
Lawyers for Kandasamy, 55, had argued that he had done enough time, especially since he suffers from diabetes and a host of other ailments.
"I simply want to express my remorse," Kandasamy told the judge before he was sentenced. "I was raised in a country where my family lived in constant fear. . My intent was only to help my people."
In 2009, the Tamil Tigers admitted defeat in their 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government that left more than 70,000 people dead.
The rebels, who once controlled a de facto state in the island nation's north, had been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils after decades of oppression by the Sinhalese majority. Blamed for hundreds of suicide attacks, the Tamil Tigers were shunned internationally and branded terrorists by the U.S., European Union and India.
Federal authorities in New York had sought to cut off support for the group by arresting sympathizers in their East Coast immigrant communities in 2006 and 2007 on terror support charges.
Kandasamy and others were and other tied to a covert campaign to raise and launder millions of dollars through a charity front organization. Prosecutors had accused him of personally raising millions of dollars for the Tamil Tigers, and that he went to Sri Lanka to meet with rebel commanders.